With the holidays here, it's very likely you could be spending a significant amount of time with your significant other's family. For some, this may be an occasion to celebrate. If this sounds like you, then consider yourself very, very fortunate. For others, spending time with their in-laws may feel more like a chore or even … torture.
It's been said that when you marry a person, you also marry a family. In-laws are the one "present" that comes automatically with every wedding.
If your in-laws feel more like out-laws, then try these tips to surviving the holiday season. Actually build quality relationships with the family you married into. Plus, your spouse will thank you for your efforts to love and accept his/her family. Trust me.
1. Keep an open mind
If opposites really do attract, then it's highly probable your spouse's upbringing was very different from yours. Perhaps you're from the east, but he's from the west. Maybe he came from an affluent family, but your family struggled to make ends meet. Or maybe he has 5 siblings, but you're an only child. Even if you and your spouse seem to have a lot in common, there are surely some differences in your respective parents' outlooks on life, and those differences impacted the way you both were raised.
So, when you're with your in-laws, the key is to keep an open mind. It's okay they do or see things differently than you. That doesn't make them wrong. In fact, those differences can actually add a lot of flavor and color to your family tapestry.
2. Don't criticize
I know the Paleo diet style of cooking by your mother-in-law just doesn't quite measure up to what you're used to. I know your father-in-law is a little loud and brash at times. I also know your wife's 45-year-old brother who still lives at home has some disgusting habits. And I know your husband's grandma keeps commenting on things your kids should be doing differently. I get it.
However, you can't change other people. You can only love them for who they are. So rather than criticize and nit-pick, try observing the good (even if you have to look really hard). Appreciate them for who they are, your family.
3. Take the good and leave the bad, but learn from both
When my wife and I were newly married, my dad gave us some awesome advice about establishing our own family. He encouraged us to "take the good and leave the bad, but learn from both." Essentially, he told us to incorporate the positive qualities from each of our families into our new family going forward, while leaving the negative qualities behind.
It may be your wife's family is really good at keeping their home in order, and your family is really good at spending quality time together. Or, on the flip side, maybe her parents spend way too much money and are always in debt, and your family deals with conflict through the silent treatment.
Together with your spouse, observe the things you like and don't like about how each of your families did/do things, then work together to create the marriage, family and life you both want.
4. Make an effort to develop real relationships
If you are finding your in-laws are a little hard to deal with, then maybe you should remind yourself life isn't all about your comfort, happiness and enjoyment. Maybe it is time you forget about how little you enjoy being with your in-laws and instead start working on your people skills. Do your part to show an interest in your brother-in-law's life. Talk with him, play a board game with him and ask him about that video game he loves so much.
If you think your mother-in-law is frazzled and stressed, then find a way to help instead of just rolling your eyes. Go put on an apron, and listen to her tell stories while you wash the dishes side-by-side. It may surprise you how good you feel when you forget about your unhappiness and focus on helping others and developing relationships.
Plus, this kind of generosity on your part is a sure way to let your spouse know how much you love him/her.
5. Remember you choose how you view your in-laws
At the end of the day, you get to choose how you think, talk and act around your in-laws. You can choose to love them, speak highly of them and enjoy being with them. You can choose to relax and smile when they say something that offends you and to let it go. You can choose to treat them with the love and kindness they deserve—since they are family now.
Aaron & April are the founders of Nurturing Marriage, a website dedicated to strengthening marriages. They enjoy playing football with their two little boys, watching sports, eating cereal late at night, and going out for frozen yogurt.