Overstaying Their Welcome How do you and your spouse keep your sanity with overstaying relatives? BY DR. KAREN SHERMAN
Your relatives may be smiling, but if they're overstaying their welcome it can cause stress.
My husband and I have our first child who is now 4 months old. We live in NY and my husband’s mother lives in Florida. She says she’s afraid the baby won’t know who she is so every month she comes and stays with us for one week. Now that the holidays are approaching, both grandparents are planning on coming and extending the stay for two weeks. My husband sees nothing wrong with this.
Wow! You must be tired.
One of the best things about our society today is that we are living healthier, longer lives. Grandparents have the freedom of extended years to enjoy retirement. In order to do so, many choose to live in areas where the climates afford more reasonable lifestyles. Unfortunately, however, that also means that many will move away from their children and grandchildren.
These new living arrangements mean that the support of the extended family from years past is no longer available. Additionally, the bond that existed historically between generations is strained, at best. Clearly, your mother-in-law is expressing that strain.
This is a difficult situation. Regardless of understanding the social underpinnings, it’s a strain to have an "outsider" living with you for an extended period so regularly. Even if the two of you get along famously, this is still someone who is not part of your new nuclear family. Therefore, it’s hard to totally be yourself or in your routine.
What makes this particularly sticky is that your husband sees nothing wrong with this. And so, there is the proverbial triangular situation. Yes, you matter—but so does his mother!
Of course, during the holiday season there is a ton of additional stress. We’ve all grown up with the fantasy of this being a time of year where families gather to share warm, loving moments around a dinner table or blazing fire. With the possible resentment that is building in you as your in-laws embark for two weeks, this may be difficult for you to aspire to.
It’s important that you not harbor your feelings—whether it’s at this time of year or at any other time. Being able to communicate with your partner is essential for a solid relationship. The key to communication is to be respectful of one another. You need to raise your feelings with your husband but also be aware of his. Here are some ideas:
Start the conversation by letting him know that you want to discuss a delicate subject in order to come up with a solution that will meet everyone’s needs (Men are solution oriented and this beginning lets him know that you are not just going to be confrontational).
Let him know that you really understand his mother’s concerns.
Validate that you imagine it must be difficult for him to be in the middle of trying to be sensitive to your needs and his mother’s needs.
Explain your perspective—perhaps the frequency of the visits, the length of the stays, the manner in which she conducts herself during the visits.
Brainstorm ideas with him on how to handle the situation. Come up with various solutions and be willing to try something with the agreement that if it doesn’t work, an alternate idea will be tried.
The key idea is to get you both working together, rather than you feeling that your husband doesn’t understand you or isn’t trying to help with the situation. Once that happens, it will bring about a greater sense of connection—and certainly help to make the holidays feel warm and fuzzy!
Karen Sherman, Ph.D., (www.drkarensherman.com) is a practicing psychologist in relationships and lifestyle issues for over 20 years. She offers teleseminars and is co-author of Marriage Magic! Find It! Make It Last.