"The difference between law and in-law is you can justify yourself before law, but never before in-laws."
Common Situations And How To Manage Them
It’s not true that every in-law dislikes their offspring’s spouse. I’ve had more boyfriends, whose parents despised me than not, but for the past six years, I’ve had in-laws who are fond of me. Maybe that’s because my in-laws only consist of a father-in-law, a sister-in-law (who we don’t associate with), and a grandmother-in-law.
I’m going to discuss some common situations between a person and their relatives, in the case of a family openly disliking your chosen spouse.
I think we’ve all been involved with a guy/girl, who our parents did not approve of, and in one case or another, we’ve often discovered our parents to be right. I do recommend taking into account your loved one’s opinions, when you are in a new relationship. Perhaps they see something beyond what you do, in a potential spouse. However, if you’ve been there and discovered your lover was not guilty of any devious behavior but your family still isn’t convinced enough to be civil, you may find these situational examples and tips to come in handy.
Whether you’re on the receiving end of your spouse’s unpleasant family behavior, or your own family is the guilty party, I think these tips for maintaining some peace can apply to both situations.
Situation number one: Your family desperately needs to tell you their less-than-loving feelings about your partner. What do you do?
Listen. Show your loved one(s) that you understand that they’re coming from an outsider’s point of view, and that they’re only looking out for you, and then assure them that you are in control. You can take care of yourself just fine. Tell them that yes, you are aware of what you’re “getting yourself into,” and that you’re okay with it. Maybe even throw in a “you raised me to be strong, so I can handle whatever I may have to go through in my relationship.”
If they press on, shrug it off with something like “well, I’m in it for the long-haul, so I will stick around and see how it goes.” This tells them, right off the bat, that you’re happy with this person, and that you don’t plan to leave them, but should their suspicions come true, you can handle it. Phrases like “we’ll see how it goes” are somewhat dismissive, so it’s a way to make it clear that you’ve understood their point and you aren’t jumping on the defense, but are going to stick around for your partner.
Situation number two: Accusations
Whether your family is accusing him/her of being a cheater, a creep, or a no-good low-down S.O.B., accusing someone of anything, without being 100% sure, is a nasty road to travel. Assuming your partner is not a known-cheater or a low-down son of a gun, this would be the situation where the passive-aggressive attitude ship has sailed, and you have to be firm.
Think about the accusation, and who’s making it. Is it your mother? Sister? Someone who’s showed hints of jealousy in the past? Someone who’s a Grinch and always has to stir something up? These are all very likely reasons why most people accuse without knowing, or caring. They intend to upset.
How do you deal with a person like that? You do not ever let them cause the ultimate reaction they've been planning for all month long. Avoid running into the dining room and jerking your partner up by the collar. Remember that the type of person who accuses, without knowing a thing, is often doing it only for one reason - to upset your relationship, and yes, family members are capable of this.
Laugh it off, if that’s the only way this person will go away. If not, you could choose an approach that I myself have had to take once or twice – privately telling the accuser that you’re not spending your Holidays getting involved in a petty fight over a lie, even if they are your family. Say it, “even though you’re my cousin and I enjoy visiting you, I’m not letting a lie ruin my Christmas.” That tells them right off the bat, that you aren’t giving any credit to their lie, but it says it in a kind, gentle way. Besides that, it also gives the accuser what he/she really wants anyways: attention, but in a good way. The accuser, you see, likely only wants to be acknowledged and welcomed. They want to feel that someone enjoys their presence (even if you really don’t), and telling them that you enjoy visiting them may remove their urge to destroy the Holidays altogether.
Perhaps this person’s reasons for upsetting you is jealousy, you have a partner and they don’t, and that’s why they want to stir you up.
If that’s the case then, possibly the problem is best resolved in a well-mannered way because in the end, you’ve said flat-out that you won’t believe their lies, you’ve called them out by saying “I won’t be fighting with my spouse over lies.” Their plan failed. But you also said that you enjoy visiting with them. They win what they really wanted after all – to feel a little wanted by someone, even if it’s just a cousin.
Perhaps, this person’s used to being a little left out. In most cases, the accuser has one of the reasons mentioned for their accusing, and that is why this type of attitude, towards the situation, tends to bring peace and stop the madness in its tracks.
Situation number three: Dad won’t stop making fun of your lovie?
He always has jokes, but sometimes they hurt. Well, dish those jokes right back out. An example would be when dad makes fun of your partner’s choice of hair style. How about trying something like “Oh, dad! You’re just jealous because you haven’t seen a single hair sprout on your head since the 90’s!” That won’t work if he’s got a full head of hair of course, but that’s only an example. The key is to push the joke back on the person. Laugh though, and try not to do it in an angry manner and this may quickly send the person your message to "put a sock in it."
Another helpful way to clear the air, when you have family members that are known to pick on your partner each year:
Your family always hates on your partner every single year, and you’re at a breaking point. Do you have an influential sibling that would have your back? This is just what makes having siblings so handy.
I remember when I was a teenager, my 11 years-older-than me sister would throw word in my mom and dad’s ear concerning certain issues. For instance, I wanted to go visit my boyfriend’s house, at fifteen years old. She casually talked to my parents, making it a little less tension-filled; “it’s Kendra we’re talking about. You know how responsible she is. I’ll drive her if that makes it easier…”
And you know what? It almost always worked. So if you're blessed enough to have a sibling or other trusting family member, whom you can recruit, put them to use. Explain how your feelings, or your partner’s feelings, have really been trampled on over the years, and how you would appreciate if this sibling, or other person, would casually ask dad to lighten up this year.
An example would be having your sibling/person say something like “dad, you’ve given my sister’s spouse hell for the last two Christmas’, now you behave yourself this time. Will you do that for me?” Oftentimes a parent or family member has a tough time arguing with that, especially coming from an outside source because it can show them that they are the problem and that other people have taken note of the way they act.
Situation number four: Your family isn't making jokes anymore, but they're downright attacking your partner. This is where you drop the honey-covered talking, and the toothy smile, and put your foot down. On the other hand, however, if your partner has a family with you and hasn’t had a job in six months, yet, you’ve been working full time while he/she spends all day measuring their arm hair, well, what do you expect? Moms & Dads don’t take kindly to a partner who doesn’t make an effort or who’s truly doing you damage, and in this case, I wouldn’t expect them to play nice and you shouldn’t either.
But It's Not Like That?
If your partner is being attacked, for little or no reason, you may have to raise your voice, be more firm, and say “look, this is the Holidays. You are my family members and I’m not happy that you guys can’t just enjoy my presence, and keep the peace for us to be together on this day. If attacking my partner means more to you than keeping your mouth shut long enough for us all to enjoy each other, then would you prefer us leave?”
Well, what can you do? It’s certainly not an option to let your partner sit there, humiliated with their head hanging low, while your family attacks their choice of career, the way they choose to raise a family with you, etc.
Unfortunately, I’ve been in a situation where an ex-boyfriend’s mother would trash me really badly and he never stood up for me but she never did it to my face, only over the phone. But had he said just a little something to his mother, even just “that’s not very nice. Kendra would never talk that way about you,” it would have made a difference.
Then, I’ve had a situation, where my boyfriend did stand up and tell their parent that they wouldn’t even put up with trash-talking me, and it stopped instantly. That was a fortunate situation. I’ve also had my own dad be less than pleasant to an ex-boyfriend, and I told him that he was being absolutely rude, and even if this boyfriend was a bad idea, him being rude only did one thing: made him look really bad and reflected badly on only my dad.
He straightened up quickly... after my mom chewed him out. I'm kidding, though she did have my back, which helped him to see that he really was being inconsiderate.
Seriously though, sometimes a person, parent or not, just needs to see it from your point of view. If you tell them that their ugly attitude makes them come across as unpleasant, rude, or unpleasant and it is causing tension, they very well may take this to heart, and be easier to get along with. Tell them that they don’t always have to approve, but the least they can do is be civil.
All Else Failed?
If your family sees you and your partner interacting with love towards each other, this shows that they are special to you, and if your family has no valid reason for being hateful, this can make at least a minor impact. I don’t mean having sex or sitting on your partner’s lap and grinding, in a family-filled living room. I mean, show affection and your family might see things slightly differently. Don’t leave your partner in the living room, with drunk uncle Jeff, to take the heat alone.
You should try not to stick them in a situation, where snotty remarks can happen. I don’t like to be left alone, in a room full of people who want to be rude to me. If my partner’s family were like this, I’d be terribly uncomfortable, and hope that he would stay by my side for the most part, as a way to show his "having my back." Just be careful not to feed your lovie to the sharks!
Make them stand in your shoes.
Say it’s your dad, who’s ragging hard on your partner. Ask him if how he’d feel, if your partner said the same rude things to your mother or another person your dad loves. That wouldn’t make anybody feel good, to sit there listening to someone they love be treated badly. Putting the rude person in your shoes is a way of putting them in a corner. They know and you know they wouldn’t like it, had the tables been turned. Maybe they’d be likely to reconsider their remarks and behavior.
Or maybe your family is the type that need to be reminded throughout the day. If you have to whisper to them to put a sock in it, every 30 minutes just like a child, do so. Don’t let them get away with it, but don’t be nasty to your loved ones either. If it comes down to that, the only civil option would be to remove yourselves from the place altogether, and perhaps find another way to finish celebrating the evening. Doesn’t the jewelry store stay opened on Christmas day? Kidding. Kidding.
Call your parents beforehand. Ask them to make a promise, for your sake, that they will try and keep the peace so that you all can enjoy each other’s company for the Holidays. Is this harder said than done? Try convincing them. Persuade. Plan. Use your sweet honey method again! Tell them that you miss being able to relax, and enjoy time spent with them, that you hate how there’s tension and you’d very much enjoy it, if they could enjoy themselves and everyone else's company. Tell them that this is a special time for you, and while you won’t force them to give you their blessing, it won’t kill them to be peaceful.
Is there any specific activity that you used to do with your family, that everyone enjoyed? Baking? Playing a certain game, after Christmas dinner? Karaoke? Dirty Santa, or just looking through photo albums and reminiscing? Ask them if they’d mind doing this activity again. It’s especially helpful, if you have a mom who always warms up when you ask her to dig out the old photo albums! Does your grumpy father warm up when you ask him to tell stories of his motorcycle riding days(that is just one example)? If you can get creative and think of what it is that your family really enjoys, something that warms them up, and puts them in a good mood, you could use this to your advantage.
If you have to, tell them that you've been overly stressed the past couple of months, to the point of it affecting your health. Explain to them that you’re at a breaking point, and need for this Holiday time to go smoothly, and that their teamwork would be a great help in keeping your blood pressure from going up to unhealthy levels.
These are my tips and ideas that I've even used to combat the madness in my own situations. Care to share any of your own ways of combating the madness? Or were any of these ideas helpful enough that you'll store them in your own mind for the upcoming Holidays? I'd love to hear your thoughts.