The holiday season brings many joyful times as well as many stressors. Spending time with family is something many of us look forward to enjoying, but depending on our relationship with in-laws and parents, the holidays may not be as rewarding as we hope. Getting married or being in a long-term relationship means you inherit a new set of parents, your partner’s parents, for better or for worse.
Here are two tips that may help you keep your relationship intact when navigating the relationship you have with your in-laws:
1) Discuss holiday schedules ahead of time in a productive way
Figuring out which family you visit or visit first and when should be a decision between the two of you and usually involves a bit of compromising. This is an important step in showing both of your families that you are now separate from them and have formed your own family. John Gottman identified a method called ’the two ovals’ which works well for figuring out holiday schedules.
Here’s how to do it:
- Draw two ovals, one inside of the other like a donut or a bagel.
- In the smaller circle put the family time you are unwilling to compromise on, the things that if you gave up, you’d really regret and feel badly about. Say holiday dinner at your aunt’s house.
- In the larger oval put the family time you are more flexible with, like when you visit your grandparents the next town over.
- Discuss your ovals with your partner and ask the following questions:
- Where you do agree?
- What are both of your inflexible areas?
- How can you reach a temporary compromise for this holiday season?
- Come up with a plan that works for both of you and then tell your families as a united front.
2) Create a sense of ‘we-ness’ and solidarity with your partner, especially around the holidays.
Tense situations with in-laws and spouses often occur in marriages and sometimes you may wonder where your and your partner’s allegiance lies. You both have been part of another family for a long time; that family has its own holiday traditions and customs. Somewhat of a ’turf war’ between the spouses and in-laws may ignite, both wanting the partner’s attention during the holidays.
One of the main ways to end the war is to create a sense of ‘we-ness’ and solidarity with your partner and side with your partner over your parents. This may mean having to hold your ground and stand up for your spouse and take this or her side over your parents. This may seem harsh, but slowly your parents will adjust to reality and accept that your partner comes first. You are a partner/spouse first and a son/daughter second. Remember which team you are on.
Here’s a more mild example:
Your father says: “Jane’s mashed potatoes are good, but your mother’s are better aren’t they? I don’t like all of the onions that Jane put in them this year.”
You can say: “Actually, I really like the extra onions, it gives it a more flavorful taste.”
And another example:
Your brother says: “I don’t know why you married Jack, he’s got no personality!”
You can say: “He really opens up once you get to know him. Why don’t you ask him about his fantasy football draft this year?”
This way you are choosing your partner over your parent/relatives. It might seem like a small gesture, but it adds up, especially in the eyes of your partner!
Hopefully these two tips help you navigate the holiday season with your partner.