How to Handle In-Law Conflict During the Holidays (Part 2)

By November 8, 2017February 23rd, 2018Communication, Conflict, In-laws & Family

Dealing with in-law conflict is hard any time of year…but it’s so much harder during the holidays. Today, we’re continuing the conversation about how to handle issues with your spouse’s parents (or yours) this holiday season. Check out part 1 here.

If your spouse rejects your family

Maybe, for whatever reason, your spouse dislikes your family. And when they join you at gatherings on your side of the family, they act snarky, sarcastic, rude, or completely uninterested in being there. When you’re trying to manage your spouse’s behavior, that can take all the enjoyment out of your family’s holiday celebrations.

If this is the case, you’ve probably encouraged your spouse to engage with your family. You have most likely spent a lot of time and energy trying to get them more involved…or just begging them to be nice. Unfortunately, what goes on between your spouse and your family isn’t something you can control.

Here, you have a few options. If your family can be difficult sometimes, acknowledge it..then give your spouse a job. You could say something like, “I need you to come to this Christmas dinner for me. Come for me and help me keep my sense of humor about the whole thing. Help me stay relaxed. You might not enjoy it, but it should at least be interesting.”

If this doesn’t apply, you could really reconsider whether it’s critical for your spouse to be present at your family gatherings—especially if he or she finds it hard to be civil. You could give your spouse an out and let them choose not to join you: “I would miss you and it would be disappointing to me for you not to go. But I want to be there, so I’m giving you the option to not be there.” If your spouse opts to skip the gathering, you might find that you can enjoy yourself more fully with your family.

If your in-laws reject you

It’s incredibly painful to be rejected, especially by your spouse’s family. But it’s important to remember that everyone is human and fallible…and it’s not your fault.

You can’t bend over backward to change who you are or perform in such a way in order to get your in-laws’ blessing. The most important thing you can do in this situation is to recognize, “This is their problem, not mine; I’m going to live my life.” Then go on without that blessing and make peace with the fact that you might never get it.

Maintain a willingness to include them in your life—keep a space open for them—but don’t actively try to keep them involved, and don’t try to insert yourself into their life or their gatherings if they’ve made it clear they don’t want you around. Don’t strive or waste your time trying to get them to have warmer feelings toward you.

Move on and grieve for the relationships you’ve lost. Maintain traditions with your own family and create new traditions with your spouse. And remember that as time passes, things sometimes change. Sometimes in-laws’ hearts soften when grandchildren enter the picture. Other life circumstances can alter relationships for the better. In the meantime, remember that this problem is more about them than it is about you.

If your parents reject your spouse

It can feel like a major rejection to both of you if your parents don’t approve of your spouse. You’ve chosen the person you want to spend the rest of your life with, and you want more than anything for your family to love them as much as you do. And there’s nothing more isolating to your spouse than being openly rejected, ridiculed, or treated rudely at your family gatherings.

First, let your parents know how you feel. You can say something like, “I understand that you don’t approve of (spouse’s name), but he/she is part of this family now and I expect you to treat him/her with the same respect you show other members of the family.” If they refuse to listen or their bad behavior toward your spouse continues, it might be time to consider stepping away from their gatherings until they can show your spouse (and you) more respect.

It’s never easy to set boundaries with your parents, but it might be necessary to give them time and space necessary to reevaluate the way they’ve treated your spouse. Even if you still want to be a part of their holiday traditions, you might want to consider creating some new traditions that you and your spouse can enjoy together.

How do you and your spouse navigate problems that arise with your in-laws during the holidays? Share your tips in the comments section below.


  • Clarice Wilson says:

    Bless you both for writing this one. I pray for peaceful gatherings and healing to broken relationships. May a spirit of acceptance shroud all families.

  • Bonnie says:

    Thanks for this. But how about advice for in laws who have been rejected by their kids? I hear about this all the time. This is so painful, especially when their are Grandchildren. May God grant us unity.
    Rejected Grandparent

  • Will Adult Children Ever Grow up says:

    I agree that being a parent and grandparent of adult children who are critical and demanding can make the holiday so stressful. I have that situation with my two son’s and especially my daughter in law. They feel we need to cater their needs, no matter what, it is painful because their are grandchildren involved and large geographic distance. It has caused difficulty in our marriage as we see it differently. I am hopeful that this Thanksgiving will bring healing, love and peace to my family and yours.

    • Jamie says:

      This post hits really close to home. I am a very family centered person. My husband is a very generous and accommodating person. I respect and align with nicely; although, his parents believe as your post states that they need to “cater” too. Reminder that there are two sides to every story and unless they have asked you point blank to ” cater” to them do not assume their actions to prove your hypothesis. My husband’s family say, they feel like they are asked to provide “free child care”. This can be fixed. Open communication and get to the root of the conflict.

  • Sunny says:

    Wanting to create one’s own traditions and needing to spend time alone with your spouse and children is not rejecting grandparents!

    Every marriage and family needs privacy and space.

    Grandparents are extended relatives. Grandparents are not part of one’s nuclear family.

    Thus, grandparents tend not to live in the same household. Nor are finances shared. Because grandparents are a separate family unit.

    It’s part of respecting boundaries and understanding your place.

Leave a Reply