We’ve all known people who are overly-demanding, who seem keen to criticize but incapable of showing appreciation. It takes a lot of grace to deal with such people — and doubly so when they are relatives and cannot be easily avoided.
In coping with difficult in-laws, I suggest you follow a few simple guidelines.
This strategy works equally well with difficult bosses, neighbors, or spouses, so give it try next time you find yourself dealing with anyone who seems impossible to please:
- Weigh their complaints
If the accusations have no basis in reality, dismiss them. If amid all their faultfinding you discover a legitimate concern, address it. Apologize if you have wronged them, adjust your attitude, and mend your ways as needed.
- Avoid conflict
As much as possible, try not to do things you know will upset your spouse’s family. If they hate to be kept waiting, don’t show up two hours late for lunch. If they resent the time your kids spend with their other grandparents, don’t flaunt the fact that your folks accompanied you on your last family vacation.
- Forgive them
If you feel weary of even trying to please these people, they have undoubtedly hurt your feelings. Let go of any bitterness you may harbor toward them for past cutting remarks. Wipe the slate clean and, in the future, approach them as if you had no bad history together, but were meeting for the first time. If it is necessary or possible to limit the time you spend with your in-laws, only do so to protect yourself, not to punish them.
- Show consideration
Pick one or two things you know are important to them and make every effort to do them consistently. Birthdays and Mother’s Day are a big deal to my own mother-in-law. She wants to be remembered with a pretty card, signed by her son, and delivered precisely on the big day. The most important thing to her (getting the card on time) and the most important thing to me (including a long, newsy letter from home) are two different things. If I can’t do both, she’d much rather I send the signed and sealed card in a timely fashion and save the news for later, so that’s what I do.
- Always be respectful
Someday when you are older, you may be a little cantankerous yourself, so treat your in-laws with the patience you’d want your son- or daughter-in-law to show you.
It may be impossible to keep them happy, but at least you can keep your conscience clear by behaving toward them in a way that is above reproach. Let your actions be based in love, your words be seasoned with grace, and your opinions be held in humility. Make it your goal to do right by them, whether they recognize and appreciate it or not.