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Any advice on how to deal with people who drive you crazy – like in-laws in your house when you live in a small space?


Dear Married Into It,

I feel your pain. Having in-laws who drive you crazy, regardless of how much square footage surrounds you, can transform your Happy Place into Hell. 

And, because they are in-laws, the levels to which you can let your frustrations explode in a verbal tirade are significantly lower than if these people were your own flesh and blood. It’s one thing for me to yell and complain about my brother, but if my partner yells and complains about him? That’s another story. 

Because people, in general, drive me crazy, I do have a few suggestions for you! 

Pain of any kind is a data point. With data, you can choose to pay attention or ignore it. Knowing what you know about your spouse’s family member(s) you are now equipped to make some conscious choices moving forward. Questions to consider before your next encounter: 

  •  How can the time spent together be minimized? 

  •  In what ways might you be able to excuse yourself from activities? 

Stop doing the same old thing and look at ways you can re-establish new patterns of connecting. Ideally, your spouse will understand your frustrations and be on board to support you. They may even feel as aggravated as you feel but unable to see another way of being with their offending family member. Suggesting new ways of spending (less) time together may be welcomed with open arms.

Next up, let’s play a game! This strategy can be played with your partner if they are in agreement about the annoyances, or by yourself. It goes like this: You know when you see so-and-so they are going to do X, Y, and Z, each of which drives you wild. Well, when you are playing what I am just now naming The Sane Game, you can now gain enjoyment out of X, Y, and Z. How? Prior to spending time with so-and-so, you predict allllllllllll of the ridiculous things they are going to do. Then you come up with a code gesture, like rubbing your neck, to use each time one of these things happens. Now, each time they say that thing they always say or do that thing they always do, you can turn the aggravation into laughter between you and your partner. This enables the two of you to acknowledge the frustration, silently and peacefully. 

Not into games? Fine, but I really think if you try the last suggestion you’ll have fun with it. Still a no? Okay, time to do the hard work then. Stop and consider what it is about the offending in-law(s) that makes your blood boil. They most likely are not doing what they are doing to annoy you. It’s just how they are. Pinpoint what it is about them that sets you off. Why is this an issue for you? How can you work around this issue within yourself? When you look at the situation in this way, they become your teacher. They teach you how to move around your thoughts around whatever they are bringing to the surface for you. They can teach you how to detach from the thing in front of you and allow it to just be as it is. From this vantage point, they can only frustrate you if you let them. Being able to just watch them do the things they do, without affecting you, is truly a skill, but one you can master if you make your mind up to master it. 

The above suggestions assume the annoyances you are experiencing are just that, annoyances. If the person(s) in question are truly being vengefully mean and disrespectful, it may be time to either have a conversation with them or consider not being involved in any way when they come to town. This type of delineation should only be considered if you are genuinely being hurt, which is different than being annoyed. Only you can know the difference. 

If all else fails, look at the in-law(s) with compassion. They aren’t all bad, so find the good. Focus on the positive and know nothing lasts forever. If they aren’t moving in with you, they will soon be leaving. Even if you are unable to find the beauty in them, look to the beauty that will exist after they have walked out of your door.