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The Battle with the In-Laws: When the Holidays Aren’t So Jolly

 

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The holidays, whether they are birthday celebrations, the 4th of July or religious events, are a tough time for many people in biologically related families, let alone adding in-laws and extended family members into the mix. For most of our holidays, my husband and I spend time with our families separately, and then, my husband comes back home to spend time with myself and my dad and brother. Why? The reason I do not go over to my in-laws’ home is due to ongoing conflicts between myself and his parents.  This dynamic is not ideal. As newlyweds, this is not the way it is supposed to be. My assumption after we got married is my husband, and I would spend time together creating happy memories, enjoying special traditions, and spending time with those we love and who love us. However, my husband is very close to his family and in the past, he has wanted to spend most or all of his holiday time with them. Our time apart caused many issues in our new marriage.  Recently, he has chosen to balance his time during holiday gatherings as he realized that this was hurting our relationship.

Another issue that places a hardship on our situation is the time it takes to travel to the in-laws home and the cost of traveling there. Although I have spent much time there while my husband and I were dating, I feel we have established our home and feel it is unfair to continue to be expected to make all the sacrifices…expenses, travel time, missed time with my family, and to top it off, to experience the stress of the ongoing conflict. It is to the point where I cannot just hold my tongue and pretend this is not a problem in our relationship. I cannot continue to avoid conflict or communicating my needs or how this makes me feel quite sad. When I avoid communicating my concerns and needs, it has only led to poor relationships and misunderstandings.

So, what do you do when you find yourself in this situation especially when you are not off on the right foot with your in-laws after marriage? Do you just suck it up and continue to pretend it doesn’t bother you? NO! For me, this only built anger, resentment, hurt feelings and escalating conflict distancing myself further from my in-laws and damaging my relationship with my husband. In thinking through and weighing various options, you have to be cognizant of everyone’s needs. What are they? Knowing this will greatly assist in how you can negotiate what might work moving forward. For example, I know my in-laws have eight children to consider. They would consider it a burden to leave their home just to visit us when they have other children to consider. My husband’s need is to be with his family and continue to honor the family’s special holiday traditions. And of course, if/when we do decide to have children, we will have much more than just their needs to consider for our situation. But it varies situationally, and so thus, there are many considerations regarding needs and concerns of the entire family.

Once you have identified the major needs of all involved, then consider these additional recommendations to reduce or manage conflict at holiday or special events between your spouse and in-laws.

  • Discuss expectations with your new spouse (before marriage if you can). Holiday family traditions and how to spend time with the two separate families is often a concern for many newlyweds. Will you be okay with how your spouse chooses to spend his/her time? If not, then you need to communicate an honest view of your expectations. 
  • Make a plan with your spouse to have a challenging conversation with the in-laws. You and your spouse need to decide if both of you or your spouse alone will communicate the concerns and your needs for a respectful engagement. This conversation needs to be done well before the holidays or special event.
  • Create a backup plan with clear boundaries. You can do all of the planning ahead of time, but what if this doesn’t work? You can’t change anyone. They very well might continue to criticize, pass judgment, and make hurtful or embarrassing remarks. You have to decide what are the boundaries, and how will you respond when they do. For me, I might say “I can no longer be a part of this conversation.” and then, walk away. Later, convey in a respectful manner that the remarks hurt you. For example, “I had to walk away because I felt hurt and embarrassed.
  • Ask your spouse what role he/she will maintain during conflicts with his/her family towards you. Will they be a mediator, an avoider, a fighter, or a peace-keeper? This role is important to determine as you do not want to pursue an uphill battle alone. You also want to know how you should approach the conflict since this is not your family of origin, and you may be unfamiliar with their communication style.

Try to enjoy the holidays as best as you can while showing your in-laws that both sets of feelings do matter. For tips on how to manage conflict like this without avoiding it all together, listen to the Texas Conflict Coach® ‘s radio program episode Repairing the Damage of Conflict Avoidance with Pattie Porter and Stephen Kotev!

 

Have a Great Day!

Ann Margaret Zelenka

Graduate Student Intern

University of Baltimore

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The Need to Be Heard and Acknowledged, Is It Enough?

Photo by Pattie Porter
20151127_165705You want to feel heard in a conflict. I believe it is also important that you have your feelings acknowledged when disputing with another.

During our recent Conflict Chat, Pattie, Tracy and I touched on the topic of the need to be heard and acknowledged when discussing the new mediation program Baltimore will be launching for citizen complaints against police. Being a native Baltimorean and observing the power of mediation, I am super excited about this program.

I have recently contemplated if being heard and acknowledged is enough for anyone to feel satisfied? Or, does an action have to follow for you to feel truly gratified?

Baltimore has built up years of distrust, anger, and resentment between the police and the community. Perhaps this program is a step in the right direction to not only allow its citizens and police a chance to voice their feelings and point of views so that each side can hear and acknowledge one another. But also, it shows an action that the Baltimore Riots that occurred in April last year did not go unnoticed, and the issues that caused it will not be swept under the rug as it has in the past. Do I think the police and community relations will change overnight? Absolutely not, but again it is a step in the right direction.

What about in our everyday lives? Is an action needed for you to feel satisfied? Or will someone hearing and acknowledging you be enough?

It would be dishonest of me to say that having someone hear my words and recognize them is sufficient, because to me it’s not. I need actions to speak louder than words and from several conversations, I have held with others, I am not the only one.

Unfortunately, every person we come in contact with may not feel the need to listen, acknowledge, or demonstrate some action to right a perceived wrong to satisfy you.

What can you do in those instances?

  1. Point it out. My husband and I have gone through this experience before. He is logical and level-headed and does not get emotionally invested in our disputes the way that I do. Therefore, my feelings get hurt much more than his so from time to time I have to say, ” Bernard I need you to listen to me.” Or, ” Bernard, I need you to acknowledge that what you said was hurtful.” He usually listens, acknowledges, and apologizes.
  2. Walk away. If you find that you are consistently having this issue with the same person or persons, ask yourself is it worth your building anger and resentment to continue engaging in these situations with them? I was friends with someone who continually brushed off my hurt feelings as if they were unimportant. After years of this occurring, I finally decided enough was enough and I severed our friendship. I found I was much happier once I did.
  3. Look in the mirror. Why would I ever suggest in a situation where you have been wronged to look in the mirror? Well, I noticed that I get upset when someone doesn’t listen to me, acknowledge my feelings, or follow it up with an action. But, I have also noticed I am guilty of doing the same. So, recognize the things you get upset about and take note of when you act in the same manner. We are all humans capable of making these errors, but it is important to address them personally and not continue the cycle.

 

Have a Great Week!

Abigail R.C. McManus

Apprentice

 

 

 

 

 

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