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How to Deal with Brutal In-Laws

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The holiday season can be a fantastic opportunity to catch up with people—family members from out of town, friends you haven’t seen in weeks, other loved ones in your life. And then there are the in-laws. Ohhhh, the in-laws. While some people genuinely like the parents, siblings, and family members of their significant other, others aren’t so lucky. For the latter group, just hearing the word “in-laws” fills their body with feelings of dread and irritability. So, what’s one to do about dreadful in-laws during the holiday season, where obligatory parties and forced small talk are part of the package? Read on for my tips.

1. Mentally prepare yourself.

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If you’ve been with your partner for awhile, chances are you know exactly what tricks the dreadful in-laws have up their sleeves. Maybe they’re prone to making passive aggressive comments that make you feel like crap. Maybe they like dragging you into gossip that you don’t want to be a part of. Whatever the case, you can gain a sense of power from anticipating what they’re going to do beforehand. I often invite people to visualize the exact things their in-laws are going to say so that it packs less of an emotional punch when they hear it. Visualize the tricks they’re going to pull over and over and over as a way of desensitizing yourself.

2. Do not stoop to their level.

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The reason why many in-laws can be so irritating is that they often know the exact buttons to push to annoy you—and will do so with great pleasure. It can be useful to try to figure out what their motives are. Many people with evil mother-in-laws, for example, are dealing with jealousy. The closer you are to your partner, the more your mother-in-law will feel as though you’re “stealing” their precious baby away from them.

Other in-laws might have other insecurities that get projected onto you. “Nice car out front… Wonder how much THAT cost.” The insecurity here is that you’re more successful than they are—and they don’t like it. Know that with every rude comment or gesture, in-laws are inviting you to play their games. Do not accept this invitation. This only means that you’re giving them exactly what they want, which is to gain power over you so they can control your emotions. Stand your ground and resist the urge to play ball.

3. Get some help from your partner.

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Make sure you tell your partner what you are okay and not okay with and allow them to set boundaries accordingly. For example, if you know you can’t handle a whole weekend at your partner’s parents’ place, then make sure you speak up about that. From there, the onus should be on your partner to draw the line. After all, if your significant other’s mom already thinks you’re “stealing her little baby” from her, that image is only going to be solidified if your partner leaves you to do the heavy lifting when setting boundaries.

4. Find a buddy.

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I’m not asking that you try to force a spectacular friendship with any of your in-laws, but chances are that some of them are more tolerable than others. Hang out with the more tolerable ones as much as you can so there are less opportunities for you to have to chat with the family members you want to avoid at all costs.

5. Remember that it’s not always about you.

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Sometimes anger can convince us that it’s our way or the highway. When anger strikes, we start speaking in “should’s” and act as if some sort of sacred rule has been violated. I shouldn’t have to spend time with people I don’t like! I should be enjoying my Christmas! To that I say: according to who? Where is the rule book that says you “should” be enjoying your Christmas? Where is the law that states you “shouldn’t” have to spend time with in-laws? At the end of the day, we all have to do things we don’t want to do. Welcome to adulthood. So, if your partner has helped you out in the ways that they can, the next step for you is to accept reality. Maybe you and your in-laws won’t ever get along and they’ll forever drive you crazy—and yes, that’s unfortunate. But no good comes from fixating on a negative fact that will unfortunately always exist. Breathe, accept your fate, and focus on the things you CAN control versus those you can’t.

The Bottom Line

In-laws can be incredibly tough to deal with, but there are some things you can control. Prepare yourself emotionally and mentally so their jabs don't pack as much of an emotional punch. Stick to hanging out with the more tolerable members of your partner's family. Have your partners help set boundaries. And last but not least, practice acceptance and remember all of the positives that keep you with your partner, not just the negatives!


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