By Dr. Deanna Brann, Clinical Psychotherapist and author of Reluctantly Related Revisited: Breaking Free of the Mother-in-Law/Daughter-in-Law Conflict
The holidays are approaching, and you know what that means—family time! Whether you are hosting your son and daughter-in-law or spending the day in their home, even the best of relationships can be challenged during this stress-laden time. But what happens when your relationship with your daughter-in-law is, how shall I say, prickly or problematic? Have you hoped that this year things will go differently? Are you thinking, Why do we always have to have drama and tension? Can’t we just this once have a sane holiday together as a “normal” family?
The key to going from dread to delight is as simple as shifting your perspective slightly, which in turn makes it easier to shift your emotions. I’m not suggesting you do this because you’re wrong or because the tension in the relationship is your fault. Not at all! This isn’t about blame, it’s about actively making things better between you and your daughter-in-law. And once you make a shift, then she will make a shift, too, even if it’s only a small one at first.
4 Tips to avoid mother-in-law daughter-in-law conflict
So with holiday harmony in mind, give these tips a try and watch your family gathering go from miserable to memorable:
- Have realistic expectations—but be open: Remember, you’re going to be spending the day with your daughter-in-law. It’s OK to hope for the best, but be realistic. Don’t let inflated expectations ambush you. Never assume she is going to be on her best behavior and act differently just because it’s a holiday. She is going to act how she always acts—maybe worse.
On the flip side, if you expect your daughter-in-law to treat you badly you will likely see all of her actions through that veiled perspective. This sets her up (and you) to walk away with a bad experience. So be realistic, but be open.
- Don’t take things personally: Everyone is more stressed during the holidays, including your daughter-in-law. As long as you treat her with respect and kindness then you can be certain her actions are not about you, but really about her!
- Be a team player: If your daughter-in-law is coming to your house, make sure you include her in the different activities you have planned. Ask her to help with the food and table preparation, invite her to bring something she likes to make, ask her opinion about things, give her at least one compliment—in short, try to make her feel comfortable and welcomed. If you are going to her house, offer to help. And even if she declines your offer, stay around and talk with her. Again, ask a few questions, give her a compliment, and generally let her know you’re interested in her.
- Find the humor: The easiest way to get through the day with your sanity intact is to find humor during those tension-filled moments when your daughter-in-law says or does that could be construed in a negative light. Now, I realize that these gaffes may not necessarily inspire true guffaws—far from it!—but search hard for the humor anyway. This approach helps you create enough emotional distance that you won’t take her words and actions so personally.
Keep these tips in mind this year, and you’re bound to have a happier holiday. Don’t worry if you slip up a time or two, just get right back on track. After all, the goal is progress, not perfection, and even small changes will provide you with a solid start.
Deanna Brann, Ph.D. more than 30 years of experience in the mental health field as a clinical psychotherapist specializing in communication skills, family and interpersonal relationships, and conflict resolution. After running her own private practice for more than 12 years, she spent time later in her career providing business consultation to other private practice professionals in the health care and legal fields. As both a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, her own personal experiences led her to research the subject. Reluctantly Related: Secrets to Getting Along with Your Mother-in-Law or Daughter-in-Law is her first book on the topic of mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationships, with Reluctantly Related Revisited: Breaking Free of the Mother-in-Law/Daughter-in-Law Conflict her second book. Brann holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology, a Master of Science degree in Clinical Psychology and a Ph.D. in Psychobiological Anthropology.