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Five In-Law Power Tactics

Be aware of the five common power plays your in-laws (and anyone else) may use to get what they want. Use this knowledge to prepare yourself for any family argument.

Five In-Law Power Tactics

In-laws, like all other people, use several different tactics to get power. If they're smart, they go with the ones that work best, but for some people, any power play will do in a pinch. Here are some of the most common techniques people use to assert power over other people. Which ones describe how your in-laws get their way?

Family Matters

These power play patterns are not mutually exclusive. Even in a particular situation, a person can use more than one method to get their own way. Watch for shifts in behavior; it's often a sign that there's been a change in tactic to adapt to changing situations.

Family Matters

Passive-aggressive players are often fearful of seeming to be pushy. They may also be afraid of rejection or disappointment.

  1. Passive-submissive.

    People like this often follow their in-laws' lead. They're usually relieved not to have to make decisions, because they aren't comfortable being in charge. These people are often very dependent, which means if they're not already on your side, you're not going to be able to sway them unless you thwack them on the side of the head with a two-by-four. This rarely engenders family harmony, however.

    These in-laws often find the most powerful family member and cling to them tighter than the high-priced plastic wrap that grips a bowl of left-over noodles.

  2. Passive-aggressive.

    These clever folks use indirect manipulation to get what they want. Like a puppet master, they pull the strings behind the stage. These power players often seem to go along with family decisions but inwardly resent that they are doing so. As a result, they often subtly resist and even sabotage the plans that have been made.

    How can you identify a passive-aggressive family member? It's your sister-in-law who doesn't want to attend a party and so shows up an hour late. It's your father-in-law who goes to an event he'd rather skip and then embarrasses his wife in front of everyone.

  3. Passive-suffering.

    These wily sorts control others by giving in. They govern by their seeming passivity. By turning over the reigns of power to others, they retain the ability to use recriminations. Here's the mantra: "See, I left you in charge and you screwed it up -- again." A deep sigh also works well.

  4. Assertive-compromising.

    Bingo! These healthy individuals can assert their needs but also compromise after hearing the other sides of the issue. They know how to balance power so everyone usually emerges feeling satisfied. They are comfortable exhibiting power, but also comfortable relinquishing it. Family members know where assertive-compromising in-laws stand on issues, and they're reassured that their needs are being taken into account.

  5. Assertive-controlling.

    We're into rigid and unyielding here. These people assert their own needs but usually insist on getting their own way. "Winning" means forcing others into submission. While they usually get their own way, they're unlikely to win "Most Popular Relative," or even get invited back to the party if anyone could help it. In extreme cases, it's not getting what they want that matters; it's just that they won.

Don't Go There

Beware of assertive-controlling in-laws. Since they are terrified of feeling powerless, they usually take no prisoners in their climb to the top.

Act Up

Where do you fit in this hit parade? Circle the description that most closely applies to you.

  1. Make a family decision? I'd sooner glue my nostrils together with crazy glue, chew ground glass, or spend an afternoon at an Ozzy Osbourne concert.

  2. Of course you'll go to cousin Harvey's all-you-can eat eel feast, but somebody will pay…and big time.

  3. Question: How many Jewish mothers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
    Answer: None. "It's okay; I'll sit in the dark."

  4. You know how to create a win-win situation. In your spare time, you negotiate for the UN.

  5. It's my way or no way.

Score Yourself

  • If you answered A…you're passive-submissive

  • If you answered B…you're passive-aggressive

  • If you answered C…you're passive-suffering

  • If you answered D…you're assertive-compromising

  • If you answered E…you're assertive-controlling

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