Stories about in-law relationships are legendary. Whether it’s a mother- or father-in-law, daughter- or son-in-law, these relationships often prove tricky. Feelings get hurt, and someone may be put in the middle. However, it’s in everyone’s best interest to get along, here are five tips for greater harmony.
- The first step in any relationship is to be able to see things from the other person’s perspective. Try to step into their shoes and understand where they’re coming from. For example, maybe you just want to spend more time with your grandchildren, and your daughter-in-law isn’t really trying to keep you from them when she says they have plans for the weekend – maybe instead she is trying to preserve some time for her, your son and the kids to do things together despite their hectic schedule. Understanding where someone else may be coming from can help you acknowledge their feelings and also come up with possible solutions that will work for everyone. For example, you can take the grandchildren for an evening so that they can have a date night while you spend time with the kids.
- All the understanding in the world won’t mean that you and your in-laws agree on everything. It’s key to pick your battles and decide which things are important enough to speak out about and which you can let go. For example, maybe you can live with the fact your son-in-law never says thank you for gifts, but you feel strongly about the fact that the grandchildren should, so you find a tactful way to discuss it with your daughter and son-in-law.
- When you feel strongly about something, it’s important to set boundaries and speak up, but how you speak up can make all the difference. “Before launching into the actual problem, it helps to begin the conversation with a positive comment or an acknowledgement of their feelings,” says psychologist Anne Hanley. For example: “I appreciate that you …” or “I see how much you value your time with Dave.” Dr. Hanley says, “Then, clearly state how this might work out best for you: ‘What would really help us is to have these visits arranged at less busy times for our family’ (be specific here by suggesting a couple of dates).”
- While a spouse will need to be supportive and help guide in-law relationships, make sure not to put anyone in the middle. Complaining to your husband about his mother is or to your son about his wife is not productive and can be damaging to all relationships involved. Instead, be proactive about solutions, or address the problem directly with the person you have an issue with, as advised above.
- Perhaps most importantly, try and compromise. Maybe you can’t spend Christmas together but Christmas Eve will do. Meet in the middle on issues of disagreement so that all parties feel heard and have their needs met.
“An us against them mentality actually becomes part of the problem,” Dr. Hanley says. “For certain, we need to listen carefully, communicate clearly our wants and honor different viewpoints.”