In-law stress! Surviving the Holiday Visit

It’s all fun and games…until someone throws an iPhone at your head.

Holiday times and visits with your loved ones go hand and hand like turkey and stuffing. But for some, what you hoped would be a Silent Night with the in-laws can quickly devolve into frayed nerves, hurt feelings, and devious fantasies about just who really ought to be roasted over an open fire.

While being best buds with your spouse’s parents might not be essential to a healthy marriage, a good relationship with your in-laws certainly doesn’t hurt your chances…and over time it may even be a protective factor against divorce.

So before your holiday festivities with your in-laws crumble like the walls of a poorly built gingerbread house, I spoke with some relationship experts for ideas about how you can survive a happy healthy holiday visit with your in-laws.

But what makes some people dread a holiday social calling with the in-laws like a visit from the dreaded Christmas Krampus? “The holidays are a time to celebrate traditions with those you have come to know and love,” says Camille McDaniel, LPC, a counselor and director of Healing Psychotherapy Practices of Georgia, “but when you have in-laws, you may have to adjust or change those traditions.”

Erika Martinez, PsyD, a psychologist in Miami who specializes in helping bright, high-achieving professionals, agrees. “You’re probably missing your family and its festive traditions,” she says, “and you find yourself in the midst of a family unit that might be very different in terms of values, customs, dynamics, expectations, beliefs, and even language.”

Above all, remember to keep your cool and that connection is key.

Positively navigating our differences is crucial…but even the best of our social intelligence skills can wear a little thin after too many days together. “The longer the stay, the lower one’s threshold gets,” says Martinez. While there’s no consensus around just how long an ideal stay is, most agree that a few days is best and anything over a week is starting to push it.

What’s the key to a successful holiday visit? Managing expectations.

Discuss plans with your partner ahead of time and be proactive well in advance advises McDaniel. Daniela Paolone, LMFT of Westlake Counseling in California reminds us that setting up emotional boundaries is essential to having a good time, too. She says “You can mentally prepare for what you will and will not allow to impact you emotionally which can help you to feel better prepared in handling any bumps in the road.”

Try and keep things light with games, good conversation, and plenty of festive activity. But if things start to get a little heated, you always have options before reaching a full holiday meltdown.

Paolone suggests deep breathing, diverting attention with a fun holiday movie, or if things really go south, sneak away to lie down and unwind with some of your favorite calming music. Oh, and don’t forget that “offering to help in the kitchen can go a long way in lessening the stress and overwhelm the holidays can bring,” she says.

Above all, remember to keep your cool and that connection is key.

So slide into an ugly holiday sweater, snuggle with your partner around the fireplace, let your in-laws know how much they mean to you in their own unique way, and if the fruitcake recipe isn’t just the way your great Aunt Betty would make it, embrace it with McDaniel’s words of wisdom…“you don’t have to agree in order to have a good time.”

Happy Holidays to you AND your in-laws. Please share this story with your friends on Facebook and let us know how you and your marriage manage to survive the holiday festivities!