One of bonuses of flying solo during the holidays is, of course, that you don't have to deal with in-laws. I know, because I was in a romantic partnership for many years where I had a discordant relationship with my in-laws, and it added massive tension to holiday time. How to survive the holidays when you definitely don't get along with your in-laws requires a lot, and I mean a lot, of patience (and all the frigging goodwill you can summon).
There was nothing I could do to please my monster-in-law. Her favorite type of jab was the passive-aggressive slight, that usually required a minute or two of thought before I realized she was actually putting me down. Everything, from the food she served to the gifts she gave, were holiday-themed attempts to make me into a woman more "qualified" to be with her son. My self-esteem took a dip, and what's worse, my partner seemed oblivious to or unfazed by his mother's nasty attitude towards me. Things got so bad that I decided not to make the trip one year. That decision was disastrous for our relationship, as he took it as an affront to him and his roots. So, I was stuck between a rock and a hard place, because no matter how many therapy sessions I scheduled before the holidays, nothing I could do made this holiday hell any better. I chose to put my needs before the relationship's. Wise choice? Who knows.
Since then, I've learned a lot more about myself, which in turn helped me manage expectations of others. Although you can't ever control others around you, you can control how you deal with their negative vibes. Even if you're around in-laws you definitely don't get along with, you can still have a merry, happy, and (almost) stress-free holiday.
Manage Your Expectations
You hear this a lot, but what does it really mean to manage your expectations? According to an article on Psychology Today, "The key to our wellbeing is not low expectations. It is the ability to interpret unexpected negative outcomes in a positive way." In other words, don't think the worst and hope for the best, but rather find agency in how you deal with your in-laws' behavior, as abhorrent as it may be.
Avoid Talking Politics
In the wake of recent events, talking politics during the holidays is off-limits. Period. Unless you're all on the same team, of course, in which case you can either celebrate or commiserate together.
Argue all you want with people who support the opposition, just not over holiday ham. You have every right to your opinion, but that doesn't mean you should voice it at the dinner table. If the discussion turns political, shut it down as soon as freakin' possible. Try saying something like, "We have opposing views, and my political opinions are very close to my heart. So, let's put a pin in that discussion and save for another time." (Note: that "other time" is a euphemism for "never," but your in-laws don't have to know that.)
Avoid Taking Things Personally
Not everything is about you. Crazy, right? If you're like me, you know it's really hard not to internalize everything but the kitchen sink, especially when those things fall out of your in-laws' mouths. The key to not taking things personally is to have a razor sharp sense of self and pat yourself on the back. In other words, you need to give a damn by giving zero f*cks. When you strike that balance, you'll realize that it's not you, it's totally them. That's something to tra-la-la about.
Take One For The Team
Remember that time I skipped out on a trip to my partner's parents' home for the holidays? Yeah, that wasn't a good idea. Although it was cool that I acknowledged my needs, I could have compromised a bit more — like offered to stay in a hotel as opposed to his parents' house,for at least part of the stay, or I could've left early and encouraged him to spend some quality time alone with his mom. (Like what I did there? It's called strategy, people.)
When it comes to relationships, and especially dealing with your in-laws, sometimes you have to take one for the team because you want to win the relationship game.
Take A Time Out
Time outs aren't reserved for the toddler set. When you're feeling overwhelmed, politely excuse yourself and have a mantra or positive affirmation at the ready. According to Harvard Health Publications, deep breathing quells stress immediately. Also called diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing, belly breathing, and paced respiration, this technique slows your heartbeat, oxygenates your blood and helps you find your center. So your mother-in-law's head doesn't end up in the cranberry sauce.
Invite Your Friends To Family Events
Some events call for reinforcements. There's no law against inviting people who've got your back, also known as your friends, to holiday get-togethers. How's that for incentive to host a holiday party?
Avoid Past Grievances And Grudges
Holiday get-togethers are not the time to bring up past grievances or grudges. As tempting as it may be to shine a light on your in-laws past nasty behavior, you're opening a can of worms. I've done this before, and not only did I ruin everyone's time, I also made myself look petty. Remember every relationship is a two-way street. Keep your side of the street clean.
Don't Blame Your Spouse For Your In-Laws' Behavior
I don't know why parents have the power to make their children, even when they're grown-ass men and women act like, well, kids. However, they do. Your spouse has a relationship with his or her parents that's separate from you, or so I learned when I berated my ex for never sticking up for me.
After the tears dried, I realized, he didn't have the emotional bandwidth to stand up for me; he couldn't even stand up for himself. That's why he moved away. That's why we only saw them for the holidays. Sure, I'm out of it now, so I can see the situation more clearly and with more empathy. However, if you're in the thick of it, heed these words.
Never Use Your Kids As Pawns
I mean, not that you would, right?
Have An Exit Strategy
If you're like me, even just knowing you've got your own car (totally splurge on that rental) can make you feel less like a caged animal, and more like a guest.
According to Real Simple, getting out of uncomfortable social situations requires some foresight. It helps to have an endpoint and a contingency plan for every situation. In the interest of open communication with your spouse, you want to put up a united front. So, plan your exit strategy together, (but have your own in place, just in case).