8 Tips for Managing In-Law and Family-Related Holiday Stress Don’t get derailed by the unexpected family surprises of the holiday season. Use these tips to help you and your spouse stay on course. BY DR. TERRI ORBUCH
Don't let your in-laws and other family members stress you out... you control your own emotions.
“ You may not be able change anyone's behavior or opinion at one get-together, but you can be a role model and show respect for everyone's opinion.”
A study by the American Psychological Association found that 58 percent of Americans cite "family gatherings" at holiday time as a significant source of stress. In-law relationships are particularly challenging.
But since holidays are practically synonymous with family get-togethers, you may need to learn to live with them. Here are eight strategies to help you manage the stress triggered by both in-laws and one's own relatives and get more enjoyment out of the holidays.
1. Don't take on everything yourself. When you issue the invitations, ask everyone to bring a favorite dish. That way, every member becomes an essential part of the meal or party. If there are people who don't like to cook or bake, ask them to bring flowers, a game to play, or plates and napkins.
2. Recognize efforts to control. Prickly issues are usually all about control—a parent wanting to control some aspect of an adult child's married life, for example. It could rear its ugly head in the form of comments about a daughter-in-law's housekeeping, for example, or criticism about a late-blooming grandchild. Knowing that in-laws' desire to control probably won't disappear, you can reduce frustration and anger by recognizing that such control issues are about them, not you.
3. Create a safe zone for differences. If you respect differences in your house and at this event, others are more likely to follow suit. You may not be able change anyone's behavior or opinion at one get-together, but you can be a role model and show respect for everyone's opinion. If there's a topic that creates too much conflict—such as politics or religion—steer the discussion in another direction.
4. Ask your spouse to step in. If you do your best but find that your in-law continues to say, ask, or do something that's clearly annoying, rude, or frustrating, ask your spouse to help with his or her parent. Most often this type of situation arises between a wife and her mother-in-law. Your spouse may not be aware of what's going on until you say to him or her, "Help me find a solution to the issue." After all, your spouse grew up with that person and knows them best.
5. Maintain conversational boundaries. There's no need to spill your guts about everything to family and friends at holiday time. In return, set limits for what you ask others about. For example, it's not the time to ask married children when they're going to start a family, whether the 44-year-old bachelor nephew has a girlfriend yet, or if your sister's husband is still unemployed. It can be helpful to write down fun topics and put them in a bowl to fish out as a party game—best movie they've seen, favorite trip, or favorite Broadway show.
6. Form a united front with your spouse. Some in-laws get perverse pleasure by driving a wedge between you and your spouse. For instance, they may mention an old girlfriend or boyfriend that makes you feel jealous, or rib their own adult child about his or her bad habits. Before this happens, make a pact with your partner that you'll come to the rescue when they're in emotional distress. A simple statement can stop the punishment in its tracks, such as, "We love each other just the way we are—our history and flaws and everything else!"
7. Be sensitive to others' needs. You can make family get-togethers more palatable if you consider every invitee individually. For example, a few of the males may want to watch football. Kids need games, toys, and other diversions. Older people may need a quiet place to rest or nap. Some guests may have dietary needs. Try to create a space, agenda, and menu that minimize friction and neediness.
8. Keep the atmosphere light. Studies show that laughter and smiling change people's moods. Ask dinner guests to tell their favorite joke. Print out a list of one-liners, cut it into strips, and have each dinner guest read his or hers out loud. Games and outdoor activities also reduce family tension. But play games that don't require much skill or prior knowledge, like charades, cards, or other noncompetitive team games.