Managing the In-Laws: A Survivor’s Guide

Posted on 19 January 2010

Surviving the In-Laws

As the title suggests, I am a survivor.  Having sustained a marriage for the past twenty-plus years, I intend to keep on surviving, and for that reason, have used a pseudonym at the end of this article.  Those of you now calling me “Chicken!” have either never inherited in-laws or are in deep denial of the slings and arrows with which they take joy in attacking your psyche, your self-esteem, your very lifestyle.   For those of you in the happy, former category, I strongly suggest that you remain there … for the rest of your life.  For those of you in the latter, consider this a form of therapy, free of charge.  Once you get done reading this, you may actually look more favorably upon those who birthed and raised your spouse.


The Shower.   Despite technology and the speed of light with which we now receive our news, some things should remain sacred.  Among them is secrecy surrounding a bride’s shower; there are so few surprises left in life.  On my special day, I found my future family-by-marriage dressed like migrant farm workers, deeply embedded in my mother-in-law’s fridge.  They were cleaning it out to throw me off the scent, as I’d uncovered evidence — quite by accident — that the shower was to be that very day.  They were doing a good job of it, until my father-in-law entered the room.  Giving me the once-over, he pronounced that I looked good for my shower!


The Wedding.   Due to some of the formal, written responses I’d received to my wedding, from my future husband’s side of the family, I should have known what I was in for.  The most preposterous of them included, “If you can arrange a lift for me (through three States), I’ll be there”, “If my back is feeling better that day, I’ll come”, and “If you invite my children, I’m coming; otherwise, forget it — I go nowhere without my children and am insulted that you would even think I might!”


Not wishing to look like every other bride on the planet, I’d been extremely selective in my choice of wedding attire and accessories.   My dress was a beautiful, elegant heavy silk tea length affair, very simple, with no veil; it was custom-made for me and I loved it.  The color was perhaps two shades removed from dead white.  As I greeted my new in-laws immediately after the ceremony, one of my groom’s great-aunts asked at the top of her lungs, in the church vestibule, why my gown was not dead white and where was my veil and did this all symbolize my lack of purity.


The Honeymoon.   What?  You thought you were going to be treated to a kiss and tell?  Fat chance!  Two out of seven days in a tropical paradise were wasted indoors on a mad shopping spree, being ripped off for crappy souvenirs made not on that isle, but in a third-world nation, that my husband insisted we bring home to his family.   As the in-laws unveiled their gifts, my mother-in-law hinted broadly that her 25th anniversary was fast approaching.  To this, my husband inquired — without a word of warning to me — as to whether she would like a party (read: another wedding, albeit 25 years later) or a trip to a nice tropical locale.  Instead of telling us to save our money, as we were newlyweds just starting out, my mother-in-law insisted upon the party (read: wedding), for which yours truly, out of her own hard-earned coffers, coughed up 5/6th of the money.


Twenty-five years later, my older sister-in-law was peeved beyond all comprehension when I told her “No dice” to her request for my husband and I to kick in major bucks for her parents’ fiftieth anniversary party.  Conveniently, she’d forgotten my contribution of $3,000 twenty-five years earlier.  I reminded her of that, and she did not speak to me again for months (oh, happy circumstance!).


Family Affairs.  Because I was deemed “the friendly one”, I was forced to sit at every affair next to the strangers in the group (i.e.: future in-laws and their relatives).  This placed me, alternately, next to the neurotic teen on psychotropic meds, the woman who relayed in painstaking detail –as I attempted to eat — her gallbladder operation, and the guy who could barely string two words together in English but for the booming proclamation, oft-repeated, “I am the greatest mason the world has ever seen!”


The Insults.  My mother-in-law has needed glasses for years and is too vain to wear them.  If the grease on her stove were blood, it would look like a war zone.  Quite by coincidence, we happened to buy the same stove at the same time.  She took one look at mine and inquired as to whether or not I actually used it.  This, after I had cooked many meals for my inherited and very extended family, all of which were praised to the heavens (and rightly so).


The day that we purchased our house, my in-laws walked through it.  It had taken my husband and I years to save up the down payment, and we were extremely proud of the house, which we both loved. My father-in-law took the cook’s tour, shooting down everything about my beautiful new house, as it did not meet his specific tastes.


Years later, my little sister-in-law later purchased a house and purposely had it done to her daddy’s specifications for, as she whispered, “Who wants to hear him?”   My father-in-law praised the decor, failing to find fault with the entryway and driveway, both of which looked like bombs had hit them.


The Injuries.    My husband and I have no children.  I stopped going to baby showers as a form of healing.  For this, I was chastised by my mother-in-law, who has three kids, and told to get over it.  Then I was told to be sure to send presents.  The “send presents” edict continued for every single party thrown by and for my husband’s six aunt and uncles, their kids, and their kids.  When I told my mother-in-law that none of these people had ever once acknowledged my birthday with a card or a phone call, I got the “get over it” lecture again.


When my beloved aunt died of ovarian cancer, she left her body to medical science in the hope that researchers might use it to help others suffering with cancer.  For this generous act, my in-laws railed that my aunt was selfish beyond belief, to “have done that to her family.”  Oh, P.S.  My husband’s grandmother, who had been in pretty good health and was not all that old, died of unknown causes.  Fifteen years later, the family still wonders why, as they refused to sanction an autopsy that might have given them some insight and healing, and may possibly have prevented an untimely death in their own family. 


I could go on forever, but I promised you a survivor’s guide.   In actuality, I can only share my own survival tactics, of which, there are but three.  I pray you find them useful.


1.       I engage in meditation-like rituals prior to any family function, even a simple dinner at Ye Olde Homestead (my in-laws’).  I envision myself in a suit of armor, or in a pyramid made of tempered steel.  The insults and inanities thus bounce off of me, and right back on them.  Boing!   I grin in their faces like a mad fool, and they wonder if I’ve sipped a bit too much wine … which is not a bad survival tactic, either.


2.       I used to argue with them to enable them to see reason, but only a fool argues with the ignorant, the myopic, and quite possibly, the in-bred.  So I’ve pretty much stopped doing this.  Since adopting this tactic, my lung function has increased tremendously and I’ve saved quite a bit on over-the-counter headache meds.


3.       I plot their murders.  If you think I’m kidding, think again.  I love this one; it’s my very favorite.  I taint their food with rat poison, conk them over the heads with bricks, and trip them down long flights of stairs only in my mind.  I’d never do it anything like this in real life.  Is it because I’m virtuous and God-fearing?  Nah.  I’d get caught, you see, and my in-laws would have their final revenge upon me as I rot in jail.   But it’s fun to play “Let’s pretend!”


If you have further suggestions as to how to maintain your sanity in the face of the in-law onslaught, suggestions that do not involve actually tossing a live electrical appliance into their bathwater as opposed to fantasizing about it, let’s hear ’em! 

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9 Responses to “Managing the In-Laws: A Survivor’s Guide”

  1. Angela says:

    Sounds like your marriage started off on the wrong foot, maybe you should have worn the veil and the pure white gown.

  2. Celeste says:

    Angela, I’m a friend of Karen’s. Trust me, Mother Teresa herself would have been villified by this clinically dysfunctional family.

    There is clinically dysfunctional, as researched, validdated, and very clearly defined by the mental health community, and there is “dysfunctional” as a throw-away word used by the rest of us who have the normal ups & downs with our families and in-laws. The family my friend married into is one for the books. Part of their dysfunction is to bury anything negative, to hide it away like squirrels with nuts. They did a good job of it; they did it long enough for my friend to say “I do.”

    She avoids them like the plague and has missed holiday dinners & other functions because of them. She prefers to be alone than be with Satanic spawn. I hope that answers your question.

  3. Mario G. says:

    I say go with Step #3.

  4. mae says:

    I can totally sympathize with you. Be grateful they do not live with you. Mine do. At least you still have the sanctity of peace in your own home. Our decorating ideas collide, when I want to sleep in does not always happen and I have to figure out when its safe to use the kitchen.
    Just remember you married the man not his parents.
    It must be difficult for your husband too because he loves you and his parents and he may find himself in between a rock and a hard place.
    Although it says in the bible that a husband should cleave to his wife. In laws are never satisfied with any spouse their offspring marry. No one ever seems to be good enough.
    As long as you only spend a limited time with them just smile and nod.
    Ignoring and compromising. Don’t worry to much about what you inlaws may think as long as you and your husband are happy.

  5. Jack S. Fogbound says:

    Great Article! This is almost as funny as the TV series “Everybody Loves Raymond”

  6. Parco says:

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  7. marlboro says:

    I think your opinions are quite interesting, I enjoy reading what you write. Hope to hear more from you. Subscribed.

  8. Merlin Pennycuff says:

    I like the way you put out things. It would be nice to read more posts from you. Bookmarked.

  9. Amelia Gray says:

    there are so many rats at home and i am looking for a really good rat poison

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