Relationship Advice For The Holidays: Avoiding In-Law Drama

By Jackie Pilossoph, Founder, Divorced Girl Smiling, the place to find trusted, vetted divorce professionals, a podcast, website and mobile app.

relationship advice for the holidays

In my “Love Essentially” column, published yesterday in Sun-Times Media local papers,I give relationship advice for the holidays that involves minimizing in-law drama. Not only is this something you need to read if you feel you are constantly on thin ice with your in laws, but it will make your holidays so much smoother and more enjoyable!

Navigating the Holidays and Your In-Laws by Jackie Pilossoph

There is so much to be thankful for on Thanksgiving – good health, loved ones, friends, a nice home and delicious food. But there’s one thing that many men and women don’t particularly give thanks for on Thanksgiving Day: their in-laws at the dinner table!

I might be wrong, maybe you adore the woman who bore your husband or the man who still calls your wife his baby girl. But for many, holiday celebrations – including Thanksgiving – can cause tension and stress, especially in a marriage where the wife and her mother in-law just don’t click.

Dr. Deanna Brann, Ph.D, is a licensed clinical psychotherapist and author of the book “Reluctantly Related: Secrets To Getting Along with Your Mother-in-Law or Daughter-in-Law.” I asked Brann for some in-law tips that could help make the holidays smooth, happy and drama free!

1. Establish ground rules in advance: If you are going to your in-laws house for Thanksgiving, agree on a time your family is going to leave. Or, take two cars and let your spouse enjoy his or her family without feeling rushed, while you go home when you’d prefer.

2. Be a team player: If Thanksgiving dinner is at your home, include your mother-in-law in some of the preparation so she can feel like she’s a part of it. Ask her to bring an appetizer or help you set the table or just ask, “Would you sit and talk with me while I make the salad?” In other words, make her feel important and wanted.

3. Don’t take things personally: Women have a tendency to do this. Add the stress of the holidays and you could get yourself all worked up over an innocent comment that was not intentionally meant to hurt you.

4. Laugh!: We all have a Norman Rockwell painting in our heads when it comes to the holidays. We want everything to be perfect. Since that so rarely happens, we set ourselves up for disappointment, so when one thing goes wrong, the drama begins. The best philosophy is to laugh! So what if your daughter-in-law cooked the turkey a little too long or if your mother-in-law doesn’t realize that margarine isn’t healthy, who cares? It’s only one day!

5. Think about your spouse: Remember that if your mother-in-law wasn’t here, your husband wouldn’t be either. Also think about the fact that this is his mom and he loves her. When you are being kind to your mother-in-law, you are being kind to your husband. And if you are the mother-in-law, remember that your son chose to spend his life with her, even if it’s not the choice you would have made.


Far be it from me to claim I’m an expert on the subject of the mother-in-law daughter-in-law relationship. I actually failed miserably in that department during my former marriage. However, I did learn a thing or two from my mistakes, so here are my three tips:


  1. Don’t talk negatively about your in-laws: It is really, really bad for your marriage. Feel free to vent to your friends, but if you say one negative thing to your spouse about his mom, it will only start an argument. Even if what you are saying is true, it doesn’t matter. He will be upset. And if he isn’t, than he isn’t a good son!


  1. Nice gestures go a long way: When was the last time you bought your mother-in-law a nice card or a gift? Pick up a box of her favorite chocolates or buy her a bottle of wine she likes. Everyone appreciates a nice gesture, and it might make her think twice before making a snide remark or deliberately doing something she knows drives you nuts. Nice gestures are also a nice touch for the mother of your son’s kids, by the way.


  1. Don’t forget to breathe!: Thanksgiving day is a great day to utilize the breathing you’ve learned in all those yoga classes.Instead of gritting your teeth at your in-laws, fill your lungs with air and then exhale slowly. You can even go really crazy and add an om!
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    Editor-in-chief: Jackie Pilossoph

    Jackie Pilossoph is the Founder of Divorced Girl Smiling, the media company that connects people facing with divorce to trusted, vetted divorce professionals. Pilossoph is a former NBC affiliate television journalist and Chicago Tribune/Pioneer Press features reporter. Her syndicated column, Love Essentially was published in the Chicago Tribune/Pioneer Press and Tribune owned publications for 7 1/2 years. Pilossoph holds a Masters degree in journalism from Boston University. Learn more at:

    One Response to “Relationship Advice For The Holidays: Avoiding In-Law Drama”

    1. Joshua Baron

      Thanks for the tips! As a husband, I need to implement those in my life to make my wife’s life easier. As a divorce lawyer, I will pass them along to me clients. My favorite is “Be a team player.” I know that I feel more wanted and included when I can do something to help. I bet my in-laws will feel the same way.


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