Oh, man. It’s that time of year again. You hear the Christmas carols and see the twinkling lights. The air is crisp and smells like apples and peppermint. Maybe some snowflakes are drifting down. Winter wonderland, perhaps?
It’s a sign that the in-laws are coming.
Oh, boy. The most annoying time of year. No matter how much you like them as people, no matter how many walks they may take your dog on or dinners they may treat you to (or maybe they’re even worse and don’t do any of those things), it can be difficult to maintain your temper and keep a cool head while they’re there. Here are a few tips on keeping your cool when your in-laws are staying with you. In your house. Ugh.
Lean on Your Friends
Maybe it’s friends, maybe it’s family, but every time you feel your stress levels skyrocketing, excuse yourself from the situation and give someone you trust a phone call. It won’t make the situation better, but a good venting session, even if it’s short, can help you last one more day. Because, my goodness, if you don’t let that steam out, you might just explode.
Find Some Alone Time
This one may be a given, but it’s incredibly important. If your house is full and there’s no place to hide, get in your car and drive. Or, put on your shoes and walk. You could go in the backyard with headphones on or run to a friend’s house. Even the grocery store can be a safe-haven. But, trust me, you need that space. They probably need it, too. It’ll help everyone stay even-keeled.
Keep a Calendar
Remember how fun it was when you were a kid to count down the days until whatever holiday you celebrated? Perhaps you had an advent calendar, or maybe you’re a kid at heart and still count down the days. Well, think of their departure as that holiday. Keep a private calendar on your phone, personal computer, or even a printed-out calendar (kept in a very safe place where nobody will find it, of course). My favorite is a hard copy – it’s so satisfying to mark that big, fat ‘X’ on each day, plus it’ll help put things in perspective for how much time is left. It gives you something to look forward to and it really does help to remind yourself, “only five days left… Only four days left…” And so on. Remember, they’re not going to be there forever!
Have a Gentle Conversation with Your Partner
Assuming that your S.O. can be rational, just have a calm conversation with them about your boundaries before your in-laws arrive. Of course, you will have to make some compromises, but let them know that the bedroom is your safe space, and if the door is closed then that means that you need some alone time, or have a signal for when things are getting to be too much for you and you need to take a breather, or whatever it is that will help you make it through. Work together to preemptively find solutions before the problems start. It’ll be much harder if you’re trying to find solutions in the heat of the moment.
Get the Information Before they Get There
Find out what food the in-laws like to eat, what games they like to play, music they like to listen to, and so on. Doing what you can to find out those things ahead of time can help you avoid accidentally feeding someone food they don’t like or making them go golfing when they don’t like golf. Happy in-laws will make for an easier time. There will always be some missteps, so keep your expectations in check, but getting the info ahead of time will help to lessen the stress.
Remember that Everyone Has a Different Background
Maybe they don’t say thank you. Or, maybe they’re huggers and you don’t like hugs. Whatever it is, they come from a different family with different customs. Everyone has their ‘thing’ and do your best not to remember that it (most likely) isn’t personal. People all express affection and gratitude differently, but it doesn’t mean that they don’t feel it. As long as you and your partner speak the same language, just deal with the way their parents express it. As stated above, they won’t be there forever!
Most Importantly, Keep in Mind that their Parents are Not in Your Relationship
No matter what veiled insults or catty criticisms they make about you, remember that they have no power over your relationship. What you have with your partner is private. You can come up with reasons for their behavior if you want, but the fact of the matter is that there is nothing they can do to intrude unless you let them. Don’t let them have that power. They are not in your relationship, therefore they don’t have a say.
And, Don’t Forget to Be There for Your Partner
You may not be the only one suffering from their behavior. Your partner most likely has been dealing with them for years, so they may be having an even harder time than you. This is especially true if they feel caught in the middle between you and their parents. If you get the sense that they are having trouble keeping their cool, let them know that you’re there for them every step of the way.
Even the most well-intentioned in-laws can be very trying for a relationship. But, they are there until the day that they die, so it’s best to come up with a game plan to emerge from their visits relatively unscathed. It doesn’t need to be a battle, but you do need to be prepared. Just a few simple steps can work wonders.
Photo by Philippe Leone on Unsplash