• Pretty much everyone has “issues” with their families, whether biological, adoptive or in-laws. They could be major but, more often than not, they are new world issues, meaning minor, or even, dare I say it, petty ones. Often, our own family annoys us with their habits and styles. Until…the in-laws arrive.

    Why is it that for most of us, our in-laws tend to grate on our nerves and perpetuate the stereotypes (think mother-in-law) of in-law relationships? How is that, when we love our partners that these in-laws and their odd behaviors molded for us!?

    The good news is that in-laws make you appreciate your quirky annoying family, tenfold. A week before spending time with my in-laws, I was annoyed with my families’ communication style. Two weeks later, I was loving my wacky family that much more!

    It must be that what initially endeared you to your partner, with time, will also irritate you. At first you might be impressed with their decadent dinners at trendy restaurants, or extravagantly thoughtful gifts. Later, this might translate into your viewing them as pompous or careless with money. Or, your punctual partner will please you in the beginning with their precision of time, and that same trait can annoy you later because you might constantly run late. The examples can go on and on.

    After spending a week with my in-laws, I was mentally exhausted from figuring out what was intended and meant by conversations and requests. My family is very blunt and direct, to say the least, to the point of bordering on gruff and rude. Yet there is a lot of love which generates these shared opinions and criticisms. My in-laws are the opposite. Very reserved and borderline passive-aggressive in their communication styles. At first, that might seem quiet and peaceful. After a week with them, I was exhausted from trying to read between the lines. When they said, “That restaurant looks okay,” did they mean, yes, they want to go to that restaurant or are they hinting for somewhere better and trying to be polite? In my family, the restaurant would either be great or terrible. No gray areas left open to interpretation (or body language).

    Let me illustrate with this example. I was serving coffee after dinner. I absentmindedly poured cream and sugar into my in-laws cup, because I thought that’s what she requested. She looked at me and just muttered, “Oh. I guess I will take cream. Thank you.” I knew by her quickly disguised facial expression, she was not happy. I then realized that maybe I misheard her, based solely on her disappointed expression. I asked, “Oh, I am sorry. Do you not take cream?” Her response, “No, that’s fine.” Again, I said, “Did you not want cream in your coffee?” “It is okay, I will drink it.” she insisted. Still not looking pleased. I said, “Let me ask you this: If you were pouring yourself a cup of coffee, would you use cream and sugar or just sugar?” Immediately she responded, “Just sugar.” I switched her cup with my yet untouched cup of black coffee and handed her the sugar bowl to serve herself (I didn’t want to guess how many spoonfuls was the right amount – geez!). Problem solved! God, I felt like a champion problem-solver in that moment. When there didn’t need to be a problem to solve, had there been proper communication…oh well.

    This entire exchange took about three minutes (but felt like ten to me). I was tired from trying to figure out what she really wanted. In my family, I would have been directly told, with love of course, “What the heck (or a stronger word) are you doing? I didn’t say put sugar and cream in my coffee. Gimme yours instead. I’ll make it my way.” Fifteen seconds, no problem. That way we could move on to a more entertaining topic that are a lot less exhausting.

    So you see, these polar opposite communication styles probably would benefit from meeting somewhere in the middle to make for ideal communication and proper etiquette. We bring the strengths of each family’s styles, habits, traditions, routines, etc., into our family.  From each other, we learn how not to mince words (from my end) and how to do so politely (from his end).  Think of it as a melding of two families, with improvements. And we have the in-laws, from both sides, to thank for that!