• Jamie Ratowski, LMFT

Navigating The Holidays With Your In-Laws




The holidays can be a wonderful time filled with joy, happiness, family, and friends. But it also has a way to bring stress and anxiety to a lot of people for many reasons. Navigating through the holidays with your in-laws can be a factor that can trigger uncomfortable yet unavoidable situations.


Families naturally develop their own beliefs, traditions, roles, and cultural norms. Some of these norms are generational or may be new, but nonetheless they are present. Marriage almost always involves consolidating families and when this happens it can be accompanied by some stress to try and honor your own values and traditions while adapting to new ones that marriage may bring when families are unified.


As a marriage and family therapist, I’ve prepared a few tips and tricks to help you and your partner work through any challenges that may arise during the holidays when interacting with your in-laws.


Most of the following tips to put into practice fall under the topic of preparation and planning. This is essential in getting ready for the holidays with your partner to handle any twists and turns that might come your way. You want to make sure you are both fully prepared and have a plan in place to deal with as much as you can to feel confident going into this holiday season.


Open Communication:


This should be a given, but it is even more important during the holidays to deal with in-laws. Make sure you are communicating about all emotions that may be arising as you prepare for these events.


If you are scared, nervous, or uncomfortable, help your partner out by having them listen to where these feelings may be coming from to level the playing field of understanding and empathy. You can't support your partner or feel supported yourself if they don't know how you feel.


Be sure to use “I statements” and be aware to avoid criticism or blaming language when talking about your feelings. By doing this, you are helping your partner to focus on YOUR feelings without the need to defend their family or themselves. Use a soft start up approach and be conscious of your verbal language choice and non-verbal language approach. Remember, communication is KEY and without it we are all driving blind.


Have Realistic Expectations:


This is another important part of preparing for holidays with your in-laws because it helps prepare you for situations that may have a high chance of arising. Process things with your partner that tend to come up with your in-laws. A good example would be something like political topics. Asking your partner how you can prepare to navigate these types of conversations if they arise can help you practice how to keep conversation light and low conflict.


Practice makes perfect. Go over scenarios that may have been or could be points of contention so you feel fully ready to get through these moments. Have realistic expectations. Pretending things are “going to go great” is an optimistic outlook, however, combining optimism with preparedness is a better option to keep the holidays running smoothly.


Set Boundaries:


We should all have boundaries in our relationships. Setting specific boundaries for yourself during the holiday season can be a helpful tool in knowing what you are willing to deal with, compromise on, and where your lines are drawn in the sand.


Discuss your non-negotiables with one another in order to help bail each other out of an uncomfortable situation if necessary. Have clear and specific ideas for how you and your partner want to spend the holidays and stick to those boundaries with each other. It can be helpful to communicate these plans and boundaries with your in-laws prior to the holidays as well so they know what to expect as well.


Work As A Team:


Possibly the most important tip I can give you and your partner to navigate the holidays with your in-laws is to be on the same team. Don't work against one another. Even if you disagree with some of your partner’s misgivings about your family, it is important to try and be as open and empathetic as possible about their feelings.


Feelings are valid and at the end of the day your spouse is your teammate. It is completely common and normal to have a different point of view as your partner about your family, but try to practice empathy in these situations in order to develop a game plan that works to satisfy both of your needs this holiday season. Respect each other's feelings, communicate, and find a compromise together.


Exit Plan:


Have an exit plan in place before you are with your in-laws. If things aren't going well despite all of your efforts, have something prepared to remove yourselves from the situation without furthering any difficulties by being overtly rude. You are not forced to be in any situation that is uncomfortable or toxic.


Create a plan with each other and simply send a text, come up with a code, or have a private discussion with one another to initiate the plan if you want to remove yourselves from the situation. At the end of the day, holidays should be about celebrating, happiness, and love. If you are not experiencing these things it is okay to set away and try to salvage your holiday with your partner and loved ones. You and your partner come first.

If you and your partner are struggling with navigating the relationship with in-laws or having any stressors related to this matter with your partner during this holiday season, call me today at 954-391-5305 to discuss how therapy may be an option to help.


We have a big, brand new, beautiful office located in Plantation, Florida that can accommodate all your relationship needs. Virtual therapy is also an awesome option for couples who are busy this time of year!


I wish you all a happy, loving, stress free holiday season! For more information about my approach or my services, visit my bio here.

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