"Never rely on the glory of the morning nor the smiles of your mother-in-law," advises a Japanese proverb. Problems with in-laws transcend culture and have existed almost as long as human beings have walked the earth. That said, some in-law issues are particularly difficult. When you feel you are being treated rudely by your spouse's closest relatives, it can sting. In this case, it's a good idea to have a few strategies in place to help you cope with intentional or unintentional barbs.
Assume your in-laws' intentions are good. Your mother-in-law's remark about how it would be best if you could stay home with the baby might not be an attempt to disparage your parenting style, but it could have originated with a fear of her granddaughter being in child care. Or she could simply wish for an easier life for you and your family. Without being able to read her mind, you'll never know, so you might as well assume the best. Doing so will help you to contain your anger at hearing unwelcome (and rude-sounding) opinions.
Set boundaries. "Good fences make good neighbors," TV's "Dr. Phil" McGraw says on his website. And this axiom applies to in-laws as well. If your mother-in-law pops over with with some new throw pillows she thinks would look simply "divine" in your living room, feel free to thank her and then advise her that you're leaning toward more of a French country look than African safari. Tell her that you absolutely appreciate her thoughtfulness, however, and give her a big hug. If she disparages your style, let her know that she is entitled to her opinion and that you respect that.
Avoid hot-button issues such as politics. If your father-in-law starts talking about how incensed he is about the government wanting to take away his gun rights, and you're a die-hard pacifist, put your ideals into practice and keep your opinion to yourself. If he tries to drag you into the discussion, simply smile and say, "Bert, I value our relationship too much to have this conversation."
Present a united front with your spouse, who should insist that you be treated respectfully, psychologist Joseph Carver advises in a 2009 "Ask the Psychologist" column. Develop a secret sign that lets your spouse know when you've had enough and are ready to leave. Once you've had enough, you'll both know when to say your goodbyes.
Keep your distance. If your in-laws are, what Carver calls, toxic and personality-disordered, keep your visits to a strict -- and infrequent -- schedule. Expect your interactions to be difficult, and try not to take their behavior personally. Chances are, you could be the princess of a nation with the gross domestic product of Japan and they would still find something to nitpick.
- If the conflict with your in-laws begins to adversely affect your marriage, seek professional counseling to get a third-party perspective on the problem.
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