In-laws. We’re all familiar with the horror stories. We saw Marie Barone in action as the overbearing, nosy mother-in-law on “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Barring marriage to an orphan, the ill-fated plan of a friend of mine, in-laws are here to stay.
You want to connect but it’s more difficult than you thought it’d be. Many times you feel like you’re standing on the perimeter of the family circle and there are too many inside jokes you just don’t get.
How can you develop a wonderful relationship with your in-laws? What can be done to help this very important relationship along? Being realistic about your expectations in this area is important. It takes time to build the trust needed to forge the relationship. Friendships begin on commonalities and in this case the first thing you have in common is your spouse. Begin there and try these five steps to set you on the path to building a positive relationship.
1 | Show genuine interest in who they are.
No matter how gruff or disinterested they seem, people usually enjoy talking about the past: fond memories, first car, or job. This is a great starting point. Questions can get a conversation started which leads to more open communication.
Be genuine and ask about their childhood, families, and ancestry. These are themes that carry a lot of weight. Do they love Italian food as much as you do? What music do they enjoy? Any dating stories they could share? Maybe you share an affinity for old movies and air shows. You won’t feel uncomfortable if you have something to talk about. And you may discover a common interest that you can build on and share with time.
2 | Spend time one-on-one when visiting.
Stopping in for coffee or helping do the dishes can create the opportunity for a deeper connection to be made. It’s in these moments that a story from your partner’s childhood may surface. And there’s a chance that some of the more private stories – those not likely to be told in a group setting – can be shared. This intimacy builds trust. Be open and share your own story too. Be real. Let them get to know the real you.
3 | Be helpful.
Listen when they talk about any difficulties they’re having getting things done. Do they need help shopping or getting to the doctor? While you’re out, offer to run an errand. Are they online much? Share any tips you have for online shopping. Also, encourage them to connect with old friends through social media.
If you’re at your in-laws for dinner, offer to do the dishes or, better yet, just go ahead and start clearing the table. Thoughtfulness like this is truly appreciated. Make sure you reciprocate the invitation for dinner, too. This shows how much you value their relationship with your family.
4 | What’s their backstory?
If your father- or mother-in-law is giving you the cold shoulder it’s good to remember that each of us has a backstory. Whether it was a painful childhood, time served in the military, low income, tough education, or maybe even indifferent parents or in-laws of their own, we all have a history that shaped us.
Recognizing this and acknowledging the fact that you may never have the exact relationship you desire is an important step. When tough moments surface as disinterest towards you, harshness, or a critical attitude, try to extend a little grace and not take it personally. Hopefully, someday someone will do the same for you.
5 | Give dignity.
Respect for your in-laws is paramount. Treat them with the dignity that every person deserves. Whether they’re as nice as pie or obtuse as they come, offer your love in thanksgiving for the spouse they gave you. Accept them for who they are.
Great in-law relationships are taken for granted, and many are overwhelming. The matrix of personalities and shared experiences can be thick and difficult to penetrate when trying to become a part of the family.
Be patient while you get to know each other better. It may take longer than you expect, but over time a sort of osmosis takes place. Soon you’ll find yourself laughing with them at shared experiences and memories. Even if you haven’t received the relationship you hoped for, accept what is offered and continue to build trust. You have a lifetime.