Winning over tough in-laws is worth the patience and pride-swallowing effort as it may lead to a more harmonious relationship that will become more fulfilling and rewarding for years to come. Making your spouse feel as if they must choose between their parents and you is never going to be an option because both relationships are integral to their happiness and well-being. Besides avoiding stressful and awkward get-togethers, getting on your in-laws’ good side will prevent conflict from spilling over into your relationship with your spouse, which may already be strained because of the tension between you and their folks.
The good news is that winning over judgmental, or just plain cranky in-laws is similar to winning over a new boss or any kind of supervisor. In fact we’re constantly winning people over: at the check-out register, customer support, and getting out of a speeding ticket; only with in-laws, they are in the picture for good and you’ll be spending time together at every holiday, birthday, and most other celebrations!
Is it them or you?
If your in-laws are anti-social, difficult people, then winning them over is going to be an up-hill battle, but take comfort in that they would rebuke you regardless. No one may ever be good enough for their son or daughter, whom you had the good fortune of marrying. Or, perhaps they are misdirecting anger at you because of an unresolved conflict with their child, now your spouse. It may even be both of you rocking an already stressful boat. So before taking any action, reflect on what may be at the root of your conflict. Discuss this with your spouse. It may be helpful to journal how bad it is so you can measure any improvement over the years or at least you can sit back and recall those special moments.
Perhaps it is you. Maybe your spouse sees something in you that is difficult for others to see. Your in-laws are then actually protecting your spouse by keeping you at arm’s length. If this is the case, then at least time is on your side. The longer you care for your spouse and show that you’re a worthy partner, the more likely your relationship with your in-laws is to improve. Go out of your way to demonstrate what a caring and considerate spouse you are. Their child is whom your in-laws care about most and if they see that you keep them in good hands then all the better for you.
Bury the hatchet
Before spinning your wheels trying to recover your tarnished image, make sure you apologize. (You may have to bite the bullet and make apologies, even when you’re not at fault, to take the first step to smoothing things over.) Make it public knowledge that you wish to start fresh and you intend to avoid future mistakes. Your spouse gave you the benefit of the doubt and now you are going to make your in-laws see why they should. And when you do bury the hatchet, it may be a good idea to mark the occasion with a gift. A plant is symbolic of the healthy relationship you desire, but it also gives your in-laws the opportunity to take their frustrations out on something else beside you. So if you see every other plant in the house watered and thriving and not the one you gave them, at least you know their heart is in the right place.
Make it hard to dislike you
If your in-laws are clinging to that lapse of your good character, then make it difficult for them to dislike you. Win everybody else over. Get in good with Nana, the nieces and nephews, and other in-laws. By being social, warm, and sincerely flattering with the family, it should soon go out of style to dislike you.
Kill them with kindness
Even if you are not trying to win over your in-laws, a certain maintenance of this relationship is always required - the kind of maintenance where you are going to do most of the work. So be serviceable, and kill them with kindness. Making eye contact every time you say please and thank you sends a message that is hopefully understood. Create the vision that your spouse shares their life with a kind, serviceable, and considerate partner. Maintaining a harmonious relationship with your in-laws will have a major impact on your marriage.
In addition to letting your good side shine brightly in your in-laws’ presence, it is also advisable to minimize any opportunity for them to encourage their decision to shun you. So look and smell great when you visit, drink in moderation at family functions, and always do your best to be congenial and pleasant no matter what.
By consistently being a pleasant presence at your in-laws, they will hopefully, eventually, warm up to you. All kidding aside, have your spouse give them a family picture with you included for them to display in their home. Show up early to family events to help out, but to also reinforce a positive association to your presence. Make them say, "We thought he was a jerk, but dang if he hasn’t been to every graduation, birthday, and barbeque!"
Your in-laws may take a while to warm up to you, so above all give them as much time as they need. They know it could have been worse when it comes to son or daughter-in-laws. In the meantime, remain consistent in your redemption, even if the best you may achieve is a mutual agreement to be civil. And keep in mind that sometimes it helps to have the unbiased input from a family therapy professional to gain insight and become equipped with the tools to work through winning over tough in-laws. We at the OC Relationship Center are here to help. Give us a call today at 949-220-3211 or schedule your appointment using our online calendar.