Written by Bethany Bartholomew
It’s summer time!
That means watermelon, barbecues, time at the pool, vacations, popsicles, and fun.
It also usually means family reunions or other family activities. These are great opportunities to reconnect with family that you may or may not have seen in a while.
But family time can also be stressful.
In a marriage, adjusting to each other’s families can be a difficult experience. For many couples, jokes about avoiding the in-laws are a little too close to reality.
So how can you strengthen family ties while keeping your marriage a priority this summer?
Understand Each Other’s Family Cultures
First, remember that you and your spouse both come from very different families. You may come from a family that loves sitting down and talking to each other for hours. Your spouse may come from a family that bonds by playing sports.
You may come from a family that loves sticking with old traditions that have been passed down for generations or holding formal dinners with the best plates and silverware each time they get together. Your spouse may come from a family that loves paper plates and taco bars and casual time together when everyone can wear shorts and t-shirts.
Your family may talk to each other about politics and other opinions with very carefully chosen words to avoid offense. Your spouse’s family may be extremely frank with each other about everything. You may be used to sleeping in and staying up late with your family. Your spouse’s family may love getting up early to start each day’s activities.
Those differences are OK!
But when you need to spend long amounts of time with one family and their culture, help each other out. Take some time beforehand to discuss what differences have been hard for you to each adapt to. Learn each other’s preferences, and make a plan for ways to make the uncomfortable situations easier.
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For example, if your spouse is used to a casual dinner setting and you need to prep for your family’s more formal traditions, have a practice dinner at home. Help your spouse to know what kinds of conversations to expect, which fork to use, and where you’ll need to sit at the table. Help your spouse know how to be true to their own personality while working within another family’s expectations.
Then make an escape plan. If your spouse really has a hard time around your family, create a code word or phrase that indicates they are feeling uncomfortable, upset, or just tired from the effort of trying to fit in.
Decide together on a time when you would be alright with leaving the event, and then give your spouse opportunities to take a break if they send you a code word or even just a desperate look.
You can make an excuse for your spouse to take your toddler outside to get out some wiggles. You could cover for your spouse while they take a long trip to the car to find something you “forgot.” Or simply allow your spouse to slip out of the room without any explanation.
Don’t forget to make time for yourselves as a couple as well.
Make sure that you have at least a few moments to connect with each other and nurture your marriage even within family situations. Make eye contact across the room, get up to get seconds at the same time as your spouse and have your own conversation while getting food, or even just step out of the room together for a moment to share a long hug.
As you make time for each other, you will draw on each other’s strengths and be more prepared to enjoy the activities and conversation again.
Taking some time to get to know each other’s families is important. Be willing to get to know your in-laws and to try some of their traditions and ideas.
And when things get tough, stand together.
Work together to create comfortable breathing room when you each need a break from the conversation, the activity, or even just the general atmosphere. When you approach family situations as a united front, you can protect each other from embarrassment, exhaustion, or frustration.
Take the Best of Both and Make a New Best
The important thing to remember is that you do come from different families. For the two of you and your children, the key is to take the best of your family’s culture and the best of your spouse’s family culture and create a new family culture of your own.
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Help your spouse to learn more about your family. When you can understand each other’s traditions and cultures, you and your spouse can better work within each other’s families and also better understand which traits you’d like to incorporate in your own family’s culture. Knowing more about your spouse’s family can even help you to understand your spouse better.
Here are some questions you can discuss with each other about your families to help make the adjustments easier.
Your family backgrounds may be really similar or vastly different, but you and your spouse can know each other well enough to make those differences into strengths as you learn to enjoy time with each other’s families and as you decide what parts of each other’s family culture you want to incorporate in your own marriage and family.
You may also enjoy The Power of a Lunch Date and 10 Dates You'll Want to Squeeze in Before the Last Few Days of Summer
"What counts in making a happy marriage is not so much how compatible you are, but how you deal with incompatibility."
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