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Holidays: Dealing with Those Challenging In-Laws

shutterstock_225427819It’s the most wonderful time of year. So many parties, so much fun, so much…stress! For a lot of people, dealing with family raises the blood pressure! Difficult in-laws just add a whole new layer of problems, issues and drama. While we love the family we married into, they come with their own set of flaws, as do we. Surviving the holidays requires putting extra effort into navigating family drama.

The Holidays encompass traditions, memories and expectations. These are emotionally driven ideas that we all want to hold on to. When two (or more) families try to celebrate together, merging traditions and expectations becomes an exercise in patience. Here are a few keys to staying cheery during the holiday season:

  1. Remember, above all, that you and your spouse came together to create your own family; your loyalty lies with each other. It’s important to present a united front and work as a team to help maintain healthy boundaries, decrease your stress level and stay connected.
  2. Managing expectations and perspective remains paramount when dealing with in-laws. Expect the same actions out of them you have seen in past years. Most likely, their behavior and attitudes have not changed since last year…or the year before. Maintaining a healthy attitude of respect and compromise with family can diffuse a lot of situations. These are your spouse’s parents, and regardless of their own behavior you owe them a measure of respect. Rise above and show maturity, if for no one than yourself; you might earn respect in their eyes.
  3. Compromise goes a long way with frayed emotions. Remember that book “How to Win Friends and Influence People?” It’s true, compromise wins friends. Go with your in-law’s suggestions on some non-essential traditions. Your in-laws will be happy and you will have received a lot more than you gave up. Realize no matter how hard you may try, someone will always be upset. Do your best to compromise, let it go and move on. You can’t please everyone.
  4. When the inevitable happens and someone’s feelings do get hurt, work towards resolving the pain by enlisting your spouse’s help. Your spouse is your in-law’s child and naturally they understand their parents better than you do. Realize that your spouse might not want to get in the middle and if so, respect their decision to stay out of the fray.
  5. Setting boundaries is vital to managing difficult people and your sanity. By setting emotional boundaries, you limit the influence they have on your emotions. Boundaries might include limiting their stay or not sharing with them details on your family life. Keeping conversations light can keep that hot button cool. Physical boundaries will limit the amount time you spend with challenging family members. One option is to set in advance a limit to the time you spend with extended family. Choose a code word for your spouse when you need a timeout or excuse yourself for a few minutes to mentally recharge.

While your mother-in-law may know exactly what buttons to push and your brother-in-law has no concept of personal space, boundaries and a stress management plan will work to manage frustrations. By controlling your own emotions, you might just find your extended family quite enjoyable. When the holiday trimmings have been tucked away, you will relax in peace knowing that you have acted in a kind and mature way.

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