Q. My in-laws are not friendly people to begin with, but there is no mistaking the fact that they did not give their blessing to our marriage. I had this fantasy that after we got married they would come around, but they haven't. What can I do if my in-laws don't accept me?
San Jose, California
A. The stress of trying to bond with in-laws who treat you like an outlaw can make family get-togethers painfully miserable. If you or your husband find it difficult to mesh with the in-laws, you need to ask yourself why. If, for example, you feel like an outsider around his family, ask yourself if there is something you're doing or saying that's holding them back. Then ask yourself what you can do to win them over. Would it help to have some one-on-one time with your husband's mom or dad? Are you doing something that might be perceived as threatening (e.g., breaking an unspoken family rule)? Are your aspirations not what they hoped for? If so, maybe it would help to talk openly and calmly with your in-laws about it. Of course, the trick is not to get defensive if you breach the subject. Work at understanding them rather than being understood by them.
If your best efforts to win them over seem to come up empty, it may be time for your husband to intervene and find out what's bothering your in-laws. If you go this route, however, your spouse must make his loyalty to you known to them. This helps prevent an emotional triangle from being formed. And you certainly don't want that. If your husband feels caught in the middle because he's trying to ride the fence, your marriage will weaken and your frustration will compound. Besides, presenting a united front shows them that you are really in love and that you make their child happy. They may then realize that if their child loves you, perhaps they should, too.1