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Getting Along with Your In-Laws
by Dr. Dale V. Atkins, February 2009

Getting along with your in-laws isn't always easy, as many know. Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, daughters, and sons-in-law are all relationships with potential challenges which can affect your life with your spouse and other extended family members. As we are settling into the new year, now is a perfect time to think about improving these relationships. There are many people who have wonderfully fulfilling and enriching relationships with their in-laws. They appreciate who their in-laws are and look forward to being together. In fact, I believe there are many opportunities to know yourself better by getting along well with your in-laws.

To begin, take a step back. This is particularly important if your previous visit was less than good. Reflect on what happened. Don't blame. Let things percolate a bit so you can figure out how to handle a similar situation should it come up again. Consider changing your attitude and behavior which will then change the patterns in your relationships. Find and focus on something that reflects kindly on your in-laws and make a point of telling them with sincere appreciation. When you do this you are encouraged to focus on attributes of your spouse that you really do admire and value and reflect well on his or her family.

It also helps to be realistic and reasonable. Enlist the help of your partner when trying to improve the relationship with reasonable expectations. When figuring out what sort of relationship would work, remember it will not be the same as your relationship with your family - be it a good or bad relationship. If your in-laws live far away and you don't get to see them very often, instead of "going to the mat" on every little thing, loosen up and allow. You do not have to engage in a "win or lose" situation. Remember that your partner chose to be with you, so for a few days a year you can take a backseat.

Take the high road and communicate respect. This point is particularly important when dealing with a daughter/son-in-law. It could change the dynamic of the relationship and will likely improve it. By agreeing to respect the in-law, it doesn't mean you always have to agree. It's ok to agree to disagree and move on. The key is to respect the other person's opinion and beliefs whether you agree with them or not. If an in-law pushes your buttons, don't take the bait; instead, take a step back.

Finally, take time for yourself. Whether you are with the in-laws on a regular basis or only once in a while, be sure to take time for yourself. Go for a walk or start the day with some stretches and quiet time (while still in bed if need be) so you gather your thoughts and focus on the things for which you feel grateful. Count those blessings before coming downstairs for the morning coffee. This will help buoy you during the time you are together. You want to make sure you have time to relax so you can be in a better place when you do interact with your in-laws.

Bottom line: manage your expectations, don't bite all the bait that is thrown your way, and find time for yourself.

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