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Surviving the in-laws in Eagle County

Sarah Mausolf
Vail CO, Colorado
AE Inlaws 11-23-07 TS 001
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Every family has quirks. There’s always a brother-in-law who defines a nightcap as three cases of beer. Or a sister-in-law who started wearing turbans without explanation.

The holidays often mean spending quality time with in-laws and coping with any complications that arise.

Luckily, relatives are rarely as poorly behaved as their silver-screen counterparts. Few fathers-in-law actually strap their sons-in-law into lie detectors and demand details on their porn-watching habits, as the movie “Meet the Parents” depicts. Still, real couples know bonding with in-laws can be tricky.

Here are some tips from local psychologists on keeping your circle of trust intact.

” Visitation plights:

In Vail, the ski season hits full tilt around the holidays, so couples often have to work. Meredith Ringler, a psychologist who practices in Eagle-Vail, said spouses who must work during the holidays can experience conflicts over finding time to visit in-laws. Time constraints might force couples to skip trekking home for the holidays or visiting both sets of in-laws. If a couple must forgo a cherished tradition because a spouse has to work, “talk about it in terms of sadness rather than anger,” Ringler suggested. Invent new traditions, like celebrating Christmas on the day after the holiday, or compensate for lost time with relatives by visiting during the offseason, she said. If the spouses are divorced, find ways to communicate directly with former in-laws (Ringler jokingly dubs them “outlaws”). If a falling out has taken place between the two families, keep the lines of communication open between children of the divorced spouses and their respective relatives.

” Breaking in:

When a new person marries into the family, the existing members sometimes struggle to adjust.

“They may view the new person as taking away from the family rather than adding to the family,” West Vail-based psychologist Caryn Goldberg said. “They may have their own fear of change.”

Newlyweds can improve their standing with in-laws by getting to know them outside of overwhelming family events, Goldberg said. Arrange for one-on-one bonding time, like lunch outings, and use that time to show relatives you are a positive addition to the family, she said.

” Deflect comments:

Does your mother-in-law always insult your casserole? In-laws are infamous for making comments, but it’s important for couples to refrain from taking them personally, psychologists say. When marriage unites two families, the clans often bridge gaps between cultural, religious or geographical backgrounds, Ringler said. Spouses can prevent conflicts by providing background information on their respective parents. For example, the husband might have parents who place particular value on money because their grandparents grew up during the Depression. That husband should warn his wife that his parents will stress who pays for what, Ringler said. Spouses who prepare each other for what to expect from in-laws can pave the way for smoother visits.

” United we stand:

When it comes to enforcing boundaries with in-laws, couples should act as a team.

“Don’t assume that you’re powerless,” Goldberg said. “No one can push you around unless you let them.”

Couples can control things like access to grandchildren or holiday visits by working together, she said. For example, if spouses are upset that a grandparent is spoiling their children, they shouldn’t let the grandparent’s behavior divide them, Ringler said. Instead of bickering over the issue in front of the children, have a chat with the children about your expectations for their behavior and reiterate the rules of the house, she said. One effective communication tool is writing a letter to the grandparent explaining rules pertaining to the children. The letter can include guidelines on eating, discipline or gifts, she said.

” Be direct:

Don’t let a whisper-down-the-lane situation erupt into family drama. Always communicate directly with family members, never through a third party, Goldberg said. Using a middle man can lead to misinterpretation.

n Don’t criticize, commiserate: Don’t criticize the relationship between your spouse and his or her parents, Goldberg said. Avoid putting your spouse on the defensive by communicating in a supportive way. For example, if your mother-in-law always insults your cooking, don’t accost your husband with: “You’re mother is an idiot and she’s always saying something about my cooking,” Goldberg said. Instead, approach your husband with something like: “When your mother comes over and criticizes my cooking, that really hurts me and I’m hoping that doesn’t happen.” Ringler agrees phrasing is important. For example, if an in-law calls one spouse too often, the other spouse should ask how it feels when that in-law calls all the time, then sympathize with his or her partner’s answer.

“If a couple is able to commiserate about what it was like for each of them to grow up in their respective households and be supportive, that’s the number one thing a person can do to deal with in-laws,” Ringler said.

” Forgive and forget:

Sometimes relatives make poor word choices and you just have to let it go, Goldberg said. “With in-laws you just have to be forgiving and just know mistakes are going to happen and things are going to be said that should have remained unspoken,” she said.

” Lighten up:

It’s easy to dwell on relatives’ flaws, but spouses will benefit from concentrating on their relatives’ positive traits. Don’t get too serious over the holidays. Lighten the mood by breaking out family picture albums or watching a funny movie, Goldberg said. “During the holidays you have to keep a sense of humor and remember to laugh because laughter can bring families together,” she said.

Arts and Entertainment Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 748-2938 or smausolf@vaildaily.com.


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