Some people have a hovering mother; others a crazy aunt who is relentless about asking why you’re not having kids yet. The constant prying and nonstop grilling can be exhausting, and your in-laws can sometimes be the worst offenders. Before you let your reaction to their inconsiderate ways become your Achilles heel, consider how you might approach the situation differently.
If you have terrible in-laws, it’s time to take back control. Here are seven ways to deal with those impossible relatives.
1. Turn the conversation around on them
There’s nothing like feeling awkward at a family event, especially when it stems from a conversation with a relative. If someone lacks a filter, putting up with them without wringing their neck can be a difficult balancing act. You don’t want to come off as rude, but you also know there’s a fine line when it comes to personal boundaries, and it’s one that needs to be drawn at some point.
If you have a relative who’s more of an interrogator and less of a concerned loved one, try flipping the script on them. Maybe they’ve never considered how their questions actually make you feel.
2. Determine your goal in the relationship
Each of your relationships has a different goal — what you need from one person is totally different from what you need from another. Once you establish the kind of relationship you’re looking for with your in-laws, you’ll be able to figure out your next steps.
The Huffington Post says you need to ask yourself some important questions. Are you after a relationship in which you can tolerate one another? Or are you hell-bent on establishing a best buds type of rapport? If you’re not concerned with having your in-laws in your child’s life, there’s no need to drive yourself crazy striving for perfection.
3. Put your foot down
Easier said than done, but tough times require tough love. If you’re constantly butting heads with a member of your family, don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself. Being too intimidated to speak your mind isn’t doing you any good, so don’t hesitate to put your foot down when you need to.
Susan Forward, Ph.D., tells Woman’s Day that if you’re dealing with a critical mother-in law, for example, use non-defensive responses like agreeing to disagree.
4. Don’t make assumptions about family dynamics
In the case of in-laws, it’s important to keep in mind you’re dealing with people whom you haven’t known your whole life. Your partner may be able to explain what their childhood was like, but you don’t have firsthand experience. And psychotherapist Tina B. Tessina tells Reader’s Digest you shouldn’t assume their family relationships will resemble those of your own family. Tessina recommends taking the time to get to know your in-laws. Make an effort to build communication and see what works best for you. Again, different relationships require different things.
5. Present the facts during a disagreement
Arguing with someone who’s never been wrong a day in their life means you really, really need to be on top of your game. Rather than getting defensive and becoming emotional, be prepared. According to Oprah.com, there’s a strategy worth adopting if every family gathering feels like a competition. Instead of asking for mercy in a heated disagreement, make a reasonable argument. If you come armed with facts, your difficult relative will find a way to back down without losing, at least in their eyes.
6. Think about how you want to behave
You can tell a lot about a person by the way they behave. And while you can’t control another person’s behavior, you can certainly control your own. In Psychology Today, Gretchen Rubin recommends taking some time to think about the way you want to behave in the company of difficult relatives. Are you taking precautionary steps to minimize potential disagreements? Make sure you try everything in your power to set yourself up for success. Whether that means placing yourself on the opposite end of the dinner table from someone frustrating or making sure you find time for a workout, small changes could turn out to be huge.
7. Ditch your expectations
Sometimes, relationships just aren’t meant to be. It may sound negative, but giving up on what you thought was going to be a great, tightly knit bond isn’t worth losing your hair over. Just because you chose your significant other doesn’t mean you chose their parents. If you’ve done everything in your power to establish a healthy relationship but have been unsuccessful, it maybe be time to throw in the towel.
We’re not saying you should cut them out completely, but revising your expectations for the future will help keep your stress at bay. If there’s zero chance your mother-in-law will back off of criticizing your parenting style, maybe it’s time to make yourself, and your kids, less accessible. As Yvonne K. Fulbright, Ph.D., writes in Psychology Today, “Don’t want what you can’t have.”