No matter how long you’ve been dating your fiancé(e), be it a mere few months or the better part of the last decade, taking a vacation with your in-laws is no short of a big deal. It requires you to spend days of uninterrupted one-on-one time with them, which can naturally bring about an entire new perspective of who they are, how they live and how they treat one another, as well as outsiders. As a result, tensions may arise and certain situations may be uncomfortable for both you and your partner or, perhaps, just you. “Every partner comes from a family with different degrees of closeness, differing values, norms, expectations, rituals, ideas, boundaries, lifestyles and more,” explains Paulette Sherman, Psy.D., psychologist, director of My Dating & Relationship School and author of Dating from the Inside Out. “But, when couples get married, they become the architects of their own family, creating new norms, values and rituals that can create tension between future in-laws and the engaged or engagement-bound couple.” Rest assured, it’s perfectly possible for you to vacation with your in-laws sans stress, tension and frustration, but it might take a little work and focused energy on your part.
Here, relationship experts share their best tips for managing a vacation with your in-laws with your sanity and sensibility intact.
Talk through concerns before the vacation with your in-laws.
Dr. Sherman calls this, “getting ahead of the train” with her couples in couples therapy. “For example, if one in-law is particularly critical or demanding, discuss with your partner how you will address this as a united front as a couple before you go,” she says. “Perhaps the son or daughter will address it because it’s their family or you may choose to respond as a couple so your significant other doesn't feel like a scapegoat.” During the talk, be sure to cover familial norms, challenges and expectations so that you have some idea of what to expect before you get there. “For example, maybe the family always eats together or goes to church and the significant other has special dietary needs or is another religion and wants the son or daughter to discuss this with the in-laws ahead of time,” says Dr. Sherman.
Develop a signal for uncomfortable situations.
Whether it’s a slow blink or a quick tap on the shoulder, it’s not a bad idea to establish some kind of quick and easy way you can communicate that the two of you need to talk alone, even for a brief second. “If you have a signal like scratching your arm, coughing or using a nickname then you can excuse yourselves to go to the bathroom or visit the room for ten minutes to discuss the challenge and address it together without making a scene,” says Dr. Sherman.
Make sure you have separate housing if possible.
If the situation permits, try to arrange for you and your future spouse to have your own housing, even if that merely means a separate hotel room. This allows you to be more intentional about taking breaks and creating some distance, explains Dr. Sherman. “You can excuse yourself to take a nap if you aren't feeling well, take a call from your family or friends or even go change or shower,” she says. “This may provide much needed stress breaks and space, as well as providing you and your significant other with more time alone—plus, you can get intimate without it being awkward!”
Carve in some couples time.
Just because you’re going on vacation with your in-laws, doesn’t mean you have to be around them 24/7—after all, it's your vacation too. That’s why Dr. Sherman suggests planning some activities for just you and your future spouse to enjoy one-on-one, be it a day trip to see the sights, a night out dancing, dinner alone, etc. “If it’s your vacation you want to enjoy it and don't want to be resentful that you did not do the things you wanted and did not have alone time together,” she adds.
If anger or a blowout happens, be gentle and humble.
“Don’t keep yelling at your mother-in-law like a crazy person. Be calm and don’t become that rebellious adolescent,” advises Katie Ziskind, LMFT and owner of Wisdom Within Counseling, in Niantic, Connecticut. “Apologize even if it wasn’t your fault. Use your positive thinking of see the big picture, that it’s only a short vacation and your in-laws will be back at their home soon and make sure that if you’ve mistakenly said something, say sorry and move forward in a constructive way.”
Try to be flexible and keep the larger picture in mind.
While it’s important that you’re comfortable and that your own needs are met, Dr. Sherman recommends trying to make the most of the time you have with your in-laws. “They will be in the picture for the foreseeable future and they are very important to your mate and will be your future extended family,” she says. “Compromising and being flexible will go a long way in forging bonds and your partner and your in-laws will probably appreciate it.”