Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? Managing In-Laws During the Holidays


If you have been with your partner for a period of time, meeting the in laws is a right of passage and an important one, at that! If this year is your first time going to your partner’s parents for a holiday meal or you’ve had a not so great time in years before, it is normal to be nervous. Each family has their own traditions and guidelines of doing things and it can be tricky to navigate what is appropriate or not with each household. Tensions may arise and it is important to handle yourself well. This post will discuss three common scenarios and some ideas on how to get through gracefully.

Your partner grew up in a difficult family
It might be stressful and uncomfortable to go to your partner’s family’s home if it will be a negative situation. It is important to talk together before you go (not in the car on the way there!) about things you are not comfortable being around. If a cousin usually drinks too much and becomes rude or violent, it is probably a good plan to leave before that happens. It is important for you to try and be open and willing to learn about family members. Overlook rude comments and ask questions about other’s lives, try to draw them out so that they start to feel comfortable with you. Kindness and patience are the keys in this situation.

Your partner refuses to engage with your family
When your partner doesn’t like your family, it can make a stress filled situation even more challenging. After weeks of pleading and convincing, your partner has agreed to go to your parent’s house, but then acts cold, whiny, and sarcastic to family members. Grin and bear it if you are already there and try to make a early exit. If you are still in the planning stages, talk with your partner about the situation. Something along the lines of “Dinner at my parents is next Thursday, I know you aren’t comfortable around them. So, I’m giving you the option to not go. I will miss you while I’m there, but I will understand” should do the trick. Go to the dinner by yourself, relax, and don’t worry about your partner not being there. Enjoy your time with your family.

Your partner’s parents don’t like you
This situation can hurt a lot. It’s important for you to remember that they do not HAVE to like you. Certainly, it would be so much better if they did, but you can’t please everyone. It’s not fair to yourself to act like someone different just to live up to someone else’s expectations of you. Again, it is important to communicate with your spouse about your painful feelings and your perception of the situation. There may be nothing either of you can do or say to make the situation better.
Here is the hard part. Leave yourself and your life open for your in laws to learn more about you. If they reach out and would like to spend time with you, try it. You can always leave if things get too uncomfortable. If they continue to be distant, accept this. Grieve the relationship and focus on your family.

I hope these tips help you in the upcoming weeks. Happy Holidays!

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