Priya* thought her mother-in-law had all her speed dial buttons programmed to the work, cell, and home numbers for Priya and her husband, because the calls came every day, all the time. It drove Priya crazy and she was starting to think her mother-in-law was crazy. Unfortunately, what seemed very abnormal to her seemed perfectly normal to him. She grew up in the opposite side of the spectrum, besides the occasional visits and holidays, there was no need for calls so frequently to be ‘checked up’ on. When she hit her limit, she made a passive aggressive comment to her mother-in-law which caused a rift between the two of them.
Though Priya was justified in thinking there should be boundaries, the first thing you have to accept about getting along with the in-laws is that they are not “crazy” and they have a perspective. In Priya’s situation, she should have remembered that the son’s transition, from single to married, can be hard for some mothers and should be handled with sensitivity.
DivorceMag reports that in-laws contribute to 86% of separation/divorces. But your relationship does not have to lead down that path. Any in-law relationship can not only be salvaged but can also bloom. There are certain suggestions I make to every new daughter-in-law about getting along with the in-laws.
Identifying the problem is a good first step. According to relationship psychotherapist Paula Hall, the common ‘areas of conflict’ with the in-laws are annoying habits, criticism, keeping in touch, privacy and family occasions. If your issues run so deep, try writing about it to yourself. Vent with pen and paper, and don’t leave it at that. Include how you’ve acted around them and if there are things you could have done differently that may have influenced a better turnout.
Communication is key. The secret that most people can’t see during an upsetting time is that if your in-laws are indeed at fault, your spouse most likely agrees and knows. He/She just won’t admit it, that’s all. It is not necessarily wrong to vent. No one wants to hear bad things being said about their parents, but you don’t want to be fake or dishonest. What you express is what will be perceived, so if you show that you’re not really upset, when it builds up and comes back at a different time your spouse will be utterly confused and not be open to what they believe you are exaggerating on.
Be diplomatic. Have an initial vent session alone. Next, in a diplomatic way address to your spouse what happened that upset you. After you have shared your issues, let your spouse handle it in their own way. They love you and want you to be happy. They will understand that you want to make things better, which will push them to take care of the situation. Be it alone, with his/her parents, or with you.
Take time to grasp their personality. If you are new with your in-laws it can be hard to grasp on to what their personalities and regular behavior is like. As time passes it can help you assess if what was said or done is something you can accept knowing they meant no harm, or if it is more serious. A spouse can be more forgiving and accepting of certain parent traits since they obviously have been around it longer. It is important to realize this and express the same for them to see it from your perspective.
Put yourself in the other person’s shoes - If you don’t try to make it work with your spouse’s family, you give up the right to complain when your spouse doesn’t try with yours. Quoting one of my favorite authors, Dale Carnegie, “When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bustling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity.”
Understand cultural differences. With different cultures and backgrounds in relationships it is important to understand that there will be differences. Not just the regular ones, but additional ones. With me being from India, my non-Indian husband educates himself whenever he gets the opportunity to learn more about my culture and customs. He and his family do their best to know what must be done and not done to be respectful and avoid offending my family accidentally. The same goes for me and my family for my American husband and in-laws.
There isn’t a class taught in school about how to deal with an in-law, so both you are your in-laws are on the same boat. It’s the first thing you share and don’t even realize. There could be unforeseen waves in this journey, but remember that even the biggest waves become small and disappear eventually. So relax, let your guard down and enjoy the ride. Look forward to upcoming family reunions. Dreading them will bring you down, and in turn, bring your spouse down, and you definitely don’t want to be the source of all that unnecessary misery. - Brintha Jayapandian Gardner
Dedicated to Brett, Mike, Sandy, Grandma Cramer, Uncle Paul and Grandpa & Grandma Gardner
*name changed for privacy