Self-esteem with your in-laws: how to work on it
Working on your in-laws' self-esteem is a challenge, yes, but also a necessity. If your self-esteem is good and is not affected when interacting with your in-laws, you will get along better with them, which will benefit your relationship with your partner.
Are you one of those people who think they marry their partner but not their partner's family? Yes, you are. In any case, although your commitment is true to your partner and not to their family, you must also consider how important these people are to your partner.
Working on self-esteem in relation with your in-laws
You have chosen your partner and friends, but not your biological family, your in-laws, or work colleagues.
Understand their circumstances
Let's focus on the case of your in-laws. Your partner's in-laws have their circumstances and customs. They are part of your partner’s family and therefore may not be as close as your immediate family, but you can't choose them.
Start by looking at what you all have in common: appreciation for your partner. And remember, just as you can’t pick your in-laws, they can’t pick you! Deep down, what may be difficult for you may be difficult for them too.
When you think about working on your self-esteem, don't just think about feeling better within yourself; also think about how you can help to make your integration easy and enjoyable for them too. For example, their family will, in principle, want to get along with you and want everything to flow in your relationship: or would you like your sibling to suffer through a break-up?
Your partner's family members will be part of your life even if you don't like them because your commitment means accepting the world your partner is part of their family and friends, who were there long before you were.
Moreover, if your relationship goes well, these people will be your children's direct family, and you will be united by the love they and you feel for your partner and their offspring, which will be yours. The sooner you learn to accept that your partner has parents, siblings, cousins and more, the better you will cope with having to make plans with them from time to time.
This exercise in resilience is key to working on self-esteem in your in-laws: you will let go of the feeling of "how did I come to fall into this" and learn to observe their gestures towards you better. For example, accepting them can make such a big difference that instead of thinking they ask you if you want more cake to call you "fat", you will see that they are saying it to be nice to you.
Keep your distance
One thing you shouldn't lose sight of is that getting closer to your partner's family doesn't mean you have to become your sister-in-law's new best friend or be the world's best daughter-in-law.
It simply means that you should integrate into that life and be aware that your relationship with your in-laws can affect your partner and your relationship.
Accepting them and integrating should not come at the expense of losing your own identity. You should not allow your self-esteem or personal or sentimental interests to be damaged to please them. You are you; they are them.
And it is essential that, just as you understand that they have a space in your partner's life, they know that you also have to enjoy their family because that is the basis of your relationship.
Working on self-esteem in your in-laws
To lay the foundations for a good relationship with your in-laws, you should try to avoid the fight between them and you. The healthiest thing to do is to consider how to improve your self-esteem in three directions: individually so that you feel better yourself; as a couple, so that your relationship is strengthened; and towards them, so that they feel secure and do not see you as a threat.
Respect their place and define your own.
If you feel undervalued or disregarding your integrity to avoid conflict, then the family relationship is not on the right track. Instead, it would help if you tried to remain cordial, for your sake and your partner's, but not at the expense of yourself.
When deciding how to work on your in-laws' self-esteem, you should ensure that you do not damage your self-esteem. Give them their place: help your partner remember important dates such as their mother's birthday or invite them to contribute to occasional family tasks such as moving house or decorating the parental home for Christmas.
In this way, you will also create the conditions to demand your place:
- Choosing how to celebrate your birthday.
- Being able to count on your partner if you catch a cold.
- Feeling valid to comment on what you want at family gatherings.
- Having the power not to attend family events if you don't want to.
Give them a chance
There are several levels of relationship with in-laws. First, there is the case of the neutral in-laws, who accept you and are there when needed but do not interfere. There is the family's case that insists on involving you in their life, with effusiveness and celebration. They adore you from the first minute! And then there is the opposite situation, where you are despised, viewed with suspicion and considered an enemy.
However, all in-laws deserve the chance to show what kind of relationship they want to have with you, and you have the opportunity to show them the same!
Give them a chance. This will go a long way in improving their self-esteem because they will feel that you are not repellent to them. It will also help you by feeling welcome in your partner's world. Remember that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, so forget any prejudices or previous experiences that might make you nag and try to see how you get along with your partner's loved ones; you might get a pleasant surprise!
It's impossible to tell you how to deal with every type of family because it depends on each case, and your personality must also be considered. In other words, although one could venture that neutral in-laws are perfect, that might not be true if you are born to be close. On the other hand, loving and effusive in-laws could be a blessing if you are like them or a real nuisance if you are the opposite.
In addition, we must consider proximity. You cannot apply the exact solutions if you live with your partner in your in-laws' house or one of your in-laws in your house as if you live hundreds of miles away and never see each other.
Therefore, how to work on self-esteem or how to preserve personal integrity will depend on each case. The key is not to let the circumstances of your in-laws change your essence and to learn to be flexible to give in in some cases. This will avoid unpleasant situations with your in-laws and make you feel satisfied with the harmony achieved, and make your partner happy.
Keys to relating to your in-laws
Although each person is different, each relationship is the other, and each family is different, behavioural guidelines and preventive measures are valid for any connection with the in-laws.
1. Break the ice and keep the conversation lively.
At the first meeting, the two worlds contact and discuss each other. The atmosphere can be strained. Even with the most cordial families, it is still an introduction and an initial, tentative contact, where it is not yet clear what is allowed and what is not.
Let yourself be carried away by the conversation or take the opportunity to talk about yourself so that explanations of who you are, what you do, or anecdotes from your week serve to create dialogue, comments and opinions. Then, show interest in what they say and respond.
2. Be yourself and set limits
Don't be obsessed with being liked, and don't force yourself to change. So how can you work on your self-esteem and prevent the situation from getting the better of you? First of all, be natural. You don't need to rehearse at home or change your clothes seven times.
This is not a job interview. It's about creating a family relationship that, hopefully, will last for many years—no disguises or masks. So, before leaving the house, take a look in the mirror and say a few self-esteem phrases that remind you of who you are and how important you are to your partner, who loves you just as you are.
Don't let the quest to meet them make you submissive, either. Set boundaries about what you are unwilling to accept from your in-laws or how your in-laws interfere with your relationship.
3. Avoid conflict
Your in-laws may have political, sexual or religious views that radically oppose yours. So please do yourself a favour: avoid conflictual topics, because neither you nor they will change their minds and the dinner table can become a battlefield, every time you see each other and for years to come.
This is not about debating, social justice or demands; it's about preserving the relationship. Your partner loves their parents even if they are ideologically opposed; don't force the conflict.
In short, it is about establishing minimum ties that allow a cordial life, more or less close, but always with respect and without losing our personality.
4. Protect your relationship
If you have not been lucky enough to find easy-going in-laws, don't panic. Instead, talk it over with your partner, without demonising theirs, explaining that you would have liked to get along with them but that, unfortunately, you feel it's not working out.
Tell them, too, that you don't want this to damage your relationship and suggest the help of an expert if the situation escalates.
At therapyside, we have several psychologists who can advise, support and help you achieve your best version of yourself.