So...you’ve finally met The One.
Or in case you don’t believe in those terms, someone who is just perfect for you, and it’s serious. Maybe you’ve just tied the knot. Congratulations! It’s hard enough in this day and age to find someone you truly connect with.
Unfortunately, your happily ever after has one more battle to overcome:
Surviving your (future) in-laws.
Why does this matter?
Because few things spoil romance like discovering your loved one has a complicated, unhealthy or a-bit-too-close-for-comfort relationship with their parents (or other members of their family).
Sidenote: you should also be able to objectively evaluate your own relationship with your parents.
This isn't a problem for everyone. Sometimes, both you and your partner’s relationship with their families might be fine. Your in-laws might like you just fine.
Unfortunately, that still doesn’t guarantee the two sets of parents won’t get on each other’s nerves.
You know what famous British comedian Ricky Gervais (The Office, UK) said when Letterman asked him why he wasn’t marrying his girlfriend of 30 years?
“So our parents won’t meet.”
Whether they’ve actually met doesn’t really matter; his observation is spot-on.
A Story From My Life
My parents have been somewhat happily married for over 31 years. The “somewhat” part comes from my father’s ridiculously hard-to-get-along-with family, and not just for my mom. They’ve been pretty unbearable in general.
At one point, my parents were on the verge of divorce.
Then my mom came up with the genius idea of ending all contact with my father's parents. My father sees them on his own time, and my parents couldn’t have been happier. And years later, I still feel like commemorating her decision with a huge party.
Unfortunately, this problem goes way beyond my parents.
Two of my friends have already gotten divorced because they couldn’t handle their in-law issues. My mom’s best friend’s son is having a hard time with both how his wife and her mother are treating his mom.
But there’s no need to panic. Getting depressed over divorce or break-up ratios won’t help with your relationship (or your state of mind). There are however many practical things you can do to ensure that your relationship with your significant other (and your family) won’t go awry:
Before introducing your parents, have an honest heart-to-heart. What are they like? How have they treated your girlfriends? Are they too blunt? Conservative? Modern? Liberal? Fill your loved one in about what to expect. Don’t scare them, but don’t sugarcoat it either. Also, ask her to do the same for you before meeting her parents.
Don’t just tell your girlfriend what to expect, enlighten your parents about what to expect too.
If you see your parents once a year, don’t suddenly start seeing them once a week, and don’t drag with your girlfriend/wife with you every single time. Both sides might be saints (they usually aren’t: no one is perfect), and yet it can still go to hell.
Don’t arrange the meeting too soon or too late. If your parents and your girlfriend are going to hate each other, you’d rather find out as soon as possible.
For a great (and funny) manual on what not to do, for all sides, please watch The Family Stone starring Diane Keaton, Dermot Mulroney and Sarah Jessica Parker. It’s a disaster, and events aren’t exaggerated. The issues might have been different, but I’ve witnessed them in real life and not just with my own family. If your mom is a bit overbearing, it won’t hurt to watch the movie Monster-in-Law (starring Jane Fonda and Jennifer Lopez) with her. As a movie, it’s not that special. As a not-to-do guide, however, it’s priceless.
Don’t elope if you can help it. Unless both families are really romantic and open-minded, you’ll never hear the end of it.
Don’t let either family dictate any terms for your wedding. It’s your wedding, even if they are being generous. They had theirs, remember? And if they are so into ceremonies, help them renew their vows or something: anything to keep them out of trying to organize your ceremony.
Unless both families have the same affiliations when it comes to religion or politics, stay away from those topics, as much as you can. If not, develop ways to agree to disagree politely.
Speaking of affiliations, if fanaticism is involved, exercise caution when it comes to sports.
Don’t let either family meddle with raising your kids. Take tips, ask for babysitting help but don’t let them make decisions. It’ll reflect badly on your relationship with the members of your newer family.
Listen to Kevin Bacon (who has been married to his wife Kyra Sedgwick since 1988), and keep your fights clean. If anything is dirty, that should be the sex (also as advised by Bacon).
And keeping your fights clean includes not fighting dirty about your parents too. Don’t take sides, and avoid raising your voice or calling names.
Keep the secrets were entrusted to you: if your wife or kid tells you something in confidence, don’t share it with any other members of your now extended family.
Kids might often be unreasonable, but it doesn’t mean their feelings don’t matter. If they don’t want to see your parents or your wife’s, don’t force them. Don’t get mad. Get to the bottom of it and learn why.
These are the basics, and they should keep you safe.
I can’t guarantee it will always be smooth sailing, but applying these tips should prevent a lot of storms.
If you already have a great relationship with your (future) in-laws, I'm jealous.
And please share your tips in the comments, you lucky souls :)