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Hark! The In-Laws Make Ears Ring: 3 Keys to Surviving Extended Family During the Holiday Season

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ID-100218357“For the first time ever I was taking the family on the road. We stayed with my in-laws, which on life’s list of experiences ranks right below sitting in a tub full of scissors.” — Jeff Foxworthy

Now, not everyone has difficulties with their in-laws — But conflict with in-laws sure is a common sight on the lists of struggles couples face during the holiday season.

Whether the behavior of your in-laws is the cause of a lot of eye-rolling and teeth clenching, or perhaps the butt of many jokes, the endless chatter, never-ending judgment, unsolicited advice, spoiling of the children or nosiness they can exhibit can often get in the way of an entirely happy holiday.

If you let it…

But one can predict and prepare. And that’s where we come in.

Provided below are three hopefully helpful tips to surviving difficult in-laws during the holiday season. Give them a try and feel free to let us know if they work!

#1: Don’t Let the Holiday Just “Happen” To You

Families are steeped in tradition, a fact that is especially true during the holiday season. With tradition comes expectations – Everyone involved has their own idea of what a happy holiday celebration looks like and may assume that there’s is the same experience others want and are used to.

And if everyone’s expectations aren’t communicated or managed, things can get out of control very quickly.

The key to a successful holiday begins weeks or even months before the holidays are upon you. Ask questions of your in-laws and others involved – Questions like: “What is the most important thing to you this holiday season?” and “Can we help make it happen?”.

Ask also about others’ expectations of accommodations, timelines of when celebrations will occur and when / how others wish to exchange gifts.

Then, be honest about your own expectations. If you have limitations, be them financial, on time you have to travel or what you can eat, make sure you communicate these clearly, with explanations. If you’re not letting yourself be heard, then you can’t let yourself be upset when your expectations are not met.

And, honestly, not every expectation will be met. Like any group undertaking, there will have to be give and take on everyone’s part. Be clear, compromise and (usually) everything will unfold in a manner everyone can be happy with.

#2: Be Unified As a Couple

One of the biggest mistakes couples make during this time is sticking one person with all of the responsibility for the holiday planning. Don’t put one member of the couple in charge of communicating plans – Do so together. This avoids any one person being held responsible for disappointments or blame.

Also, be careful not to throw your spouse under the bus with either set of parents. Many times, like when we hear the classic, “You’ll break our hearts if you don’t do what’s expected at Christmas”, we feel like we may disappoint or anger one or another set of parents. We then use the other person as an excuse to avoid responsibility, ourselves.

DO NOT use your spouse as an excuse – They take precedent over your parents, and you have to protect your marital relationship, first and foremost. Know that you will disappoint someone, at least mildly, this holiday season – And be okay with that.

#3: Use Your Words

Speak, don’t seethe.

When the days are finally upon you, the true key to surviving is to speak up. Take a deep breath, consider carefully what you want to say and address any uncomfortable situations before they get too far out of hand.

If you express that something makes you feel uncomfortable, and you express why – “I feel ________ when you _____________, because it makes me feel like ________________,” – in an unthreatening, un-angered tone – Then you’re doing it right.

Visitors to your home should respect what you have to say. Those interacting with your children should understand you have the ultimate say on what you feel is right by them. If judgments are being made on your lifestyle or your marriage, the person expressing those should understand that those issues are between you and your spouse.

And, before speaking up, here’s another good rule of thumb. Ask yourself, “Will this thing making me angry – Will it matter 5 years from now?”.

Are you getting all worked up about a silly eccentricity your in-laws possess that really doesn’t matter? Maybe you can step back and laugh it off, a bit. Or is this truly a big deal?

What now?

If you do find that the holidays are getting the best of you, there is hope… and there is help. Feel free to reach out to us with questions or for support – We’re just a phone call or email away, and we’re here to ensure you have a happy holiday season. And… Why stop there? We wish you the happiest of New Year’s, as well.