Dealing with Holiday Conflicts (and Satisfying Your In-Laws)

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Parents often don't realize the problems their married children experience as they try to balance loyalties to their own parents as well as to their in-laws and spouse during the holidays. If the older generation didn't experience the same stress, they may not be able to understand how difficult this problem can be to their children, especially to young couples just setting their own boundaries in the relationship. So, what can you do to deal with the conflicts in-laws can cause during the holidays? Here are some suggestions.
Close up of attractive couple smiling
Be Loyal To Your Mate
Your first allegiance is to your spouse. No matter how heavy a guilt trip your relatives lay on your shoulders at holiday time, recognize that you and your spouse are a couple. By promising to love, honor, and work through the toilet seat issue, you have created your own family. Now that you're a team, work as one.

This doesn't mean that you should throw out your family and in-laws as you would your old Partridge Family albums. Instead, make your in-laws a part of your new family, the one you have formed with your beloved.

Asian couple sitting on couch talking
Make A Decision
There are times when you can sit on the fence — but making a decision about which in-laws to spend the holidays with isn't one of them. With your spouse, discuss all areas of potential conflict and then create a game plan. Figure out where you're going for the holiday, when, and why. Plan what you're going to say when the other side pitches a fit. Use this worksheet to help crystallize your thinking.
Family portrait of several generations
Recognize You Can't Be All Things to All In-Laws
As you've probably learned, whatever decision you make is going to upset someone. That's life. There are so many valid issues that you can chew yourself up over, so why make this one of them? Save the angst for other issues. Make your holiday decision, announce it to the relatives, and move on.
Grandparents arriving with Christmas presents for grandkids
Tell People Immediately of Your Plans
Remember how angry you were when some of your wedding guests canceled at the last minute?

If you can't or don't want to accept an in-law's holiday invitation, don't dodge the issue. Instead, bite the bullet and tell them as soon as possible. In addition to getting rid of an onerous duty, early notice also allows your in-laws to make alternate plans, if they so desire.

Adult couple sitting on couch drinking coffee
Communicate with Your Spouse
Always check out all invitations with your spouse before you say yes or no. Try, "Thanks for the invitation. I'll talk it over with my spouse and get back to you." Never take it on yourself to make a decision about your whereabouts on a holiday — even if your spouse doesn't celebrate it.
Close up of happy senior couple with grown children blurred in background
Respect Your In-Law's Decisions
If one or more of your in-laws doesn't want to come to your holiday celebration, don't be a sore loser. Don't whine, nag, or moan. And don't pressure your in-laws to change their plans. Respect their decisions and you have a better chance of having them respect yours.
Adult daughter talking to her older father
Be Sensitive
There's no denying that the holidays can be very tense under normal circumstances, but they can be especially trying if the year has been difficult. This might be a good year to set the party in a different place or even take a family vacation instead.
Four adults toasting with wine at dinner
Try to Compromise
Life isn't always black-and-white; there's a lot of room for gray between the lines. For example, say you want to spend New Year's Eve home but your in-laws want to have a party instead. Instead of giving a flat refusal, see what compromise you can work out. Maybe your in-laws could come to your home for dinner and then you could ring in the New Year at their party. This won't always work, but it's worth a shot.
Family eating Chirstmas dinner
Involve Your In-Laws in Your Traditions
It's not always easy to get everyone to play together nicely. For instance, some in-laws want to be included in every party and get angry if they're excluded; others just have very different styles of entertaining. Nonetheless, set aside some time for a ritual or two. Your rituals may be small and charming, like an hour of caroling or a evening of hot chocolate and cookies.
Smiling happy couple sitting down
Family Matters
You can decrease holiday stress by concentrating more of your time on celebrating the way you like and involving more in-laws in the preparations. But don't forget to set aside some time to rest and relax!