If you’re in an intercultural relationship you might be dreading dealing with your parents-in-law, but it doesn’t have to be as difficult as people make out.
Most people worry about meeting their parents-in-law for the first time, and intercultural relationships can make it even more difficult than normal. The most important thing for you to consider is learning the language, which will put you at an immediate advantage. If you’ve not had too much time to study, you can learn a few jokes to break the ice rather than sitting in silence.
With time and effort you should be able to make decent progress in picking up the local lingo. Learning the language can go a long way towards strengthening your relationship with the in-laws, and not just in terms of communicating with them. It can also serve to show your commitment to getting along with them, or even your commitment to a long-term relationship with their child!
Assuming that you can speak the language fluently, there are often cultural differences that can get in the way of a good relationship with your in-laws. In some cultures it is normal for extended family to meet only occasionally, whereas in others you might be expected to be a huge part of each other’s lives. Understanding the expectations of either side is an important part of maintaining a healthy relationship with your in-laws.
On those occasions that you do see each other, it is essential that you know how to navigate social situations. If your in-laws have any special dietary requirements, avoid getting off to a bad start by offering them food or drink that they won’t accept for religious or social reasons. This could range from not cooking specific foods, to abstaining from alcohol. Hopefully your partner will be able to tell you about these lifestyle choices before you put your foot in it!
Dinner table protocol can be a minefield in many cultures, so be aware of any local quirks. In some cultures it is appreciated if guests help out at the table, but in others the head of the family takes responsibility for pouring drinks and generally orchestrating proceedings. Being sensitive to these kind of issues will go a long way to endearing you to the in-laws.
This sort of thing can also get you in trouble when it comes to bringing gifts. That nice antique clock might look great on your mother-in-law’s mantelpiece, but if she is Chinese it could be a cause of major offence. In China, the giving of a clock as a gift is a hint that their life may be coming to an end.
While there are plenty of cultural differences that you need to take into account, there will also come a point that you need to stand up for your own beliefs and upbringing. There is nothing worse than a people pleaser who seeks approval in every situation, so it is important that you stand firm on certain issues. Whether that means helping out in the kitchen as a man, or standing up for your feminist beliefs in more traditional cultures, you will win respect by knowing when to stand up for yourself.
Perhaps most important of all is to remember the reason why you are even spending time with your in-laws in the first place: your partner. They can help explain all of these previous points, to a certain extent. Make sure you get some of the biggest potential faux-pas explained to you before you strike out on your own.
As the relationship develops, remember that when you see the in-laws you are better off thinking of your role as that of a supporting actor. Assuming you have made a good impression at your first few meetings, you can now safely sit back and make the time be more about your partner than you. If they are stressed about seeing their family, get an idea of how you can make things easier for them. This might come down to not mentioning certain touchy subjects of conversation, or taking a more active role in looking after your children.
Last of all remember that there are no hard and fast rules for handling your in-laws. As with everything in life, there may be some general parameters within which it is advisable to operate, but each situation has untold variables that you just have to be prepared to deal with.