Peace on Earth: 6 Strategies for Handling the In-Laws This Holiday

In-Law, ChristmasThe holiday season can either make or break your relationship. For some couples, it's a magical time of year for snuggling by the fireside and exchanging gifts. For other couples, Christmas is a high-stress time strained by financial pressures and mounting obligations. And one obligation most couples can't avoid is family gatherings with the in-laws. Whether you're meeting the parents for the first time this Christmas or you've been married for years, spending time with someone else's family can go awry.

So, how can you prevent an emotional meltdown or an all-out brawl? Attitude, mental preparation and proper planning. Mitigate any potential suffering this holiday with these rules that can help you survive your time together.

Communicate With Your Partner

Honesty and communication are cornerstones for a healthy relationship. Opening up to your partner about your reservations or anxieties can help alleviate forthcoming tensions. Keep in mind these are your spouse's parents, so full disclosure on your end could create counteractive defensiveness. Approach the topic cautiously and avoid criticism to gain support. Express your own feelings about fears of being attacked, for example, rather then act accusatory toward the in-laws. Also, identify the change you want to see and how your spouse can help achieve a resolution. Without a solution in mind, your conversation may appear to be just complaints.

Warm Welcome

Fresh flowers can warmly greet your spouse's family, whether they're coming for dinner or staying for a week. A gorgeous holiday bouquet adorned with red roses and white carnations or a festive poinsettia basket will shower your mother-in-law with loving sentiment. If you're invited to their home, send a bouquet as a holiday hostess gift or gift of appreciation. The beauty of a bouquet is that flowers will always make the heart smile, and this traditional gesture will start the gathering off fondly.

Positive Responses

A snide remark or icy comment can trigger a negative knee-jerk reaction. Responding with a smart retort or angry facial expression can create uncomfortable tension and may even escalate into a full-blown brawl. Derisive jabs aren't the only grievances. Annoying quirks, an overwhelming personality and distinct eccentricities can also drive you insane. But, instead of responding with jabs of your own, vow to respond positively to your in-laws. For example, replace a negative facial expression with a hug or smile to camouflage your irritation, even if you have to put it on autopilot.

Power of Listening

"Open your ears," says Tom Chiarella, a contributor for Esquire who knows all too well about how to deal with the in-laws on holidays. It doesn't matter if you're truly listening or acting like you're listening with feigned interest, but "listening" shows respect and creates camaraderie. People value when someone's intently listening, and you may even find common ground and make a connection by mindfully listening to an in-law's stories and laughing at their jokes.

Escape Plan

Designate a retreat where you can find physical, mental and emotional solitude if you need to remove yourself from a heated moment or simply want some space. Create an escape plan to a private spot where you can settle your emotions and collect your thoughts. This is the place where you re-energize, re-boot or even text a friend to blow off some steam.

Intellectual Diversion

If you're bored or need to relax and leaving your company seems inappropriate, read, preferably a book or magazine. ("Reading" on your phone can come off as disrespectful and superficial.) Reading grants space and closes the door for conversation. Plus, most adults won't scorn a person who likes to read. If you can divert your attention with some reading here and there and continue to follow the aforementioned rules, you'll make it to the new year unscathed with your relationship intact.