How comfortable are you around your spouse's family?

People often struggle to understand what makes them happy/unhappy and why, themselves, much less being able to articulate it, so that’s hardly surprising. :wink: And if by some chance they do manage to pinpoint the issue and articulate it, if the person they’re talking to doesn’t have an analogous experience as a frame of reference, odds are effective communication still won’t happen on the subject. Human beings are a mess, and I’m glad you’re finding some help wading through one of the gloppier parts of the mess.

Well…there’s poking around in the kitchen, and then there’s poking around in the kitchen. I’ll dig through my mil’s cabinets looking for a glass, or hunt down a plate and silverware to get a piece of the cake that’s sitting out on the kitchen counter, sure. But I wouldn’t just randomly go in and start opening cabinets or the fridge to see what there is to snack on, or grab a handful of grapes while I’m in the fridge getting a drink the way I would at my parents’ house. I don’t know why, exactly; it’s not like they’d mind in the least if I did those things. There’s just some vague lizard-brain repulsion to the idea.

It’s like when my mil caught herself something fairly inappropriate pretty loudly when talking to me and my sil in public last weekend. She would have been embarrassed if it had happened with just sil, but she was even more embarrassed that it happened in front of me. Not as embarrassed as she would have been in front of company, but still. On both sides of the fence, it’s like I’m 95% family but still 5% company. And that 5% makes kind of a big difference.

Yeah, different family dynamics take a long time to adjust to on all sides. My family doesn’t have to be doing stuff together all the time, but we do tend to all congregate in the same room and stay there together (often doing our own thing) unless we leave for some specific reason. My in-laws just kind of filter in and out at random and nobody thinks anything of it. There were a lot of “What did I say? Did I forget deodorant or something?” and “Did we say something to offend him?” conversations in the early days. My family still exhausts him horribly though Mom and Dad try not to, and it still weirds me out a little when a kitchen goes from full of people and conversation to empty in the space of 10 minutes because people have just filtered out to watch tv or whatever.

We’ve been married 25 years and come from very different families. My family never socialized: my parents didn’t have friends and we rarely saw relatives. His family is very close with friends and extended family. I’ve always felt uncomfortable around most of his family. I’ve always felt very different from them and only accepted by his parents. My husband would tell me that his whole family was fine with me and I was imagining things until about 5 years ago when his sister told me that she finds me “uncomfortable to be around and difficult to talk to”. His brother’s wife says rude things to me every time I talk to her so I already knew how that relationship was going. By this point I actually had thought I was fitting in OK. So, now I’m crushed and I totally avoid his family except for his mom who really does accept me. I think my husband was surprised she felt that way but I don’t know how much he blames me for how they feel. We live far enough apart that this is easy to do.

Your wife might be sensing a vibe that makes her uncomfortable around your family and you might not pick it up because you’re used to them.

But I do want to say that it’s important to have your own Christmas traditions. We used to go to his family every year for the holidays and one year we realized how much we, as a family, were missing out of having our own Christmas. We decided to go to his family every other year and to stay home every other year. One of my biggest regrets was not doing this originally. My sister, who also used to travel every year, has the same regret.

I’ve been married over twelve years now, and for the entirety of that time, I’ve never been very fond of the majority of my wife’s family, nor they of me. The lone exception to this (and even this person can raise my hackles every now and again) is my wife’s paternal grandfather. He’s a genuinely pretty okay guy whom I liked very much upon first meeting. Another exception, at least for the first year or so of our marriage, was my father-in-law. When we were dating, he came across as very genial and good-natured. After we officially got engaged, he started exhibiting signs of being somewhat overbearing in his eagerness to give the two of us life advice. After about a year of actually being married to his daughter I started classifying him (and still very much do classify him) as an almost comically prideful, loud-mouthed blowhard. Add to that the fact that his wife/my mother-in-law has been an icy bitch to me who obviously has never liked me; that his mother/my wife’s paternal grandmother had a personality almost as cold and detestable as that of her daughter-in-law; and the fact that, in general, none of my wife’s side of the family is all that friendly or outgoing, well, all that pretty much guaranteed that I dreaded Christmas Eve (the one time we all would get together) every year.

But this year should prove to be interesting, because several months ago, I finally couldn’t take holding my tongue while my father-in-law tore down my character for the 39 millionth time, and I told him exactly what I thought of both him and his I’m-REALLY-not-trying-to-say-the-“C”-word wife, not to mention the rest of his fucking family. So that essentially put the kibosh on me ever having to see any of their fucking faces again, including on Christmas Eve. Thank fucking christ.

Real estate.

It’s confusing. My husband himself is not wealthy; we basically live typically middle class. But through their generosity they’ve made it possible for us to become wealthy, and every once in a while we get to live like royalty. I hate wealth inequality but I’ve personally benefited from it, so what does that mean for the kind of person I am?

Olives, I think she was just baffled at the faux paparazzi. It’s pretty out-there.

Hell, I was baffled by the whole thing. Black tie for a birthday party? I’m lucky if my in-laws show up in something other than sweatpants.

I’m reasonably comfortable, except for one thing: My wife’s mother hardly speaks any English, and some of her other relatives speak English with such strong accents that I have to struggle to understand them. So engaging in any kind of conversation with them is not fun.

My husband’s family is very nice but they are very different from my family. My family is pretty boisterous - lots of laughing, talking over each other and flowing wine. His family is very quiet and reserved (I’m sure he is much more comfortable with his family than mine, it can be hard to get a word in with my family).

We alternate holidays which seems fair. If I had to go to Christmas with his family every year…well, it would be tough since it doesn’t seem like a break or a vacation, it’s a little nerve wracking all the time (staying on my best behavior!). I would probably ask him if we could still alternate - holiday at their place one year, we stay home the next year. I do think it would be nice to come up with our own Christmas traditions!

I am not very comfortable around them, particularly my MiL. I always feel like she is judging me and she has a tendency to be very passive aggressive. When we go and visit her, I tend to spend most of my time visiting with a friend who lives in the area.

I am also uncomfortable around FiL, but for a different reason. He is always really nice to me and almost tries too hard to make me feel like his daughter. It is very different from the dynamic I grew up with. He is very touchy-feely (not in a creepy way) and we were never like that in my family.

My in-laws are, for the most part, very nice people. He comes from a big family, so holidays are spouse and me, his parents, three siblings and their spouses, their adult kids, and various random relatives.

I never feel comfortable at these gatherings. For one thing, I feel like an anthropologist whenever I visit them. As nice as they are, I don’t feel that they “get” me at all. They’re all very religious–their whole lives revolve around church and Jesus and that sort of thing. I’m not religious. In fact, being around them made me realize that what little vestigial religion I had hung on to from my childhood was just going through the motions (which I guess is a good thing–I feel much freer now that I’ve admitted it). It’s not that they’re obnoxious about it, per se–it’s just that it pervades every aspect of their lives. They literally have a mini church service before they do Thanksgiving dinner. It’s gotten worse lately now that the spouse has started going to church again, so that “you and me against the world” thing we used to have going on isn’t there so much anymore. It’s just…unsettling.

Don’t get me wrong–every last one of them is nothing but kind and nice to me. I never feel any judging or disapproval, despite the fact that I’m the oddball tomboy nerd and the primary (but not by any means only) reason that we’re the only ones out of the bunch who have no kids by choice. They try to include me in gatherings and I appreciate that.

But I never feel like I fit in. They’re loud and boisterous…I’m quiet. They’re into church stuff…I’m not. They’re into family…I’m not. I make a strong effort to be cheerful and “go with the flow” when I’m around them, but honestly I’d be more comfortable if they’d just get together and let me hang out in an out-of-the-way corner and read or something. Oh, and to make things a little worse–spouse’s dad is a curmudgeon of high order. He has his pleasant moments, but usually he’s grumpy, contrary, and very much the High Patriarch of the Clan, which means everybody kowtows to him. If you knew me at all, you’d know that this couldn’t possibly sit well with me. I like getting into debates with him just because I can’t let some of the stuff he says go, and, oddly, he seems to enjoy them. Maybe he likes somebody to challenge him. I don’t know.

So…yeah. I almost feel guilty because I don’t fit in at all with them. I have a T-shirt somewhere that kind of sums up my feelings: “I’d rather be hated for what I am than loved for what I’m not.”

The first thing I thought when I walked into the recent party was, ‘‘Huh. I see they toned it down a little.’’ Five years ago there was a similar party that was even weirder. Nothing like Grandma singing Sinatra off-key with the big band while dressed in full clown regalia. That one had jugglers and unicyclists, and fancy cloth napkins with red and white polka dots. And we were strongly encouraged to dress up in clown costumes they had available on a rack in the corner.

ETA: Keep in mind, these are grandparents. I have no doubt they do all this stuff for the cousins, who are now teens and adults, but sometimes grandparents forget their grandbabies have grown up. It’s like the rich version of getting a barbie doll when you’re fourteen.

Ha, are you my in-law? My family is the kind that filters in and out, and my in-laws are the kind that stay all together in the room. I still find it a little odd, are we in jail? Is this a No Exit kind of thing? Is there going to be a locked room mystery later, and if so, what is my alibi? :smiley:

I would say I’m pretty comfortable with my in-laws, AND I would still prefer to spend fewer holidays with them. I simply don’t feel any special need to, and would really enjoy having the “time off” to sloth around at home by myself. Life is about compromise though, so I do spend some holidays with them. If the OP’s wife is saying “oh no please go without me, I’d be happier staying here at home” it’s possible she means she would like her husband to visit his family without her, and would be happier staying at home. People: sometimes they say what they mean!

I am really not comfortable with my in-laws. They’re very nice to me, but we just have very different interests so it’s hard to carry on much of a conversation. Plus, we only see each other a couple times a year so it’s hard to develop a relationship. Also, since we don’t have a home phone, only cell phones, we only talk to our own parents on the phone (i.e. we don’t just pick up the home phone like our parents did with *their *inlaws and chat with them for a bit before handing the phone to their son/daughter) so that doesn’t help to get to know our in-laws.

My in-laws also have two obnoxious, loud dogs, and I’m not a dog fan at all, which makes it unbearably stressful. So when we visit we don’t stay with them, just visit for a few hours at a time. My husband does go to see them once or twice a year on his own, and I go to see my parents about once a year on my own, which is a really great solution, but I know that not all families accept that arrangement, and even with ours, I wonder if both sides think that there’s something wrong with our marriage because we don’t travel together all the time. It’s not as bad when they come to visit us, but it’s still awkward to have someone else staying in our house. With either set of parents. Mine are actually tougher to have at our house because they live further away so they come to visit for longer at a stretch, and I run out of patience more quickly with them.

So I really get where your wife is coming from and I completely understand not wanting to spend Christmas with the in-laws. The holidays do add additional stress to an already stressful situation. It is hard to be in someone else’s house where you can’t fully relax. And to have that use up “vacation” time, dollars, etc. on a stressful trip. (If it does… it does for us and that makes it worse since it cuts down on the actual vacation time that we can take.)

It’s also tough if you’re not sure if they like you or not. I’ve had moments when the in-laws were visiting where I got to the breaking point and snapped at my husband, only to have my FIL make some sort of comment back to me, like “Jeez, don’t be so hard on him” or something like that. So I’m somewhat worried that he thinks I’m a bitch who’s mean to his son.

So there are all kinds of concerns she might have or causes of stress that make it worse. If your family wouldn’t freak out, letting her stay home for Christmas really does sound like a good option. I know I would really prefer that to spending a weekend at my in-laws.

As an aside, fortunately for both my husband and me, after multiple snowy holidays, both sides of our family have refused to ever travel for Thanksgiving or Christmas again. And we have the excuse of work so we don’t have time to travel to either of their houses. So now we just stay home for the holidays and spend them with friends. Gee, that’s too bad. [/sarcasm]

We are both 100% completely comfortable with the in-laws.

We’re not espoused yet but we’ve been together for almost 7 years, and I feel totally comfortable with his family. In fact, I like/love them much more than my own family, who I’ve never enjoyed spending time with, and haven’t seen much since 2005. His mom loves me like her own (in fact, she yells at my SO if she thinks he’s not being sweet enough to me) and his nieces and nephew are practically mine as well, though I didn’t meet the older two until they were 6 and 7. I spend all holidays and special occasions with them. I eat dinner with his mother and brother every week and see his sister, BIL and the kids most weeks as well.

ETA: It’s odd, because as Republican Catholic CEOs they are completely different from me, but then, so is my own family. What matters is that they are accepting of who I am, even if they do call me crazy. My bio family holds everything they don’t like about me or what I do/like against me and can’t let it go…

My in-laws are dear sweet people, and I sincerely enjoy their company, but I don’t totally relax around them. Like FairyChatMom’s in-laws, my MIL is usually too eager to please. I’m accustomed to my family’s approach, which is pretty much “if you don’t like the menu, go find yourself some peanut butter,” whereas, my MIL asks “are you sure you don’t want (something else)?” over and over. I also watch my mouth more around them than I have to around my family. My brother-in-law is a doll, and I always look forward to seeing him. The only living grandfather is also a very nice man.

The only flies in the ointment are my husband’s biological father, with whom we don’t spend much time (absent throughout his son’s childhood, mostly a worthless drunk,) and Tony’s stepsister, who is completely bonkers. Fortunately, the rest of the family has figured out that she’s insane, and she’s not really welcome at get-togethers. Kind of a pity, though, because her husband and daughter are sweethearts.

My husband seems to really like my close family, and for a while there (when I was pregnant,) I think he talked to my mom more than I did. There are a few crazies on my side too, and we mostly avoid them.

I got along so well with my husband’s parents that I practically lived at their house before we got married. We both still lived with our parents, but about 45 mins away. I worked in the town where they lived. They invited me to stay over whenever I wanted to save the drive. I probably spent several nights a week there.

I get a long just fine with both his brother and sister, and his sister’s husbands. My brother-in-law’s wife has a mercurial temperament. I’m never sure if she’s adoring me or resenting me on any particular occasion.

Yes, exactly.

I’m conflicted, really. Part of me wants to crash one of these parties, while the other part simply wants to refuse to believe these people exist.

With my grandparents, it was along the lines of “kid’s hungry - open fridge - yell ‘hey, kid’s hungry, I’m giving him some ham!’ - get back ‘sure!’ - feed kid”. With SiL, it’s not even hunt for a glass if there is another grown-up in the house; a few times I’ve been babysitting The Kidlets, I’ve pointed out I might need a glass at some point and SiL/her mom has taken one out for me, sitting beside the tableware and food which had been prepared for the children’s snacks. Thee Shalt Not Rummage In Her Kitchen, period. We’re not allowed to help set the table, not even by passing down dishes; SiL still gets nervous when the food is laid out in plates and I or Littlebro serve ourselves or someone else, rather than having her, Middlebro, her mom or her brother do it. Our side is simply not family, in that house.

Therein lies the problem. My sibs/parents/nieces really do like my wife; my mom in particular adores her and would be crushed if she didn’t come for Christmas. There’s no way I can explain/spin the idea of “my wife stayed home and I came here alone” so that she won’t feel terribly sad and hurt (seriously: envison lots of crying); she will insist that something must be going horribly wrong in my marriage for us to be separated during a big family get-together like that, and she will also believe that my wife is rejecting all of us - and she will just plain miss my wife not being there. The rest of my family would not be quite so devastated, but my wife’s presence would definitely be missed by all of them. I’m not one to deliberately send people on guilt trips, but neither can I shield my wife from these consequences of her absence.

Had a long talk with my sister yesterday afternoon (she will be hosting Christmas for all of us). She and I see things pretty much the same way. She admits that she has never been really comfortable around her husband’s family but insists it’s because most of them are very strange people (I think her husband agrees with her on this; he’s very different from the rest of his family and doesn’t spend much time with them). She and her husband have been married for 25+ years, and she told me that yes, he felt a little uncomfortable around our family at first, but over time he learned how we interact with each other, and now he’s completely at ease. My wife and I have only been married for 6 years, and she’s much more shy/introverted than my brother-in-law. I would like to think that her sense of comfort could improve over time, but of course it may take a while, since family visits are rare and brief.

Wife and I were busy with other matters yesterday, so it hasn’t come up for discussion since Tuesday night. We’ll be talking about it again tonight, I think. We’ll see how it all goes…