Are In-Law Troubles Troubling Your Marriage?

The holidays are nearly upon us, which for some couples brings excitement and others dread. At the recent request of some readers, I researched ways to improve the notorious mother-in-law relationship. Stress and strain between spouses and in-laws causes a good deal of division and strife in marriage. If your relationship with in-laws or parents is less-than-perfect, maybe this is the year for change.

After reviewing several resources, I came across an excellent post written by Gretchen Rubin, a best-selling author who writes tips for improving your happiness.  Rubin’s article “Ten tips for getting along with your mother-in-law” contains a gold mine of sound advice on how you can make your interactions much more positive and pleasant. Give it a read. Even the commenters added more good tips, such as, “No matter how much they drive you crazy, remember that they’ve been driving your spouse crazy much longer. Don’t take out your frustrations on your spouse; they’re probably as stressed out as you are.” If your issue is another family member, Rubin also has a good post on “7 tips for getting along with difficult relatives.”

I once heard the suggestion to act as if you have the relationship you want, and start cultivating that ideal relationship. While that may not always work, Gretchen suggests putting yourself in a friendly, calm frame of mind before you get together with in-laws. Instead of avoiding your mother-in-law, seek her out and be friendly. Basically, put yourself in a better mood before you get there, so you are not so easily offended.

One of her insightful tips is to “mindfully articulate, and act in accordance with, your own values.” She explains, “If you know your own values and live according to them, people’s pointed remarks don’t sting nearly as much, and strangely, they often back off.”

If a difficult situation fails to improve, you can still be in charge of your own reactions and behavior. You may need to bite your tongue for the benefit of your spouse. “Sometimes you can behave nicely for someone else’s happiness, even if you’d be very happy to pitch a battle, if left to your own devices,” says Rubin.

Rubin’s blog has other helpful and tested strategies for improving your own happiness, which can be beneficial as long as you are clear on the difference between seeking happiness and seeking joy.

So, are you looking forward to Thanksgiving with extended family, or are you considering flying to Tahiti instead? Do you have any great in-law tips to share?

3 responses to “Are In-Law Troubles Troubling Your Marriage?

  1. This is so good. My wife’s mother passed away when she was very young. Husbands don’t realize how much more they would have to deal with if their wives didn’t have a mother. Making the decision to be thankful for your mother-in-law might really help many.

    I write a blog about marriage and how men can better love their wives. I hope you will check it out when you have a chance


  2. I love this. I’m blessed with a good in-law relationship, but it wasn’t always this way. I think it goes back to your previous blog about being a good listener. Maybe your MIL doesn’t know how to talk to you or you’ve never taken the time to really inquire about a self-deprecating remark or a passive-aggressive comment.
    Some in-laws don’t want to ask anything of you, so maybe you can make a point to do something extra this holiday. Instead of asking “Would you like for me to bring something?” offer to bring a dish you are really good at making (or buying… if you don’t cook.) Don’t ask a yes or no question, but give a choice. I would like to bring this or that, what sounds better to you?
    And avoid personalizing every comment or action. Planning a family event can be time-consuming and stressful, and you would be wise to say “Thank You” as many times as you can! I try to end every in-law encounter with the words “Thank you for everything.” And I really do mean it.

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