Family and wacky go together like chocolate bits and cookie dough.
And unfortunately, it’s not just your family that would benefit from a team of mental professionals. More often than not, that person you’d eventually like to marry also comes with a whole lot of personalities in their family tree.
We get it: you really love your boo thang, so you’re committed to making it work. The question is, how? Family dynamics are tricky enough within your own bloodline. But as an outsider, your partner’s family gatherings can feel damn near unbearable if you have a hard time tolerating their personal brand of dysfunctional.
Here are the golden rules of surviving your partner’s family antics without having a panic attack.
Stay neutral in any and all fights that arise.
Since your partner’s family is certifiable, they will undoubtedly fight (probably about things you think are ridiculous). Family fights are always the most vicious. Once they believe that you’re assimilated, they won’t pretend to be rational around you anymore.
And they will try to drag you into their drama. It might be a full-blown cry for you to determine whose side you’re on in a brawl, or it may be a more subtle, passive-aggressive conversation in which your partner’s sister tries to get you to speak poorly about their other sister. It happens in many ways, but don’t fall into the trap.
Approach all fights, outright or on the sly, with empathy (and perhaps a few shots of tequila). If your partner’s brother needs someone to complain to, listen and say as little as possible. Do a lot of nodding. Never agree or disagree, and never say anything negative about one of his family members; they could turn around and use it against you later. Family <3
Bring the parents a gift.
If you bring your partner’s mom and dad personalized napkins and single-malt whiskey every time you come, you’ll look like you’re trying too hard to win them over. I get that. But that doesn’t mean you should show up a for a visit empty-handed.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve gone to your partner’s parents’ house 50 times — you should always bring a small gift, preferably something edible. If they are totally bonkers, they can’t unleash too hard on you if you remembered to bring them flowers or macaroons.
OK, maybe they will, but at least they’ll be plied with food.
Drink some alcohol (but not TOO much).
When your partner’s family is super dysfunctional, you will need some alcohol to deal with that sh*t.
Hey, no judgment.
Trying to deal with a wacky family that isn’t even YOUR wacky family is not anyone’s idea of pleasant.
If you partner’s family doesn’t drink, BRING YOUR OWN. Get some of those wines that look like juice boxes. Be creative.
But no matter what, do not drink yourself stupid. You do not want to be sloppy in front of volatile people. They will either draw you into their arguments or bring up your slovenly behavior for the rest of your entire life. You may even score a nickname like, “Joe’s girlfriend with the drinking problem.” Do not be that person.
Keep your opinions to yourself.
Being with your partner’s dysfunctional family is an exercise in self-restraint. It’s a lot more about what you should AVOID doing than what you SHOULD do. First and foremost, close your mouth. This is not the time for political debates or religious brawls. Just keep your damn opinions to yourself for one day, OK?
You can always go and bitch about these difficult people to your friends later. It may not be the therapist-recommended approach, but it works.
If the behavior is bothering you, discuss it privately with your partner.
You do not want to put your partner in a position where he or she has to choose sides. When it comes to your partner’s family, they have been in his or her life a lot longer than you have.
If something is bothering you, bring it up privately with your partner. Do not talk about it in front of his family.
Your job is to make your partner is as comfortable as possible. Don’t put your partner in a position that could cause resentment.
Appease your partner’s mother, but not to excess.
In the world of challenging families, the blessed matriarch is usually the hardest person to deal with. Forget your husband or wife’s racist father or alcoholic sister or loser brother! Mom is always the queen of the family.
She’s used to being the leading lady in your partner’s life and will therefore automatically be combative with you — it is her lot in life.
You are to appease her as much as possible, but never to a point where you give up your power completely. She may NOT walk all over you.
Yes, you want to get along, but the minute she’s insisting on a private photoshoot with your husband or wife on your wedding day, you put your goddamn foot down and tell her to step off and have some cake.
If you feel like standing down for your partner’s mother is doing more harm than good, tell her to stop — in a nice way, if possible. Just know that she will get mad. Don’t stand up to someone’s mother without knowing what you’re stepping into.
Do not bring up past conflicts to any family members.
If someone at the table brings up that time in college when you and your partner got into a huge fight and you left him or her on the side of the road, DO NOT COUNTER. Going tit-for-tat will not make for a calm evening. It will upset your partner, put you at odds with his siblings/family, and make you look like a jerk.
You know they will gang up on you. They will.
At the end of the day, remind yourself that your partner is a wonderful person. He or she managed to grow up around pure chaos and dysfunction and turned out totally fine. A complicated family is a small price to pay for a love like yours.
OK, small might be an exaggeration, but the price is worth it, regardless.