Whether you like it or not, when you get married you not only gain a spouse, you gain a whole new extended family. In some marriages your new extended family is a blessing, and in other relationships they're an ongoing burden. The good news is if you're faced with controlling or challenging in-laws, there are strategies to make interactions with your in-laws smoother, and at times even pleasant.
- Don't take the same position, expecting different results:
Often I see families get in a rut when they get together with their extended family. For example, every time you get together with your in-laws you drive to their house, your Mother-in-law makes dinner, and after dinner everyone gathers around the TV. to watch a movie.
In theory the above plan sounds like a nice one. However, what if every time you try to pick a movie, there is a huge disagreement causing someone to sulk unhappily in the corner? Or what if your Mother-in-law never has dinner done until two hours after expected, and you're stuck with two hungry and crabby kids? If the same types of conflicts keep reoccurring, then maybe it's time to try something new.
For example, maybe you should pick a restaurant everyone likes, and make it the family's "regular place". It is my experience that if you label something a tradition, then families can usually rally around the idea together. Creating a new tradition is a great way to get you and your in-laws out of the rut you may be stuck in.
- Team up with your spouse:
The biggest mistake I see people make it assuming it is them by themselves verse their in-laws. That should never be the case. In fact, it should be you and your spouse versus extended family. Unfortunately many spouses believe that since their in-laws gave your spouse the gift of life, that somehow your in-laws have some sort of "dibs" them. This assumption, although common is dangerous to you and your spouse's marriage. The best thing you can do is speak openly (and considerately) about problems you're facing with your spouse's extended family. As a result of that conversation, your problem should be made a joint problem that you need to brainstorm answers to together.
- Communicate directly with your in-laws:
It is easy and natural to let you spouse do all of the communicating with your in-laws. This is because it keeps you insulated from any potential issues between you and your in-laws. However, this is not healthy for your relationship with your spouse or your in-laws. This is because the worst thing that you can do in your relationship is put your spouse in between you and his family. That is why even though it does not sound appealing, you should absolutely make the effort to make plans directly with your in-laws. This way if you have concerns about the plans you're making with your in-laws you can raise them directly (and hopefully tactfully). As a result you will develop an open flow of communication between you which will in turn strengthen the relationship for the better.