Carolyn Hax: Keeping peace with the in-laws; disapproving of son’s girlfriend

Carolyn Hax
Columnist June 13, 2012

Dear Carolyn:

Every time we visit my in-laws, I end up snappish and short-tempered, which obviously isn’t the side of me I want them to see. When I brought this up with my husband, he said that he understood and that I didn’t have to go on the next planned trip.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

While I appreciate his letting me off the hook, I don’t think avoidance is a permanent solution. What I’d really like are some coping techniques or attitude adjustments to decrease my stress around them.

For what it’s worth, they’re not bad people. We just have radically different political views, biorhythms, interests, parenting philosophies, etc. They drive my husband crazy, too, but since it’s the environment he grew up in, he adjusts fairly easily — which is probably part of what irritates me.

Vacationing With In-Laws


(The Washington Post)

You have one answer sitting on the other end of the couch: Your husband adjusts, so don’t growl at him — learn from him. Ask what strategies he uses.

And, you have another answer in you. When people don’t drive us crazy, it usually means we’re getting what we need from them (or we just don’t care). So, when people do drive us crazy, that usually means we want something from them that we aren’t getting.

Now think about your in-laws with the goal of figuring out what that something is — and giving up hope. Give up on their ever understanding you, being interesting, not being awkward, serving edible food, approving of the way you raise your kids, saying, “You’re right” . . . ? Hope stymies acceptance.

Also, don’t underestimate avoidance as a permanent solution. Boycotting is extreme, sure, but . . .

You can make the visits a wee bit shorter, a tad less frequent, a smidge more structured (a movie, a play, another venue where conversation is similarly discouraged). After a day or two, you can spin off on your own to visit a friend who lives somewhere (remotely) nearby. You can become Super DIL, and go grocery shopping (alone), weed the flower beds (alone), do the dishes (alone) . . . especially when politics erupt.

In other words, you can control the dosage more, and more good-naturedly, than you think. A fresher you can then focus on where your interests do overlap.

Dear Carolyn:

My son is in a serious relationship with a woman who is, in my opinion, very rude. But she probably thinks I’m uptight; we have had words over whether it’s okay to have her stomach showing in public and her forgetting to say “thank you” after I treated them to an expensive dinner.

When is it appropriate for me to insist on correct behavior, and what things do I have to just let go?

Son Has a Rude Girlfriend

Hm. Hard to top the rudeness of commenting on someone’s attire, insisting upon being thanked and calling attention to the price of a meal.

But, I’ll play: You don’t get to re-raise this woman to your liking or make the rules “in public.” You do get to make rules in your own home.

You can also back off. If this couple is breakup-bound, your harping will actually delay that; if they’re altar-bound, your harping will hurt you a lot more than it hurts them — and a lot more than her navel annoys you now.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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