Your partner’s family can have a big impact on your relationship, especially at holiday time. If you’re blessed with wonderful in-laws and you know it, you are truly lucky. It can’t hurt to tell them again how thankful you are that they’re part of your life.
The more common scenario, alas, is in-laws that drive you crazy. Sometimes one or both families irritate both people in the couple. Other times, each partner is fine with his or her own family but can’t stand the spouse’s side. The reasons for this may be minor (maybe their way of handling holidays is completely different from the better way your family does it) or significant (say, your father-in-law is a drunk who often starts yelling during family events). Maybe you and your mother-in-law are so similar that you keep getting on each other’s nerves. Or your brother-in-law is a jerk in the same way your own brother was a jerk when you were growing up, and it pushes your buttons big-time.
Whatever the details of your situation, however legitimate your gripes about the in-laws, you can make things better. At least a little better. You can’t change them—but you can change how you deal with them.
The first step is taking a deep breath and thinking about them differently. For just a moment, set aside the annoying parts. What are the good parts? What about this person or this group is actually not so bad, or really pretty nice? If you think of them as loud and annoying, are they also warm, enthusiastic, down to earth? If they’re uptight and formal at holidays, is the meal actually elegant and beautiful? If there’s no positive flip side to certain aspects, are there other aspects that are good? Things like good intentions, a sense of humor, an excellent pie recipe, willingness to play with the kids so others can relax?
What in there can you be thankful for? Gratitude has health benefits, because it decreases stress. It also increases compassion (and compassion for difficult relatives can create more connection with them, which may soften your relationship). So as you prepare for family gatherings, take a few moments to be grateful for the pleasant aspects of the extended family. Try to focus on those good things. It’ll be the nicest contribution you can make to a happier holiday.