Meet The Parents: 4 Tips For Navigating In-Law Relationships

There are a lot of terrible jokes about in-laws, about their burdensome visits and interfering ways — but are in-laws really that bad? Personally, I have fantastic in-laws, but I know not everyone is so lucky. Still, your in-laws raised the person you went on to fall in love with and that should certainly count for something. And it certainly means you should make an effort to get along.

Research shows that having a positive relationship with your in-laws is a major determinant of marital happiness, so you can’t minimize this issue. But, by taking a few simple steps, you can overcome the barriers to a congenial relationship, if only a few times a year.

Skip The Stereotypes

The first step to getting along with your in-laws is remembering that all of those jokes and stereotypes about in-laws are just that — jokes and stereotypes. Like any relationship, you’ll likely hit some bumps in the road with your in-laws, but if you assume that the relationship is going to be a hostile one, of course it will be. Don’t jump to assume that you in-laws are interfering or overstepping when they offer advice, that they don’t like how you keep your home, or how you’re raising your kids. You don’t have to accept every piece of advice, but you don’t have to push it away either.

Create Connections

Remember that anxiety you felt when you first met your partner’s parents? For many of us, that relationship eventually shifts because we’ve all gotten to know each other better. If, however, you don’t have a close relationship with you in-laws or don’t see them often, make an effort to communicate more and become more comfortable and casual with each other. Send emails or text if you live far apart or plan an outing if they live nearby. Activities are a great way to get to know each other under less stressful conditions and during a limited period of time. A museum visit or a round of mini golf will take the stress off of the interaction.

Know What You Don’t Know

You’ve had years to learn how your family interacts with each other, but your spouse’s family is new territory. If you miss a joke or feel like an exchange is going in the wrong direction, pause for a moment. You may not have caught on to the communication style — their banter or inside jokes — and you might need someone to clue you in. Every family has their own style and none of them are necessarily wrong. It will just take you some time to adapt and you can’t be defensive about that. And, of course, you could be in my shoes — I love my in-laws but they joke bilingually and I just have to go with the flow on that one!

Keep Your Partner Involved

Finally, don’t forget that communicating well with your in-laws starts with leaning on your spouse. Let them know what you’re struggling with and ask questions about how they relate to their parents. Your spouse may be able to clue you into topics their parents love to talk about, help you understand the family dynamics, and support you during family gatherings. And remember, it will get easier over time.

Worst Case Scenarios

While you should be patient as you try to navigate your relationship with your partner’s parents, there are times when it’s okay to shut things down. Some people have in-laws who are legitimately hostile or even abusive, who may use gaslighting tactics, or try to drive you and your partner apart. If this happens to you, your partner should respect any limits you set in response. You can’t dictate their relationship with their parents, but you have to do what’s best for you.