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How to Make It Through the Holidays with Your In-Laws—Without Starting World War III

Love 'em or hate 'em, you're going to have to face your in-laws over the holidays. Here's a survival guide for making it out with your holiday cheer and relationship intact.

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DON’T go in expecting the worst

If you’ve had a rocky relationship with your in-laws in the past, it can definitely be a challenge to walk in with a smile on your face for the holidays. But even though you don’t have the best history, don’t put your bad vibes out there. Swallow the negativity and give your in-laws the benefit of the doubt.

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DO give sincere compliments

Many people actually get along very well with their in-laws; if that’s not the case for you trying to find something nice to say to your partner’s parents can be like having to choose your favorite kind of dental surgery. No matter what your pain level, though, you should try to come up with a few sincere compliments for your in-laws, after all, you care about your partner and your relationship, so saying nice things to his family is mandatory over the holidays. Find something, even if it’s small, to praise them for without forcing it. If you hate his mother’s outfit, don’t lie and say that you love it. Instead, compliment her festive home decor. “Holidays are a time where one gets an opportunity to do something different,” says David Simonsen, Ph.D., licensed marriage and family therapist. “Instead of treating your in-laws as an annoyance, you can make the choice to treat them kindly.”

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DO compliment your partner in front of them

It’s not only important to compliment your in-laws, but also to compliment your partner in front of them. You always want to show his parents that you’re good for her and that you value her. “Do you appreciate your partner? Let your in-laws know this,” Dr. Simonsen says. “Let them know how you appreciate the things they sacrificed in order to raise the great person that you are married to.” Besides, you’re not there for your own benefit, you’re there for your significant other’s sake. Let him know that you care about him and that you’re trying your best. Learn why giving compliments is the key to a happy marriage.

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DON’T react to subtle insults

In-laws can be absolute masters at passive-aggressiveness. They know, just like you do, that they have to put on a good performance, but sometimes they won’t be above sneaking in a jab or two. Unless they deliver a major insult or inflammatory statement, don’t react to their subtle insults. “Tension about a multitude of things is higher during the holidays. Wait until the stress has dissipated so there can be a more reasoned and rational conversation before you bring up the slight,” Dr. Simonsen says. Rise above it and steer the conversation in a positive direction. Find out if you’re the one being passive-aggressive.

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DO engage in meaningful conversation

While you don’t want to bring up politics or other hot-button issues, it’s important to converse with your in-laws about something more significant than the weather. If you can get your in-laws talking about a particularly happy or meaningful memory, for instance, they will begin to develop the sense that they can confide in you, share things with you, and include you in family discussions. Find out the questions you should ask your parents and in-laws before it’s too late.

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DON’T discuss sore subjects

If you’re not the biggest fan of your partner’s parents, chances are there has been at least one major point of contention or disagreement in the past. The holidays are not the time to bring back old arguments. While you try to establish meaningful conversation, don’t forget that this is meant to be a lighthearted occasion. “If there is a topic that makes you uncomfortable, a great way to respond is, ‘I want to talk about this with you, but I don’t think right now is the best time to do so,'” says Dr. Simonsen. The real issues can wait until the ornaments come off the Christmas tree. Until then, talk about how great the pie was.

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DO have your exit strategy in place

Your partner most likely already knows how you feel about visiting with his parents. In order to keep your relationship in tact and make it through the day with your sanity, it’s important that the two of you come to a compromise. “Perhaps you both agree that staying for an hour after dinner is appropriate,” Dr. Simonsen says. Plant a seed or two about your departure throughout the day by casually mentioning that your dogs will need their holiday dinner, too, for instance. That way, when you need to bail, you’ve already got a built-in excuse that doesn’t come across as rude. Check out these adorable and funny holiday pets for a guaranteed smile.

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DON’T dine and dash

Make sure you give yourself enough buffer time between the end of the meal and your departure. One of the most inconsiderate things you can do at your in-laws house is to leave immediately after they’ve let you eat the food from their table. It is crucial that you give them your thanks for all that they’ve done, even if you would have rather been at home drinking wine and watching Netflix instead. Remember, no matter the circumstance, the holidays are supposed to be a time of happiness. Don’t set out to ruin that for yourself or anyone else. Here are more ways for blended families to enjoy the holidays.

Taylor Markarian
I have a B.A. in Writing, Literature & Publishing from Emerson College. I write for several lifestyle and entertainment publications, such as Alternative Press, Revolver, Your Tango, and The List. I'm a sucker for dogs and a hardcore kid for life. Let's start talking.