The Four Stages of Getting to Know Your In-Laws
Meeting: Letting It All Hang Out
Stage #2: Getting the lay of the land. Here, you scope out the situation to see how things are done. By now, the honeymoon has ended and reality is rearing its ugly head. There's probably a lot of scratching, odd noises, and grousing going on as you try to figure out how the game is played.
It usually takes about a year for in-laws to reach the Meeting stage when they set aside their "company manners" and reveal their real natures. Warning: This is when you'll start seeing your father-in-law in his T-shirt or your mother-in-law in her well-worn house dress at Sunday dinner. This could be what's in store for your hunk or beauty queen in 25 years.
Accept that your in-laws aren't your parents. As a result, they're not likely to abide by the same rules your folks did. Think "different," not "better" or "worse." Compromise on differences that are less important and negotiate those that are more central.
The Meeting stage can be very tense as you learn the rules that govern your in-laws' lives. Jimmy's experience was fairly typical:
I was staying at my in-laws' house for the weekend shortly after Beth and I got married. I took a shower in the morning and decided to shower again after tennis. My mother-in-law was furious. "We have a cesspool problem in this area," she hissed between clenched teeth. "No one takes two showers. How inconsiderate you are." I was shocked because she had always been so nice to me. Who gets so bent out of shape over a shower or two?
It's not the shower, bunky. It's the tension of redefining roles and welcoming a newcomer into the family dynamic. No matter how careful you are, you're bound to step on someone's toes. Relax; that's natural at this stage of forming a relationship with your in-laws.
Your in-laws are not under any obligation to make the process easier for you, though. Some in-laws are just not ready to accept newcomers to the family. By not making it easy for the newcomer, some parents try to maintain their roles as they existed before the marriage. But you can't go home again, as novelist Tom Wolfe said. Holding on too tightly can damage the relationship on all ends.
Sometimes, the new in-law (probably you) becomes the focus of existing tension within the family. This helps the family relieve its own fears -- by dumping them all on you.
If you encounter this problem, try a little communication. No armchair psychology, please. Instead, simply state your feelings and wait for the person's response. Even if your attempt doesn't work, take heart: Matters usually get easier as the relationship continues. People often run out of energy. Besides, time has a way of putting matters into perspective.
More on: Marriage and Divorce
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Dealing with In-Laws © 1998 by Laurie E. Rozakis, Ph.D. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.