Deck the Halls, Not Your In-Laws

We can extend goodwill to even the most combative of relatives during this time of peace on earth.

By Peter Doskoch, published November 1, 1996 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

What's as inevitable as fruitcake at Christmas and for many couples just as hard to swallow? Those seemingly interminable visits with the in-laws. If you think you're the only one with urges to deck something other than the halls this holiday season, don't despair. Family therapist Gloria Call Horsley's The In-Law Survival Manual devotes an entire chapter to the ways in which we can extend goodwill to even the most combative of relatives during this time of peace on earth.

Horsley recommends beginning by recognizing that high expectations are a hallmark of the holidays. Only by exploring what you want—and letting others know—do you stand a chance of having your needs met. Talk with your spouse about which events and traditions mean the most to you and to your extended families.

Horsley also outlines a four-pronged approach to in-law impasses:

  • Identify the in-law issue: Are they acting out, or are you less tolerant of them because of seasonal demands?
  • Recognize your reactions: Remember that you can change your circumstances and your responses, but you can't alter other people.
  • Look for solutions: Think about modifying or breaking with tradition. If this means limiting visits with in-laws, keep their feelings in mind.
  • Act, don't react: Make changes early—that means months prior to the festivities. Decide whether you or your spouse will tell the family that you can't make it to Thanksgiving dinner this year.