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The Four Stages of Getting to Know Your In-Laws

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Seating: Hello, I Came to Say I'm Going to Stay

Family Matters

During this stage, in-laws often forgive each other for real as well as perceived slights. Being invited to a key family function -- a christening, bris, or naming ceremony, for example -- often signals that forgiveness is afoot. Do your share: Forgive (even if you can't forget).

Don't Go There

Never assume that your mother-in-law or your father-in-law is the boss. It can just as easily be a sister- or brother-in-law who holds the reigns of power. And don't discount the influence of a sister-in-law. She can cause just as much turmoil as a mother-in-law-sometimes even more.

Stage #3: Getting chummy. Within a few years, everyone has begun to settle into their new roles as in-laws. During this time, you can expect to be…

  • Resetting boundaries

  • Redefining rules

  • Understanding ranking order

Here's where you begin to close the gap between appearance and reality. You may think that your blowhard father-in-law runs the show, but a closer examination reveals that your meek mother-in-law is the brains of the outfit.

It's crucial that you figure out the power structure. My friend Kenny had this problem when he married Kerry. Here's what he told me:

"Kerry's mother is a formidable woman, both in size and impact. Since she makes so much fuss, I just figured that she controlled the show. As I became more familiar with Kerry's family, though, I came to see the power behind the throne: Kerry's sister Leslie. No one would make a move without checking with Leslie. If a party was called for 2:00, Leslie would come sailing in at 4:00 -- and everyone would wait for her. If we all wanted to go for Italian food and Leslie preferred Chinese, it was Chinese. Everyone in the family gave in to Leslie. Amazing, no one seemed aware of what was going on."

Once you figure out which in-law is calling the shots, you can work with that person rather than against him or her. This will save you years of needless aggravation. Later on, you can challenge the power structure if you wish. But this way, you'll know who you're fighting against.

Completing: Grow Old Along with Me, The Best Is Yet to Be

Family Matters

With the possible exception of traffic, very little in the world proceeds in a linear fashion. The process of melding families is no exception. While I've given rough guidelines for the amount of time that each step could take, be aware that this formula is written in sand, not carved in granite.

Stage #4: In the groove. By this stage of the relationship, everyone understands and obeys the ground rules. The in-laws with brains have stopped tiptoeing around each other; the rest of the family may still be in the dark. There's a strong enough foundation in place that everyone is relatively comfortable with each other. In short, the stage is set for mature growth.

Nonetheless, don't be so quick to throw the life preserver overboard. Even the strongest family can be rattled by change, especially issues such as chronic illness, abuse, death, and divorce. You can lower your shields, but never stop working toward family comprehension and cohesion.

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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.


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