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Visiting the In-Laws

How to stay sane.

Even if you’d like to, you can’t avoid them forever. If you’re lucky, you only have to see them once in a blue moon. If you’re not so lucky, you find yourself needing to engage them a few times a year. In either case, there are tactics to employ when it comes to visiting your in-laws (or vice versa), helping you to stay sane.

Set time limits on visits.

If you must visit with your spouse’s relatives, then be clear on when you’re available and for how much time. Make sure that it’s a time period that doesn’t conflict with anything else of importance in your life, as this will only make you resent the engagement even more. Put a cap on how much time you think you can tolerate your in-laws, giving your spouse the option of extending his or her visit without you.

If a visit is to fall over a weekend, for example, then don’t be afraid to state that you’d like your in-laws to arrive on a Saturday morning and leave by Sunday afternoon. If it’s the holidays, let them know that you’ll only be available for a couple of days, if that’s all you can manage.

Feeling guilty? Remember: you don’t need to spend all of your free time with people who drain you. After all, vacations and weekends are supposed to be about getting some much-needed R&R!

Ask your relatives to stay at a B&B.

If your relatives want to see your family badly enough, then they’ll find it in their budget to pay for a motel, hotel or B&B. This gives you and your family the privacy and breaks that you need in visiting with them over a weekend. Plus, consider that some people prefer not to be a guest in someone’s home, and may just need confirmation that you and your spouse are fine with them having their own private refuge.

Establish your own space.

If you’re the one traveling to see family over the holidays, make no excuses in booking yourselves into a hotel or B&B. This allows you the personal space and escape you need. It also makes hosting you a bit easier on the in-laws. Lisa has found that staying in a hotel is a win-win for all involved. “My husband insists on staying in a hotel when we visit our families, and that we stay no more than a night or two. While I didn’t like it at first, I’ve come to appreciate having our own space, while still getting to see everyone. Now that they've gotten over social expectations, I think others have come to like the setup too.”

Practice safety in numbers.

Hopefully, your spouse is related to people you actually like and enjoy. So plan visits around larger family gatherings. You may find yourself having a better time when your hilarious brother-in-law shows up with his family. Or you may find that having your sister-in-law around gives your mother-in-law less reason to focus on you.

Treat your in-laws as you would any other guest.

Hard as it may be, strive to treat your in-laws as honored guests, whether they’re in your home for a meal or a few days. Seeing them as guests (versus forced family) can help you to remain gracious, even when they act out of line, as Mia learned. “My husband’s parents were very unsupportive about the way we chose to start our family in having our child before getting married. They expressed their displeasure by disrespecting us in countless ways and by not delivering on support when they promised it."

So when they came for a visit and Mia's mother-in-law insisted on cooking dinner, "I didn’t want to give her the satisfaction that she’d supported us in any way, and told her to relax while my husband and I made the meal. She kept forcing the issue, to the point that my husband reminded her that she was a guest in our home and, as such, she was not to lift a finger. She complained that she was family and not a guest, but finally got the message and relented.”

Treat your in-laws as you would a coworker.

Many of us have had to work with people that we don’t care for. So see your in-law situation as something of a similar situation. Keep your distance if you can. Keep your cool. Strive to remain polite. Let that person do what he or she does, like it or not, unless the behavior starts to impact your ability to perform. Then go to your spouse who, like a boss, needs to intervene and make sure that the behavior ceases immediately.

Give yourself a pep talk.

First, imagine yourself being surrounded by a protective beam of white light that no one can penetrate. Once you start feeling its warmth and energy, remind yourself that your in-laws cannot hurt or harm you or your relationship in any kind of way. Remind yourself that your partner is with you because your spouse loves you and wants to be with you, and that together, as a team, you will get through the visit. Finally, promise to be true to yourself, doing the things you normally would do, e.g., have a glass of wine with dinner.

Avoid triggers.

Don’t bring up topics that can lead to arguments. Avoid generic conversations around topics, like politics or reproductive rights, which may invite heated debate. Don’t take any bait thrown your way if your in-laws still have a bone to pick with you. “It’s best to ignore it,” advises Audrey. “The last couple of times I’ve seen my mother-in-law, she’s gone on and on about the movie Frozen and its hit song ‘Let It Go’ in an attempt to, ironically, get me to revisit the issues that have permanently impacted the type of relationship my family and I will have with her. I’m done talking to her about her insulting behavior, as she’ll never see the error in her ways. I simply ignore her and walk away when she tries to go there.”

Like Audrey, try to stay cool, calm and collected. When your in-law tries to pick a fight, then consider yourself being bullied, and what do bullies want more than anything? A reaction! Don’t give your in-law the satisfaction of getting to you.

Don’t let them get to you.

Recognize the things that your in-laws do to push your buttons and learn to compartmentalize them. You want to disable the enabler. So take a deep breath and seek to get your emotions under control. If you need to respond to a situation, try to be tactful and firm without being rude. At the same time, don’t be afraid to hurt this person’s feelings, as a negative in-law situation is often in large part a problem because your feelings have been disregarded.

Keep a running list of events.

Share things with your spouse as they happen so that he or she can better manage the situation, or, if they’re a minor, plan to discuss after the visit. Document things as they happen, for your own records, should you ever need to or want to write a letter to your in-laws, capturing all of their offenses. Just take care in not obsessing over this list. Your in-laws take up too much of your time as is.

Try not to expect the worst.

Don’t go into visits on the defensive, ready for a fight. While you may not be looking forward to seeing your in-laws again anytime soon, you may actually find that the rendezvous wasn’t that bad.