It’s easier than you think!
Let’s get something straight. This is basically a personal journal entry and pep-talk for me. I’m not an authority on healthy, thriving relationships with in-laws. My inspiration for this list is my own life and, especially with the extra family time during the holiday season, I am struggling through my own selfishness and pride. While I can say that I hope for better days with my in-laws, the following six things are major roadblocks on my path to reconciliation.
1. Look For The Worst In Them :: When we were first married, things were awesome with my in-laws. Around our two year anniversary, their marriage went into serious turmoil. During that time, my in-laws were dishonest and dodgy with us and it has never been the same. Trust was lost and now I question every word or action my mother-in-law has or does. I draw quick conclusions and never give her the benefit of the doubt.
The remedy: Assume the BEST in and about them. Give them the opportunity to right their wrong.
2. Be Competitive :: If there was jealousy before we had our first child, I was totally oblivious to it. However, once the dust settled after our firstborn entered the world, unspoken competitiveness between my immediate family and my husband’s hit us like a load of bricks. My mother-in-law complains that we favor my family and, you know what? It’s true. My family gets 100% more text updates, funny stories about the kids, and candid photos of what we’re doing throughout the day.
The remedy: Be generous. Be fair. Share.
3. Love The Drama :: I’m reading over my bullet points and thinking, “I don’t want to do any of this. Not one single thing.” This begs an important question: Do I secretly (or not so secretly) love the drama? I kind of like retelling the eye-roll mother-in-law stories to my friends and I kind of get a kick out of my blood pressure rising as I replay some of the tense moments I’ve had with my in-laws.
The remedy: Don’t gossip. Perhaps if I swear myself off of rehashing the drama with others, I’ll be less interested in the pot being stirred in the first place.
4. Be Fake :: You might have made an assumption that my interactions with my in-laws are regularly confrontational or angry. Not at all. I’ve had one very mild “serious” discussion with them. Our conversations and interactions are consistently sweet as pie. We get together, laugh and catch up every couple of months – it’s fine. But between visits, it’s a cold war. It’s so weird. And so fake. I resent them for starting it (see item #1) and then I hate myself for playing their game.
The remedy: Just be honest. Be real. It may not solve all your relationship problems, but you can at least be proud of your authenticity and courage.
5. Make Your Husband The Middle-Man :: At some point I realized that my husband was being pulled in two directions. There were sides. Not ever explicitly expressed, but stuff like my mother-in-law wouldn’t include me in family messages about gatherings. Then I’d be all up in arms to my husband about why she was purposely excluding me (see item #1). Being in the middle stressed him out. Even when he agrees that his family is being ridiculous, they’re still where he came from. They’re his people and always will be. They’re a big reason why he is the way he is; some of that means they’re a big reason why I love him so much.
The remedy: Embrace your family. ALL of your family – even the one you married into.
6. Hold A Grudge :: Anger, indignation, and exasperation are “easier” emotions to experience than are hurt, vulnerability, and grief. This makes holding a grudge a go-to defense mechanism; being vulnerable and vocal about your hurt and disappointment with your in-laws is so uncomfortable. But it can be so powerful in the way of progress.
The remedy: Be vulnerable in your hurt. Make mending the relationship more important than holding on to your pride.
Guard yourself against these six things. Once you find yourself in a toxic place relationally, it’s extremely hard to back track. You might be saying, “But my in-laws really are the worst. It’s just not in my head!” I get it. Many of the problems I’ve had with mine are legitimate – once I heard my MIL talk trash about me when she didn’t know I was within earshot. They’re not absolved of all blame. As I review my list, I know I’m not free from all blame, either. That’s what makes our best effort to clear the air so sweet and so difficult and so important. While this list was written with my in-laws in mind, these principles can be applied to any relationship you struggle with: your marriage, your friends, your family. It’s hard but very important work. When you find your resolve failing, remember that you’re not just doing it for the sake of your relationship with your in-laws. A healthy relationship with them will undoubtedly translate into a healthier family environment for your husband and kids.