You could be a young independent couple with your whole lives ahead of you, or you could be a seasoned married couple with marital life battle scars that have given you that hardened hue. Whichever relationship circumstance you find yourself in, one thing’s for certain–at some point or another, you will have to deal with your partner’s family.
Research shows that a healthy relationship with in-laws decreases the risk of divorce by 20 percent. But what do you do when your partner’s family are just the kind of folk that are difficult to get along with? Here are a few suggestions.
Maybe it’s having an open discussion with your partner about what you find difficult in dealing with her family. Perhaps it’s even airing out your concerns directly to her family. Whichever path you choose, keeping lines of communication open are vital in ironing out any issue.
This is particularly important with long-term or married couples. If you’ve found someone you’ve decided to spend your life with, chances are, you’re going to have to deal with that person’s family. Talking can easily resolve this. There are couples, however, who have had major communication problems stemming from this issue and decided to talk to a counsellor. Either way, you’re going to have to learn how to communicate with them.
- Show Compassion
When you’re angry, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that your significant other’s family is just downright diabolical. After a few deep breaths, however, you may find that just like everyone else, they’re dealing with issues that indirectly affect how they treat you.
Perhaps they always pictured their daughter ending up with a tall doctor with a chiselled jaw, and you being a philanthropic yogi in flip-flops isn’t exactly synonymous to that picture in their eyes. Intentions can seem less absurd with compassion. Speaking of which…
- Understand Intentions
As evil as your in-laws may seem, trying to peel through the layers of their interaction with you may reveal that in an unorthodox sort of way, they actually mean well.
Unexpected visits could mean they miss their daughter whom they haven’t seen for a while. They may keep serving shrimp whenever you visit, knowing full well you’re allergic to it, because your partner hasn’t been eating shrimp for the sake of your allergies.
Again, the process may not actually lead to a full understanding of why they have to resort to a different level of crazy just to “mean well,” but the very practise of looking to understand has never hurt anyone.
- Be Polite, Be Grateful, Apologise
Sometimes there are people who won’t get along with you. But as a rule of thumb of dealing with other people, be polite, say thank you, and apologise when you err.
Treating them with kindness, even when you don’t feel like it, will go a long way. If you find it difficult to say anything nice, simply smile and don’t say anything at all.
- Bend, Don’t Break
Of course you want to straighten out your relationship with your significant other’s family. But once you’ve tried the suggestions above and they still treat you unfairly, you might just have to accept the fact that it’s something you’re going to have to live with.
Breaking your mold just to please people isn’t exactly a lauded practise in living, and chances are, your partner would appreciate it if you tried most recourse. Ultimately, however, stand up for yourself. Talk to them and set limitations. There could be compromises (e.g. dinner once a month instead of every week) or disallowing certain actions (e.g. calling first instead of dropping by unexpectedly).
Just as there are many definitions of “problematic” in the context of your significant other’s family, there are plenty of ways to try and deal with them. If you’re really committed to a life with your partner, their family is going to play a major role in your lives whether you prefer it or not.
As difficult as it may seem, try and tackle the issue placidly, and your relationship, both with your partner and their family should be in a better place.
SHEILA FRYE is a writer for the Associated Counsellors and Psychologists Sydney, network of professional counsellors and psychologists.