Dr. Romance on Holidays with Family and In-laws
Marriage means relating to in-laws and extended family. This is what "cleave to each other, forsaking all others" in the old marriage vows meant: Once married, you are now each other's primary relationship, and your relationship with your original family has to change (this is why parents cry at weddings.) So you and your partner have to let both sets of parents know that things are different now, and come up with an arrangement that works for you, and still gives each family some time.
Fairness is key. If you start thinking of these people as your own extended family, your frustration level and resentment level will go down. The future of your marriage depends on getting along with your husband's family, and him getting along with yours.
Successful couples learn to accept and appreciate each other's holiday celebrations, foods, and also the more subtle emotional style of each others' family. One family may think being loving is exactly what the other family sees as terribly intrusive. One partner may value sharing and intimacy, the other may value respect and privacy. Blending these styles is not easy, but the rewards are great.
Getting close to your in-laws can feel awkward, at first, Most people want to get along and have a good time, but if both families' customs, habits and expectations are not taken into consideration, problems can arise.
This is particularly important in families that are culturally religiously or regionally mixed -- when the bride and groom come from different traditions, cultures, areas of the country or ethnic backgrounds. While the bride and groom may enjoy each others' differences, their families are often very uncomfortable with each other. Also, different regions of this country have different customs, so a southern family might feel quite foreign to a northeastern daughter-in-law.
It's very important for the bride and groom to talk about their families: Is there an uncle who likes to pinch the girls when he has a few drinks? A grandmother who's getting a little spaced, and says odd things very loudly? A political difference? Some very traditional religious branch of the family who will be upset if certain customs or diets aren't followed? The practice the you and your spouse get now in blending your families will set the pattern for the rest of your married life.
Here are some suggestions:
1) get a clear agreement with spouse about the boundaries you're going to set with his/her parents. How will you handle holidays? Does one family like to "drop in" and is that OK?
2) learn to give "adult time-outs" to the in-laws if they behave badly or pressure you. (that is, withdraw to extremely polite but distant relating -- no personal interchanges, but no rudeness.)
3) If in-laws are difficult, learn to treat them as members of someone else's family -- with whom you'd not react to obnoxious things, but just politely ignore what they're doing or saying, and maintain a pleasant demeanor.