The holiday season is normally is associated with family — but it’s not always your own family that you’re dealing with. If you’re in a serious relationship, there’s a good chance you’re going to be spending some time around your partner’s family — in fact, you may even have your partner’s family visiting over the holidays.
If you don’t get along with your partner’s family, the holidays can get very stressful, especially if they’re coming to town or even staying with you.
“There are varying degrees of disliking your partner’s family,” relationship therapist Aimee Hartstein, LCSW tells Bustle. “There’s moderate — you have nothing in common, you don’t agree with their values, and you don’t enjoy your company. As long as they treat you with respect and kindness, that’s enough to tolerate your partner’s family a few times a year. Try and find some common ground and take some alone time when you can.”
But sometimes the dislike is much stronger, and that’s when things can get really tricky. If you feel like you’re going to be a little too close for comfort with your in-laws, or psuedo in-laws, you may be feeling overwhelmed — but you can get through this. Here’s what experts say you should keep in mind.
1. Have A Plan
Even though having family visiting can feel like a total invasion of space — especially if it’s not your own — you don’t have to feel helpless in the situation. Instead, try to take control.
If you haven’t already, it’s time to be honest with your partner about how you feel. “You need to let your partner know how you feel,” Joshua Klapow, PhD, clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, tells Bustle. “Explain in respectful terms your desire to maybe limit the amount of time with their family. You don’t need to tell your partner specifically that you don’t like their family as much as communicate why you don’t want to spend time (I struggle spending lots of time with your family, I find myself getting into conflicts with them, I’m not my best when I’m with them, I don’t like how they treat me, I don’t like how they treat you). Be specific — it’s not about liking versus disliking, as much as it is about how you feel with them.”
Once you’ve done that, you can start to work out a plan for their visit. “It’s their family — you love your partner, so you are willing to compromise,” Klapow says. “But where do you need to draw the line? How much time the family spends with you? Whether or not they are staying with you versus at a hotel? The events of the holidays? You need to let your partner know what you are willing to do and what you are willing not to do.” Setting some ground rules in advance can make a big difference.
2. Stick To Activities That Work
As much as the situation might be intrinsically stressful, it can be useful to avoid stress when you can. “You may find that you can manage spending time with your partner’s family if there are breaks, group activities, time for you to be by yourself, etc,” Klapow says. “There is no reason that the entire family has to be together every minute of the holiday. In fact, that is the recipe for disaster. Build in some time for yourself.”
By focusing on activities that you think can go more smoothly — board games rather than long car rides, watching a movie rather than shopping — you can help keep the situation more positive.
Of course, if there’s a huge amount of dislike, it may be best to focus on minimizing interactions as much as possible. “There are occasionally in-laws who are truly undermining of your relationship, and if that’s the case, you should do your best to see and interact with them as little as possible,” Hartstein says. “Hopefully you and your partner are on the same page with this and they have your back. There are some family members that are simply impossible to get along with and unfortunately your best bet is to limit interactions dramatically and, still be polite!”
3. Focus On Your Partner
Finally, remember that you’re doing this for your partner — and the focus should be on them, not their parents. So no matter how stressful things get, remember that you and your partner are on the same team.
“Your partner is going to be your ally during this time,” Klapow says. “If you go into the visit at odds with your partner it will only make matters worse. It is critical that you and your partner have communicated, laid out a plan, know the limits and boundaries and go into this with the understanding that it is their family, your partner and a limited amount of time.” You want your partner to be happy and comfortable and they want the same for you.
Having your partner’s family in town for the holidays can be incredibly stressful. But remember, there’s a very clear beginning and end point. Have a plan, set up some boundaries, and keep communicating with your partner. And when all that fails, make a gin and tonic in your water bottle. ‘Tis the season.
Originally posted on Bustle