Family relationships can be complicated. This is especially true when you marry and combine families. If your in-laws happen to be competitive, this adds an entirely new layer of issues to navigate.
When you were single, you only had to manage the relationships within your immediate and extended families. But when you married your spouse, you gained their family as well. And that means that you multiplied the number of relationships that you now need to manage and nurture in your life.
Many people find it difficult to manage their relationships with in-laws. This is often due to a number of factors. There could be issues with interpersonal communication, as well as arguments over who you should spend more time with. You might clash over priorities, or find that your in-laws are behaving and communicating in a competitive way.
Family competition can show up in a number of different places and in myriad ways. It’s disconcerting when it happens, particularly if you’re an unassuming person who isn’t expecting tension. Even worse, it can negatively affect your relationship with your spouse.
In-law competition can take multiple forms. You may find that your in-laws compete with you or with your family over issues such as time, financial resources, accomplishments, skills, and more. Competition can center around the most mundane and noteworthy of things.
For example, your in-laws may feel animosity toward your parents based on material wealth, possessions, or social status. They may be jealous of your skills and accomplishments and seek to engage in competition with you because of them. They might compete with your parents for time. The list goes on and on.
So how do you cope with competitive in-laws?
1. Disengage Whenever Possible
Whenever possible, don’t engage in competitive discourse with your in-laws. Be polite, but don’t argue with them if they are trying to draw you in. You and your spouse will need to set healthier boundaries in terms of what kinds of communication you will engage with.
For example, you don’t have to answer intrusive questions, let yourself be backed into a corner, or cave to pressure to give a specific answer. Give yourself plenty of grace and patience as you decide how best to respond. Something simple like, “I appreciate that you’re concerned about our plans for the holidays. We’ll let you know what we decide after we’ve discussed it,” might give you enough distance to step away from a high-pressure conversation.
2. Keep Frustration In Check
It’s difficult to stay patient when you feel that you are being goaded or provoked into competitive posturing. However, it’s essential to keep your frustration in check. Escalating tensions and high emotions can make for ugly conflict down the line.
When you’re communicating with competitive people, giving them an overly emotional response might be exactly what they want from you. Instead, respond in a calm, measured way, even when you don’t feel like it. If you’re feeling too upset, leave the conversation.
3. Politely Change the Subject
Redirecting a conversation could save you a lot of frustration and conflict. If possible, change the subject when competitive topics come up. This might be a challenge, particularly if your in-laws are persistent. But, if this approach is successful, then it could spare you from a lot of heartache.
Does your spouse understand the competitive dynamic and know how upsetting it is for you? If so, then it would be best for the two of you to work together to deter competitive behavior. Make plans ahead of time to decide how you’re going to handle certain topics of conversation–and even how you might extract yourselves from an interaction if you need to. Making an exit plan can be an incredibly helpful way to work as a team.
Growing closer as a couple could help the two of you better navigate difficult situations with your in-laws and other extended family members. Our book, Strengthen Your Marriage, contains tips and inspiration for nurturing your bond and getting to know one another better than ever before. Get your copy here.
Do you have competitive in-laws (or parents)? How do you and your spouse work together to cope? Leave us a comment and let us know.