With these two words, begins your wonderful journey with the one you love. The beginning of a shared future with your soulmate, the person you have CHOSEN to walk through life with.
We often think that this journey is strictly about the two of you. And often this is true. But let us pause for a moment. Along with your beloved comes their family, parents, siblings, and others. These individuals are all an integral part of the “package deal” that you may or may not have bargained for. They are the IN-LAWS. You did not CHOOSE them, but they are here to stay.
What does this mean? Must you accept them as is? Must you let your opinion and feelings towards them be known? In-laws are perhaps the most complex relationship you will encounter. Both you, the newcomer, and the receiving family are going to get to know one another better, and how you approach this new family will reap a lifetime of rewards.
Although they may have seemed perfect all along, you may have discovered certain idiosyncrasies and other traits about them that you may not necessarily like. You or they may misinterpret certain statements, comments, or even certain looks. I hope it does not happen. But, should it happen, these possibilities might very well interfere with the harmonious life that you were planning, and having the right tools is essential.
Can you turn to your loving spouse to make sense of it all? As supportive as that person may be, hearing negative things about their family often elicits a negative reaction. They may feel put on the spot, caught between the people they love the most, namely you and their family. And even though they may know that their family is not perfect, any criticism of them may be hurtful and cause them to become defensive. So, the idea becomes how to deal with this issue without interrupting your peaceful and loving relationship.
I would venture to assume that you have met the family. Following your own intuition, you can choose to be assertive and direct, keeping in mind to maintain grace as you approach the “other.” Refraining from criticizing, confronting or passing judgment will help you make your point, raise empathy, and achieve your goal. This is not to hint even for a moment that the responsibility lies solely with you. Yet, if you decide to go that route to clear the way and resolve any situation, here are some helping points:
When approaching anyone, it is best to let them know how you feel by using “I” statements, not “YOU” statements. For example, “In this situation I felt hurt…” or “I felt I was put on the spot…” or “I had the feeling that I was not included…” rather than “You hurt me by saying…” or “You put me on the spot…” or “You did not include me…” which may feel like an accusation.
There are times, though, when it is advisable to adhere to silence, as difficult as that may be. Of course, it isn’t easy to remain silent when upsetting situations occur. However, this silence is not a silence of agreement or acceptance. It does not mean that you are helpless and have nothing to say. On the contrary. You have much to say, but you choose to wait for the right time to express your feelings, when you are not emotionally charged.
Many more scenarios and their resolutions are included in my new book In-Laws and All: A Survival Guide. Rich with vignettes and seasoned with humor, it offers you a recipe for a positive and rewarding relationship.