Avoiding in law holiday disaster: Your spouse visiting your family’s house.

If you take your partner to your family’s house for the holidays, you better have their back.

One thing young American couples have in common is that in the first years of their marriage, they usually continue past Christmas traditions with each other’s families, often going back and forth from year-to-year or in one day if they live nearby, as the young bride and groom have not yet stepped into the stage of life where they become the matriarch and patriarch of their own family. Since our families come in all shapes and sizes, we will be dealing within a range from the most un-regimented, accepting, free and easy families to the rigid, nasty, boundary-less, rule-filled and judgmental kind. So, each new spouse needs to have an awareness of what they are dealing with, and that is why a pre-visit conversation should take place between the young pair that includes:

1. Understanding home family customs, traditions, expectations, and foibles. What are the family’s quirks and eccentricities? What do they love, what do they hate? Are they generally accepting of others? Should certain subjects be avoided? A discussion on how the visiting spouse can have the best time and have the most successful visit should be discussed.

2. Will we stay in the home with the family? If there is any question of how the new spouse will be treated, hotel, Air BNB reservations, or a request to stay at someone else’s house should be made. Protecting your new spouse from your family is a huge bond builder and is what any spouse hoping to have a thriving marriage must do. Think this way: I value my spouse’s comfort over my family’s, because when your married, your spouse comes first.

3. Home spouse must lay the groundwork prior to the visit with their family. The home spouse should speak with his/her family prior to the visit and get the lay of the land, set expectations and boundaries, and if necessary, let their family know that no family funny business will be tolerated when it comes to the visiting spouse. Treat the spouse respectfully, period. Once there, if the family blames, judges or negatively interacts with the new spouse, to their face or behind their back, the home spouse will always protect, defend, and side with the new spouse. If anyone talks to the home spouse about the visiting spouse negatively, the conversation is immediately shut down.

4. Do not succumb to home family pressure and control. During the visit, the couple should make decisions together about what they want and are willing to do, and then the home spouse is the spokesperson who sets the boundary. I strongly believe that if you are not able to set boundaries based on your partnership’s best interest, you aren’t ready to be successfully married.

5. Remember the Golden Rule. The wise old biblical rule of, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you,” is a wonderful guide to use when in doubt of what to do.

6. If it doesn’t go well. If, despite all your efforts, you and/or your spouse have a miserable time, don’t return a second time. Seriously. Part of growing up is to be able to stand in opposition to your family when they do not treat you and your family right. When you can do this, it means you are growing up.

By now it should be obvious that in a new marriage, a new spousal unit must be protected at all cost. A visiting spouse must have certainty that no matter what goes on in the home spouse’s family, he or she will have their back. At the same time, a home spouse also needs to know that the visiting spouse will also be kind, open, friendly, pleasant, respectful and helpful to his or her family while there. If you married someone where this is a concern, then good luck, because personal self-control and diplomacy are two qualities that help make marriages work, and lacking those qualities is a predictor of bad things to come. Also, I have seen spouses in my practice who insisted on the holidays being spent at their family’s house always, and they were not flexible on the subject. This presents all sorts of problems that are deeper than just the holidays alone and speaks to the person’s emotional immaturity, so sometimes the holidays show us who are spouse really is, or isn’t. Luckily, immaturity is a fixable thing.

If divorce is unavoidable, here’s how to do it right.




I hate divorce. It’s extremely painful for everyone and leaves many lifelong ugly footprints in so many lives that I’ll do whatever I can to get people to stay together in a healthy way. Still, there are times when there just any fuel left to work on remaining together, and couples decided to divorce. Usually, both people in this situation are emotionally worn out, fearful and anxiety-filled – change is full of unknowns, it can be earthshakingly scary.

Even though divorcing couples don’t feel their best, most start off saying they don’t want things to be nasty, and certainly most reasonable people want to end their marriage in as peaceful way as possible, and that’s how they begin the process. Then the lawyers get involved and the being reasonable mojo is lost. Here’s an example of what is likely to happen:

A. Jim files for divorce. Sue gets a letter and copy of the filing from Jim’s lawyer. She reads it sees that they will be asking for full custody of their children, he wants all of his business he has built, and she will receive no financial support.
B. Sue freaks out and yells at Jim with Mama Bear ferocity.
C. Sue’s lawyer writes Jim’s lawyer and says Sue wants half of the business, 100 percent of her retirement, and wants alimony of more than half his salary and full custody of the children. The lawyer also says that if Jim is not forthcoming with the requests that all of the texts he has been sending to their child’s school teacher will be released to the school, their family, and their friends.
D. Jim freaks out and calls Sue and calls her names she’s never heard him say before.
E. The divorce nightmare begins.

Because I have experienced this personally and have seen it unfold hundreds of times in my work, it has become obvious that something needs to be done to prevent it. Toward that end, here are some ways a divorcing couple can save themselves from all the unnecessary misery:

1. Promise yourself you won’t take the low road. You can’t control your spouse but you can control yourself. Stay as rational, reasonable and respectful as you possibly can no matter what. If you need anti-depressants to help you through, get them.
2. Hire a counselor to lean on. You’re going to need someone to vent to, lean on, coach and help you process things that will be happening and have it be 100 percent safe.
3. Hire a collaborative lawyer and/or mediator. Most lawyers are trained to be adversarial attack dogs with no concern for how their dirty tactics will affect the family who will be living with the aftermath. They want to win at all cost. Collaborative lawyers and mediators are compromise and settlement-minded. They agree from the start to negotiate and work it out, and to not take any of it to the court house.
4. Control and oversee your lawyer. Have a clear understanding with your lawyer or whoever you’re working with that nastiness and aggression will not be tolerated and that you are to approve every message and document that is sent to your spouse or their representative before is sent.
5. Continue to see and communicate with each other in divorce counseling. Hire a family counselor who can provide a safe place for you to communicate and tie up loose ends concerning your lives, children, property and settlement issues. If you have children you will be working together on some level for life, and you owe it to them to get along and be cooperative.

Divorce brings out the worst in people. It strikes us at a core level of primal fears involving safety and survival. It takes a lot of awareness, mindfulness and self-discipline to get through it without creating self and collateral damage, but I am here to tell you that it absolutely can be done. If you ask me, it’s worth it.

Hello everyone … I got this question on the web site "All Experts" from a woman named Martha … let me know if you think I gave her the right advice … here goes:

Name: Martha

Subject: Problems in marriage

Question: Hi Becky,

I have a question about relationships and especially marriage.  When one spouse has a friend that does not like the other spouse and behaves in a very disrespectful manner towards that spouse and they will not behave, is it appropriate to expect that the other spouse discontinue his/her relationship with that friend?

I grew up with a mother who had many, many friends. She also was friends with the parents of kids who were very prejudiced and were mean and hateful towards kids they did not like because of their national origin. It is common knowledge that this family feels this way. I went through a lot of suffering in school due to these types of people. I found that my mother would never expect her friends to treat her kids with respect.  She would rather keep her friends than sacrifice any friendship. I wonder what you see when people are married and this sort of situation occurs. Is it appropriate that the other spouse  terminate a friendship with someone who who is mean and disrespectful towards the other spouse due to race, nationality or religion?

Look forward to hearing from you.


Answer: Hi Martha,

I was really sad to read about what you have been going through. Although you don’t say, it sounds like you are of mixed race, or part of some cultural or religious group that is often subject to discrimination. I can see that from your childhood that this issue is a real hot-button for you.

I must tell you, Martha, my friends would never do what you write about because I select my friends very carefully, and those who discriminate are not welcome in my world. Those from the past who did that are no longer around, and my belief is that to associate with people like that lowers me and the positive energy I fight to have. I recommend you watch the movie, "Gentleman’s Agreement," with Gregory Peck … made in 1949, it won the Academy Award because of its theme of social justice … it underlines that if you stand around, grin and bear it, back slap, and wonk when people denigrate others of different colors, race, etc., you are equally as guilty of prejudice as those who are open about it.

If your husband loved himself (and you) in a healthy manner, he would not allow people to be unkind and disrespectful to you or in front of you. He would correct these people, and if the crimes continued, he would end the friendship. You asked should you expect this? That is a tricky and complicated question, as I don’t think you can "expect" things of others without their agreement. In other words, if your husband promised not to do it again, I think you can have an expectation, but not until then. I think you can look at it as what is the right or proper or loving thing to do, and tell your husband about how this situation causes you to feel. Any husband/spouse who would not take your feelings into consideration and empathize with you might be one you need to reconsider being married to, as it is most unloving when a spouse tells her husband she is uncomfortable in a situation, and then for him to ignore, minimize, or diminish her feelings.

You guys would benefit from some counseling — a counselor will help him understand the ramifications of what he is doing, and how much damage he does when he doesn’t validate you, and then minimizes how you feel. These kinds of situations do untold damage to relationships and he needs to understand that. A therapist would be a better bearer of this news than you, I suspect.

I hope this information helps — good luck!

Doctor Becky