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Surviving the 'in-laws'

By Siana Scatti

They say that when you marry you don't wed your spouse, but rather your spouse's family and, for many, this extended family brings a wealth of support, friendships and love.

If you are unlucky, however, in-laws can be the bane of your life.

If you're out of luck, they can bring about many frosty times with your partner, who may have vowed to love you forever - but that's as long as you don't mention Aunt Maude's flatulence or Uncle Ron's appalling drink-induced jokes.

Heaven forbid that you react badly to your father-in-law's snide comments about the wondrous house-painting job that you've spent your entire holiday doing and how he could have done it better in a third of the time.

And how about the mother-in-law who cannot help herself and continually gives advice on child-rearing and always adds the cutting: "You're only making a rod for your own back" to each gem she offers that is politely declined.

Annoying in-laws put a very bad strain upon a marriage if your spouse cannot see them through anything but rose-coloured glasses.

Remember, however, they have been the loving influence upon your spouse for their entire lives and, as such, deserve credit for how your beloved has turned out.

They may be old, meddling fuddy-duddies (in your eyes) but you have been given the responsibility of making their loved child, even a 40-year-old, happy and content. That means not upsetting your partner by ridiculing or being rude to them.

If your in-laws harp on about things not being done the way they would have done it or to their level of expectation, don't fire up. They have different attitudes and, when it comes down to it, only want the best for their offspring.

Stay calm and, if you have to say something, gently suggest that not everyone thinks along the same lines. But don't buy into an argument.

While parents-in-law may be the main cause of aggravation, the brothers and sisters of your spouse can cause upheavals as well.

Petty jealousies that stem from childhood can rear their ugly heads if one sibling seems to be doing better than another and woe-betide the family's tallest poppy. The sniping and back-stabbing can be brutal.

Sisters can be the best of friends, or the worst of rivals, and no matter how much one moans or criticises the other the safest option is to keep quiet and find a nice book to read. Don't buy in to it. Don't get involved. In fact, run away!

Be aware of the situation and don't walk into traps. The easiest way for a jealous sibling to create trouble is to get you and your partner rowing over family matters.

Stay wise, stay alert and stay silent. Here are Five Golden Rules:

Rule 1: Never Criticise In-laws

Even if your spouse has just had a huge blow-up with one of them - keep right out of it. Nod, make a cuppa, hold their hand, but never say anything negative about the offender.

If you are tempted to offer some sensible view of the incident - don't. Bite your cheek, mash your tongue, but don't say a word because it will only come back at you in the form of: "You've never liked my family!"

Rule 2: Always Be Polite

If you happen to pick up the phone and it's one of your loved one's relatives, it can do no harm to be polite.

After all, a minute's worth of: "How is the weather there?" "How's young Hermione?" "Fine, thanks" or "And you?" will make your life considerably easier. The beautiful thing about the phone is that they cannot see the look on your face as you talk politely.

Rule 3: Never Compare Families

Just as you must never compare the achievements of one sibling with another's, you must never mention your family's two doctors, three lawyers and five masters degrees in the same breath as your in-laws' one Victorian Certificate of Education pass. In fact, just don't talk about it.

Rule 4: Never Be Provoked

This is particularly apt during the festive season. No matter how obnoxious an in-law gets while imbibing Christmas spirit you must do your utmost to ignore the jibes, snarky comments and obvious wind-ups.

Christmas and birthdays tend to lead to a lot of family fights and being in the middle of one can have long-term consequences. A kebab stick through the palm of the hand will usually have your mind focused elsewhere and allow you to ride the hassles.

Rule 5: Avoid Danger Ground

If get-togethers seem to be on a downward spiral then it may pay to avoid them. Don't do so in an obvious or provocative way - that makes things worse than the probable fight ahead - but find a way to avoid the trip to Sister Hilary's.

It could be right-on-deadline work or a viral contagion that only lays you low for a few hours.

Hopefully, if you've kept a low profile at the lead-up occasions then no one will realise you have missed the past five Christmas dinners.

Now while this and the preceding four tips may seem a little spineless, they may just make the visits, holidays or big occasions just that more bearable. Remember, there are a lot of people suffering from Inlawitis.


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