Saying no to the in-laws without breaking up the family

We all want to get along with your extended families, but does it ever seem like your mother-in-law can't leave well enough alone? How do you walk the line between standing up for yourself and maintaining good relations with the in-laws?

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  • When you get married, you aren't just aligning yourself with one person, you're also suddenly connected with a plethora of in-laws who all have opinions, ideas and existing relationships with your spouse. Sometimes, it all gets a little overwhelming. It's a good idea to talk about these feelings early on in your marriage or even in your courtship so your significant other understands where you're coming from.

  • An important point to remember is that marriage entails taking two people from different backgrounds and upbringings and fusing them into their own new unit, separate from the originals. Though you may often turn to one set of parents or the other for advice, the ultimate decision should lie with you and your spouse. And if you have some extra concerned in-laws who would like to have a little too much input in your marriage, you must also learn to say, "No."

  • Show an increase of love

  • When you need to say no to some well-meaning suggestion posed by your mother-in-law (maybe she thinks washing dishes by hand is faster and more sanitary than using a dishwasher), always remind her that your refusal doesn't mean you don't love her or value her opinion.

  • For instance, you may respond, "That's an interesting idea, but I think I'll keep doing dishes the way I've always done them. I really appreciate the advice, though. Your dishes are always so clean." You don't have to back down from your point of view to find value in what your in-laws have to say.

  • Strike a compromise

  • If both sets of in-laws live near you, holidays can become an issue. Who will you spend time with first and for how long? Can you really eat two Thanksgiving dinners in one day? In these and other circumstances, have a transparent conversation with both parents to let them know you love them both, but this time you'll be spending more time with your own parents. At Christmas, you'll spend more time with your spouse's parents.

  • Bear in mind, these types of compromises become more complicated when children enter the picture. Both grandparents will feel equal claim on your children and expect you to divide your time perfectly equally between each half. (That's not entirely true — sometimes one set of grandparents will want more time devoted to them.) Be careful what you say about the in-laws when you're around your children. You wouldn't want them believing or repeating unkind words around the wrong people.

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  • Create your own traditions

  • One way to break off a little from the original family units is by creating your own traditions. Then you can have your own say about how the Easter egg hunt will be held, when fireworks will be set off and where you'll be going camping this summer. You can always invite the in-laws along, but with the understanding that you're trying something new and you expect them to be OK with that. Then you can avoid the whole issue of having to say no to how the in-laws like to run things.

  • Make time for yourselves

  • You don't always have to include the in-laws; you're now your own family, after all. Sometimes it's fine to say no to dinner or other activities because you'd like to spend time with just your own family unit. This is something in-laws should respect, though doing so too often may give them the idea you're avoiding them.

  • Even if you're not overly fond of your in-laws, remember they created something you've decided you can't live without: your spouse. Love them or hate them, they are inseparably connected with you, and it's easier to pick and choose when you say no than to drive a wedge between yourself and your spouse's family.

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Katie Nielsen received her bachelor's in English with an emphasis in technical writing. She has taught English and is a published writer.

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