Fam­ily va­ca­tion? Don’t get on the outs with your in-laws.

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - BY JOHN BRILEY travel@wash­post.com Briley is a writer based in Takoma Park. His web­site is John­bri­ley.com

“Jack, we should call some­one. I don’t think he can do this. Do you have re­cep­tion here? Let’s call some­one. He can’t do this.”

That’s my mother-in-law, Mau­reen. Jack is her hus­band, and I am “he,” ly­ing un­der­neath a rented Toy­ota Se­quoia on an un­paved road high above Leadville, Colo., try­ing to solve the SUV’s com­plex spare-tire re­ten­tion sys­tem so I can change a flat. It is 47 de­grees and rain­ing. Cold run­nels of dul­lo­r­ange mud are cours­ing around me. With Mau­reen and Jack are my wife, Cath­leen, and our two kids Kai and Christina, all hud­dled around a small pine tree and nearly dwarfed by the pile of lug­gage we un­loaded to ac­cess the jack.

Look, I love my in-laws. We get along fine and have, over 15 years, de­vel­oped what feels like mu­tual af­fec­tion and re­spect. And yet, if that dis­em­bod­ied voice had be­longed to my mom or dad, I would have not re­sponded with a chip­per “Al­most got it!”

Ten­sion with in-laws, es­pe­cially dur­ing the forced to­geth­er­ness of travel, is rooted in the ob­vi­ous, says Karl Pille­mer, a pro­fes­sor of hu­man de­vel­op­ment at Cor­nell University. “They aren’t your fam­ily, and you aren’t theirs. And you’re un­der great pres­sure if not to like them then at least to get along with them.”

How you han­dle that pres­sure can be the dif­fer­ence be­tween hav­ing a nice va­ca­tion and re­ally need­ing one.

The ground rules: First — and peo­ple ac­tu­ally vi­o­late this one, shock­ingly — never in­vite your par­ents on a trip with­out talk­ing to your spouse, says Anne Ziff, a mar­riage and fam­ily ther­a­pist who prac­tices in Con­necti­cut and New York City. Sec­ond, be­fore agree­ing to a trip, make sure peo­ple will have their own space and op­por­tu­ni­ties for en­joy­ment.

“The point of a va­ca­tion is get away from the stresses of life,” Ziff says. “If you re­ally don’t get along, don’t travel to­gether.”

A lib­er­at­ing no­tion, but be­cause that para­chute cord is of­ten out of reach, your next move is to set bound­aries.

“Agree with your spouse on when to leave and re­turn, and whether one of you needs time alone dur­ing each day,” Ziff says.

Then, it’s up to the blood rel­a­tive to de­liver the mes­sage: “Say, ‘Here’s what we’d like to do,’ not ‘Here’s what we’re will­ing to do,’ ” she ad­vises. “Tone mat­ters.”

This can get tricky if, say, the trip is meant to cel­e­brate your in-laws’ 40th an­niver­sary, and they’re pay­ing. In such cases, you may need to be more def­er­en­tial, and here’s hop­ing you saved some va­ca­tion time for your­self later.

Pille­mer adds that for trips in­volv­ing many peo­ple and di­ver­gent in­ter­ests, a re­sort or a cruise might be “a lot bet­ter than ev­ery­one be­ing stuck in an iso­lated beach house for two weeks with only one car.” Set­tings with ser­vice staff can also help al­le­vi­ate the mar­tyr com­plex for those who feel that they carry more of the chores load.

Pille­mer sug­gests think­ing ahead about how you’ll want to re­mem­ber the va­ca­tion: “Ask your­self, ‘Will I feel bet­ter if I go off for the day and do my own thing?’” If the an­swer is yes, make that hap­pen. First trip with the in-laws: If I was in charge, this wouldn’t count against your an­nual leave. But I’m not, so fo­cus in­stead on what to ex­pect.

“Pre-dis­cuss how your new part­ner’s fam­ily likes to travel,” says Bri­anna Mar­shall, a mar­riage and fam­ily ther­a­pist in Las Ve­gas. Some clans play ev­ery­thing by ear, or eat din­ner at 10 p.m., or de­mand your cheery par­tic­i­pa­tion in all ac­tiv­i­ties. (Sun­rise yo­gi­lates!)

“If you’re ex­pect­ing to re­lax but their plan is to get ev­ery­one up at 5:30 a.m. to be out the door at 6, you need to know that and have mech­a­nisms for man­ag­ing it,” Mar­shall says, such as curl­ing into a ball and mut­ter­ing “There’s no place like home!” un­til they leave you alone. Okay, she didn’t say that. A bet­ter tack might be to ac­qui­esce to their agenda one day but do your own thing the next.

Snipe hunt­ing: If your un­ease de­rives from the oc­ca­sional snipe — say, a mother-in-law telling a grand­kid, ‘Don’t you have the BEST daddy in the world?’ with no men­tion of mommy — just let it go, Mar­shall says. “Put up an in­vis­i­ble shield, and tell your­self, ‘I’m on a va­ca­tion I’m hav­ing a good time, and it’s go­ing to be very hard for some­one to ruin my mood.’ ”

If the buga­boo is pol­i­tics or so­cial is­sues, Pille­mer as­serts that dur­ing travel there “can and should be a demil­i­ta­rized zone,” and that va­ca­tions are not for min­ing known ar­eas of con­flict. In the in­cred­i­bly likely event some­one breaks that rule, he adds, “re­mind your­self it’s a lim­ited amount of time” that you have to spend with these peo­ple.

Also, if you’re ex­pect­ing to be pro­voked, Pille­mer ad­vises in­te­rior re­hearsal, where you run through the dif­fi­cult in­ter­ac­tion in your mind and prac­tice a de­fus­ing re­sponse. That way, when your sis­ter-in-law men­tions that your care­fully cho­sen din­ner out­fit makes you look like a rodeo clown, you won’t un­leash a fury of bit­ing in­sults — or that, if you do, you’ll nail your de­liv­ery. (Sigh . . . okay, he didn’t say that last bit ei­ther.)

Get along with one but not the other: Oh boy, this’ll be fun. Team up with your ally and bat­tle your foe to the death! Def­i­nitely don’t do that. “Play the hand you’re dealt,” Mar­shall says. “Go along with the one who likes you and don’t worry about the other. You don’t need their ap­proval — you have your spouse. Just make sure that if there’s any neg­a­tiv­ity it’s not com­ing from you.”

If you re­ally want to seek higher ground, Ziff sug­gests the fraught ter­ri­tory of a heart-to-heart talk.

“Find time to say, ‘I re­ally love your daugh­ter, and I know you do too. I also know you and I don’t have a very warm re­la­tion­ship. I’d like your help to make that bet­ter.’ It’s very valu­able to show that you’re re­cep­tive to help. You’re try­ing to cre­ate com­mon ground,” Ziff says.

Full dis­clo­sure: This an­gle could el­e­vate your va­ca­tion to a height of Zen or fast-track you to a nearby mo­tel.

If you fi­nally lose it: Don’t hold back, sur­face ev­ery hurt you’ve car­ried around for 25 years and, please­please­please post a video of this tantrum on so­cial me­dia.

Ac­tu­ally, no. Our triad of ex­perts all agree that is­sues will arise on most trips with in-laws — mid­night ukulele prac­tice, the manda­tory pre-din­ner seance, binge drink­ing — and when you’re se­ri­ously ca­reen­ing off your axis it’s best to work through some­one the of­fender trusts to get your mes­sage across. If you hap­pen to be the of­fender, try to re­ceive such over­tures with grace, es­pe­cially if they’re com­ing from the po­lice.

“Very rarely does open con­fronta­tion work,” Pille­mer says. He also cites stud­ies show­ing that neg­a­tive events have a much greater im­pact on mood than do pos­i­tive ones — by a fac­tor of 20 to 1.

“That means that if ev­ery­thing has been great up to a point and then there’s just one blowup, ev­ery­one will re­mem­ber that in­ci­dent. There­fore, ask your­self, ‘Is it worth it to chal­lenge grandpa on his stance on abor­tion or the death penalty on this trip?’ Peo­ple aren’t go­ing to change, and you’re cer­tainly not go­ing to be able to change them,” Pille­mer says.

So be a good per­son, re­frain from even think­ing “I told you so” af­ter changing the tire, and let the lit­tle things — and even a few big ones — slide. You’ll be a hap­pier trav­eler for it.

“The point of a va­ca­tion is get away from the stresses of life. If you re­ally don’t get along, don’t travel to­gether.” Anne Ziff, a ther­a­pist who spe­cial­izes in mar­riages and fam­i­lies


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