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Ever feel like you have to walk on egg-shells when it comes to talking to your in-laws? If so, join a very uncomfortable and large club. "The in-law relationship can be so delicate, especially when it is relatively new," warns John Duffy, Ph.D., licensed clinical psychologist and author of The Available Parent. "It is a strange venture, welcoming someone new into their family. And it takes a balance that often requires decades to establish and feel steady. So, it is critical to choose your words carefully with your in-laws."
Before you can speak freely, unafraid of judgment or other unintended consequences, Duffy says, "you have to achieve a balance between expressing your individuality with letting them know you are not staging a coup — you are not attempting to take over and control their family." And if you don't watch your words before you strike that perfect accord, you could put off your in-laws for good.
"Early impressions are so powerful, and can have deep and lasting impact," Duffy says. "That's why it is so important to attend to, and really get to understand, the nature and dynamic of the family you are marrying into. The more you understand the culture of the family, the less likely you are to make a verbal misstep that may be misconstrued and poison future interactions."
But even without that deep understanding of your newfound family, you can avoid spoken land mines, Duffy says. Here are five things you should never, ever say to your in-laws.
1. "That's not how we do it in my family."
The way your in-laws host the holidays or even organize their home may seem odd to you. But pointing out your differences will only alienate your new family, says Duffy. "This type of talk tends to pit the in-law families against one another, and is decidedly adversarial and counterproductive," he explains.
2. "We'll be doing things a little differently around here from now on."
Even worse than challenging how your in-laws do things is all-but-saying they do it wrong — and how you intend to fix it. "This type of statement smacks of the power struggle I alluded to earlier," Duffy says. "It suggests you may be taking over some element of the family or tradition, without much flexibility, instead of assimilating and cooperating."
3. "You've raised him so well, but I'll take it from here."
This veiled compliment packs a real whammy, Duffy warns. "Though initially this type of statement may seem flattering," he says, "some prospective in-laws have told me they have felt threatened by it, as if they will no longer play the same significant role in their child's life."
4. "He needs work, but he will do."
Sounds like something no one would ever say? Think again. "I've worked with in-laws who have been told statements like this, early in the relationship," attests Duffy. "They tend to find this insulting to their parenting style, and it's very tough to recover from this strong an insult."
Additionally, Duffy stays, it's smart to steer clear of any talk about money, religion and politics. "Over time, of course, you can let your views be made known," he says. "But if you are overbearing on any of these subjects early on, you may be suggesting the idea that you are going to be difficult or preachy."