It’s no secret that in-laws can create tension in a marriage, and if you don’t get along with your husband’s family, holidays and family get-togethers can feel like a nightmare. While you may never become as close with your husband’s family as you are with your own, you can learn how best to interact with them and teach them how to interact with you. With a little patience and time, you can all feel a little more comfortable at family gatherings.
Kathy Bierne, a writer and editor with a master’s degree in child and family development, suggests in an article on ForYourMarriage.org trying to put yourself in your in-law’s shoes, no matter how annoying their habits. If your brother-in-law is always making cringe-worthy jokes that you find inappropriate, think about why he might be doing it. He might be making a misguided attempt to help you loosen up, or he might just feel uncomfortable in your presence. Understanding your brother-in-law’s motivations instead of labeling him as “weird” will help you connect with him instead of alienating him.
Talk to Your Husband
Avoid judgment words like “weird”, which are likely to put your husband on the defensive. Instead say, “I don't feel like I have much in common with your family, and it makes me uncomfortable when talking to them" or "I just never know how to react to your mother's Christmas gifts, because it doesn't feel like she really knows me well”. Bierne says that couples should treat the problem as one they share, rather than an issue that comes between them. Brainstorm solutions together.
Ask Your Husband's Help
Bierne writes that constructive criticism should always come from direct family members, rather than from you to your in-laws, as family members are more likely to receive criticism from immediate family members. Help your husband decide what to say, and then let him pick a time and a place with his family members about helping you feel more comfortable at family gatherings. If the advice comes from your husband, it will be more likely to resonate with the in-laws than if it were to come from you.
Find Common Ground
No matter how strange these individuals are, there is likely to be something you both enjoy. Perhaps you can get together to watch a TV show, attend a concert or play a board game or sport. Dr. Leonard Felder, author of “When Difficult Relatives Happen To Good People,” recommends spending a little bit of quality time doing something you and the offending in-laws like, so that it’s easier to be compassionate when your in-laws are difficult. Build a list of topics and activities you both enjoy, so you can start to enjoy your interactions and connect with your in-laws. Your husband will certainly appreciate it.