Start a conversation.
Sometimes, a simple icebreaker can help create a dialogue between you and your in-laws. If there has been tension between you, you should address that elephant in the room. You could say something like, “I know we have our differences, but it’s the holidays, and I’m happily married with your son/brother/etc. I’d like us to make peace and move on because we’re all family now.” Those who have no tension but feel shy around the in-laws can start with something else. Perhaps, you can use holiday decoration, such as your Christmas tree, as a conversation piece. For instance, you could say, “See that ornament on the tree? Hubby and I picked it up on the honeymoon. There’s a funny story about that…” Of course, make sure the conversation isn’t one sided. After you kick things off, ask questions and make sure they’re offering something, too.
Let your spouse make a bridge.
If starting a conversation is too difficult for you to do yourself (and depending on the level of tension, it might be), talk to your spouse first. Explain that you want to improve the situation and do the right thing. And see what your spouse says about working things out with his or her family. Let your spouse essentially pave the way for peace. After all, he or she knows all the parties involved best.
Choose the right gifts.
While no one should buy love or forgiveness, a holiday gift can serve as an olive branch to your in-laws. You can show them that you’re paying attention to them and want them to be apart of your life and your spouse’s life, too. You don’t have to spend a lot of money. But consider getting them something meaningful or that appeals to them, such as their favorite bottle of wine or something that speaks to their passion (golf balls for the golfer or knitting needles for the knitter) or something touching (think framed family photos or a photo book). Include a card that expresses your happiness to be apart of their family now.
What tends to happen, especially when couples first marry, is that each spouse vies for time to spend with their own family. Inevitably, the couple ends up spending more time with one family than the other. Instead, try to hang out with both families at the same time. Be inclusive and everyone will feel like family. Besides making the holidays brighter, the decision to be more inclusive of your in-laws will help you lift the threat they might feel. Let’s face it. When a child weds, his or her parents always worry that they might not be as important to him or her. A spouse who is inclusive to in-laws removes the threat.
Your in-laws will never be your own family. You’ve grown up with your family, and you share a bond and love that is probably unbreakable. It won’t be the same with your spouse’s family. But learn to accept them and the kind of relationship that you could have. (It could be rewarding, wonderful, and close, too, even if not the same as the one you have with your own relatives). If your mother-in-law is a bit cold and distant and not the type to be affectionate, respect that, even if you are the kind of person who hugs and kisses everyone you meet. Tolerate your father-in-law’s insistence that he carves the turkey at every holiday. Whatever the quirk, you should go with the flow. Accepting people for who they are is the first step in liking them. If you like them, they will probably have a hard time disliking you.