There’s an old saying that “you don’t just marry a woman; you marry her family.” As your wedding approaches, your focus will naturally be on your bride. But (unless she’s an orphan) you’ll also have her parents to contend with.
Maybe your new in-laws will be totally cool people who you will love even more than your own parents. Or maybe they will be your worst nightmare. Let’s take a few minutes to think about this second possibility, and offer some advice on how to survive whatever they throw at you during holiday visits or random dinners out.
Empathize (with her)
Let’s say your father-in-law is—how shall we put this?—a racist. Not a tiki torch-wielding Nazi, necessarily, but an Archie Bunker-level bigot. When he starts ranting about how “the homeboys” ruined the neighborhood, think about how your spouse feels. She has had to live with this idiot her whole life. While her emotions may be more tangled and ambiguous than yours (probably a mixture of shame and anger) on some level she knows her father is being a douche.
Use your love for her to put out the raging fire of hatred you feel for her dad. Yes, you had to sit through Thanksgiving while he blamed the bad weather on the Jews, but, on the other hand, it’s only one dinner a year. She’s had to spend her whole life with him.
PRO TIP: She can complain about her family on the ride home. You can’t. All you can do is nod your head, and be supportive.
If the subject of politics comes up—especially in the politics we’re living through now—just pretend to be mute. You aren’t going to change your in-laws’ political views, and that’s OK. Here is a partial list of topics you should not touch: the President, Congress, abortion, the death penalty, gun rights, affirmative action, the #MeToo movement, Black Lives Matter, Antifa, hunting, global warming, science, the Yankees, Russia, North Korea, Brett Kavanaugh, Bob Mueller, fake news and/or real news. Acceptable topics to discuss: soup, weather (but not global warming) and dogs.
PRO TIP: When goaded directly into a conversation about politics, pretend to have a seizure.
Don’t Let ‘Em Get A Word in Edgewise
One way to avoid conflicts with your in-laws is to pre-empt any possible argument. Before your mother-in-law starts tearing into you for not having a job and telling you yet again about how she worked nights to pay her way through community college, launch into a long-winded explanation of your theories.
Theorize about where tornadoes come from; or why potato chips are so irresistible. Muse on your childhood obsession with model airplanes. Summarize in extensive detail that fascinating book you once read about the India rubber trade. Describe the many different kinds of sand you’ve encountered in your travels. It doesn’t matter, just pick a topic you can talk about for hours and hold forth from the minute you walk in the door, until they fall asleep.
PRO-TIP: Don’t allow your in-laws to say anything. Remember, if you do all the talking, you eliminate the potential for conflict.
When your brother-in-law gets to the bottom of his 8th beer and starts poking his finger into your chest and asking you if you want to wrestle, you will need to draw on some serious patience. Try compartmentalizing. This is a psychological defense mechanism you can use to avoid mental discomfort and anxiety.
Just take the part of your mind that wants to jump through a plate glass window, and stuff it deep down somewhere below your sternum. If that becomes too difficult, you can also take a short walk outside, or get in your car and curse into the glove compartment.
PRO-TIP: Cover your head in a towel to mute your screams.
Marriage is a negotiation. You love your wife, but that doesn’t mean you are obligated to visit her parents’ every weekend. She may expect you to, and if you don’t stand up for yourself, you’ll end up burning with resentment as you mow her father’s lawn for the hundredth time. A little street smarts goes a long way. You have to see a bad deal coming and find a way to avoid it, while still making her feel like she’s getting what she wants.
To avoid everyone being miserable you will have to engage in sleight of hand, skullduggery, and a mild lying. Think back to your days as a teen, buying weed on the streets. Remember how that dealer got you to shell out $20 for a bag of oregano? He was street smart, you were a rube from the suburbs. Now it’s your turn to apply those skills.
PRO TIP: When your wife suggests a holiday trip with her family, don’t pout or offer ultimatums: Tell her you have an infectious disease, or you have to work overtime to buy her a special gift. Just do what it takes to secure a deal that you feel good with, and sell her that oregano.
Develop Dead Eyes
Here’s one of the best, simplest techniques for dealing with difficult or tiresome in-laws: just listen to them. That’s it. Let them say whatever they want and sit there and bite your damn tongue.
They’re probably full of hilarious yarns about how when your wife was just a little girl she ran around the house with no pants, or that one time she played a tree in the school play. Let them tell their tales. Sit silently, a rapt audience, smiling and nodding appreciatively. You might learn something interesting about your new spouse, or your in-laws.
Don’t make too much eye contact, as this might induce them to ask you a question. Just practice a vacant unfocused gaze into the distance, like a traumatized soldier, nodding with dead-eyes and a thousand-yard stare. If you must say something, make it an innocuous question, such as, “Tell me again about how when you were growing up there was no food and you had to eat the glue off the back of the wall paper.” This will encourage your in-laws to feel more comfortable opening up with you.
PRO TIP: This is especially useful if your mother-in-law tends to get drunk and hit on you or if your father-in-law is a former interrogator for the FBI.
One eminently sensible way to deal with the stress of in-laws is to binge-eat. If you find yourself at an uncomfortable Christmas dinner, one way to lighten the mood is to eat to excess (which let’s face it, you probably were going to do anyway).
Eat until you have to unbutton your pants, and then keep going. Eat well past the point of pain. It’s a scientific fact that your brain will be unable to process feelings of annoyance with your in-laws when your insides are about to explode. Just keep piling on the mashed potatoes and eat yourself into oblivion. Bonus: her mother will feel flattered that you love her cooking. Second bonus: nobody will get suspicious when you disappear to the bathroom for two hours.
PRO TIP: Eat with both hands. You cannot get into an argument while stuffing your prosciutto hole.
Remember, your in-laws are family. So act around them the same way you act with your own family: drink heavily. Really be yourself. If this means combining prescription meds with your alcohol, who are we to judge?
If you stay stoned out of your mind the entire time you are with your in-laws, they may begin to think you are an addict—but on the upside, if you’re passed out face down in the driveway at least you aren’t arguing with anyone. And on the other upside, they may begin to feel sorry for you. Work that pity!
PRO TIP: Hydrate with one glass of water for every serving of alcohol to reduce chances of a punishing hangover and/or permanent liver damage.
For thousands of years, Tibetan Buddhist monks sitting in barren caves in the Himalayan mountains have used visualizations to experience deep states of bliss. If they can do it so can you.
Try this the next time your brother-in-law is explaining why he could really use another cash loan: Picture him as a beautiful glowing orb of light, and imagine waterfalls of rainbow-colored nectar emanating from his forehead, drenching you in bliss and inner peace.
In reality, he might be covered in neck tattoos and canker sores, but in your visualization, try to see him as a perfect embodiment of wisdom and compassion (who just happens to have a meth problem.)
PRO TIP: Don’t close your eyes or people will get wise to you. Maintain a soft gaze and a slight Mona Lisa smile.
You will rarely encounter anything more annoying than other people, and this is doubly so when it comes to your wife’s family.
Perhaps your father-in-law spits inside the house, burps loudly during meals, and picks his nose while talking to you. As a civilized adult, you may think you are allowed to admonish him. You are not. Sure, you could probably come up with a long list of character flaws, and sometimes your in-laws will turn to be actual criminals. But it’s not your job to improve them.
Your father in law is (almost certainly) older than you, and seniors don’t like young-uns calling them out. But the best way is to lead by example. For instance, never get into a fart war with her old man. You will be farted under the table. It won’t end well. And neither will your marriage.
PRO TIP: As a wise man once said, “Don’t change other people. Change yourself.”