Ask Team Practical: My In-Laws Are Annoying


Do I have to love them?

by Liz Moorhead, Editor, Ask APW

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Q:

My future parents-in-law are adorable, sweet people. However, I have one problem: they have really awful table manners. They cough without covering their mouths, talk with food in their mouths, belch, and pick their teeth at the table. I get kind of grossed out when I am sharing a meal with them, and I worry about what my parents, who are big on table manners, will think at our wedding. My mother-in-law is also extremely chatty, and often talks about bathroom/medical issues at the table. I’m honestly worried about seating them with my parents at our wedding. Is there anything that can be done about this? Can anyone relate? Do you love your in-laws, but hate their table manners?
-Elbows Off Please

 A:Dear EOP,

I’ll take a wild leap here and assume a lot of people can relate. Even if we’re talking annoyances other than table manners, in-laws are people you didn’t pick out, you probably haven’t spent tons of time with before, and that you now have to love like family. Weird.

Adding to the weird, as family you get a glimpse at all of the behind-closed-doors behavior of a family, but without that happy foundation of years of love. Depending on their dynamic, they’re possibly going to “be themselves,” acting in ways they do when they’re comfortable with family. That’s not always pretty. But, there’s the slight, (hopeful?) chance that they’ll know how to behave in public—for example, at a wedding.

If you don’t believe me, and are still worried that there might be some awkwardness at the wedding, consider introducing your parents beforehand. I know it’s not always possible, depending on geography, but it’s nice to round up all the parents and get them acquainted in advance. In this situation, the bonus is that your mom can meet mom-in-law for herself. If it’s truly a terrible clash, she can sort out for herself how to interact when the wedding comes, and generally brace herself.

More than just the wedding, though, you do have to come to grips with the idea that they’re going to be around for a good long time. You’re signing on to embrace them as family forever-ever. That could sound scary, but frankly, a lot of us have these hurdles with our own immediate family. Folks we love and cherish and wouldn’t trade for the world can also manage to be annoying or brash or loud. It’s just all the easier to notice this stuff in other people, people who aren’t yet close to us. Meaning, it’s quite likely your own parents are annoying and maybe a little gross in their own special ways.

Luckily, you can still grow to love them, which doesn’t erase the annoying bits, but does soften them. If I’m being honest, it doesn’t happen in every situation. Maybe instead, you can work on growing to respect them, and their relationship to your partner, and the things they did right in raising him. For now, you have to just accept them for who they are and be nice. Figure out how to cope with the stuff that really gets to you and maybe mentally brace yourself each time you go to visit. Focus on the positive. Not for their sakes, but for your own. Because there’s no changing them, and they’re sticking around.

TEAM PRACTICAL, how do you handle the hard-to-love parts of your in-laws?
If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off! 

Liz Moorhead

Liz is an illustrator and writer who paints custom stationery and types up impassioned opinions about weddings, etiquette, feminism and motherhood (usually while shaking a fist and mumbling expletives around mouthfuls of cheese fries). Her spare time is spent sipping bourbon with her husband and playing Don’t Throw That in the Toilet with her sons.

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  • Rachel

    This isn’t a very deep answer – but all of the weddings I have been to, the bride and groom’s parents each have their own table. For example, my parents sat with my surviving grandparents, their close friends and my Dad’s brother. My husband’s parents sat with his grandma, and their closest friends. I would just seat them at separate tables.

    • MirandaVanZ

      Yeah, I was thinking that too. My parents are sitting with the family that traveled since they don’t get to see them often and his parents are sitting with grandparents.

    • MC

      Yep – that was my first thought. I’ve only been to one wedding where both parents were seated at the same table, and my (divorced) parents will definitely not be sitting with Fiance’s parents at the same table.

      Also, if that’s not something the LW is willing to change, maybe have your fiance(e) tell his/her mom that your mom is especially squeamish, has a sensitive stomach, etc., and ask if she could lay of of the bathroom/medical talk at the wedding.

      • Bethany

        Yes! My partner actually did that for me. He mentioned to his mom that the reason I left the table when certain topics were brought up wasn’t that I was being intentionally rude but that I was honestly faint and feeling ill. Admittedly, this conversation didn’t happen until after I was literally violently ill and then had to spend 20 minutes frantically cleaning the bathroom and hoping that she hadn’t heard me…

        I think she believes I’m a bit “soft” but I know that I’m strong enough to deal when I need to (i.e. I can clean up blood and take care of injured people/pets, but I’ll be violently ill as soon as the emergency has passed) and now she doesn’t bring up those topics around me.

    • Amanda L

      Yep, ditto this. My in-laws had their closest friends and family at their table, while my parents sat with my sister, BIL, etc. There was no weirdness at all that the parents weren’t seated together (though I did have to think carefully about table placement to make sure no one felt slighted).

    • Alyssa M

      This was my automatic thought as well. I fully agree with Liz’s answer as far as the big picture of gross in laws goes… but the nuts and bolts of this question? Warn your parents and have a table for each family.

    • joanna b.n.

      Is there an etiquette rule or tradition of seating parents from both sides at the same table at a reception?

      • ElisabethJoanne

        It’s definitely in my older etiquette books – a head table (bride, groom, bridesmaids, groomsmen) and a parents’ table. One says that where the other tables are buffet, the head table and parents’ table may be served.

  • sleepwakehopeandthen

    On the topic of unusual behaviors that in-laws have, my (future) in-laws have this strange thing where no one is allowed inside there house. Ever. Literally my fiance has never had anyone over to his house in his life. There are private reasons for this that sort of make sense logically, but still it is… strange, especially from my family where we have more of a hospitality tradition… basically, anyone ever can basically invite themselves over, and also you have to offer the invitation to stay with you to any extended relative or friend of a friend you know that is coming. I’m personally a fan (although it can sometimes be stressful to have people over, it was great when I had places to stay all over Europe, even though I hadn’t met anyone before ever). Although, I have moved up to where I am now allowed to drive to the outside of the house and chat with them out front and such. (They used to be so concerned about that, that they would be waiting in car whenever I was going to head over so that we could carpool together.) Apparently though, I will be allowed over once I am married to him.

    They are very sweet people though. (And my family is also very odd, so I am sure he has other weird things he found out about us.)

    • Heather

      I’m having trouble wrapping my head around this one… Wow! I’ve never heard anything like it before.

      • sleepwakehopeandthen

        It is odd, but other than that, they are very nice and welcoming people, so its ok. Although for a long time I was convinced they didn’t like me since they never invited me over (my family literally…not figuratively…literally will invite anyone over for holidays who might not have a place to go which is how we end up with 50 person christmases regularly), but it really is something they just do. And he is fine with having people over, so that is also good.

        • sleepwakehopeandthen

          Although sometimes it is frustrating, since I live 2000 miles from my family, but about 20 miles from his (and he lives at home! so I can’t ever visit him! he has to always come visit me!) But it is just one of those things that is a thing, I guess. (Especially because I really would rather sit around talking or doing quiet things at home when interacting with other people instead of always going out and doing activities, because that is a bit overloading, but I have my place and my apartment and they are welcome at my place, and also I’m apparently allowed over once we are married.)

    • Brielle Arnold

      I had a somewhat similar situation, but it was me who was forbidding my husband to come inside the house. I’m not totally sure what the reasons are in your situation, but my reason is because my parents are hoarders. Not exaggerating – literally, the kind of people you see on that TV-show kind of hoarders. I love my parents very much and love to visit with them out in public or at my house, but I cannot stomach being in or around the house, and the thought of anyone else going in there is really upsetting to me. From this side of the situation, I can say it’s very frustrating. My husband and I were both upset that there was this huge barrier to getting to know my family better, but we found ways around it. Everyone is very close now and everyone understands and accepts the situation, but I know it can be very hard having to work around restrictions like that.

    • NYtoCO

      I had a friend whose parents were kind of like this, but not as extreme. I was allowed in the house, but it clearly made her mom very uncomfortable. My friend was living with her parents at the time, and one time when we went out and had a few drinks, planning to both stay at her parent’s house, they wouldn’t let me stay over. An 22 year old that had had several drinks. I basically had to wait in my car for several hours so I could make the 45 minute drive home. It was weird.

      • A.

        That sounds like my FMIL. She is obsessive about the house being clean enough for guests based on her own personal standards (hint: it never or rarely lives up to it, even though her home is immaculate). My fiance was not allowed to have friends over growing up and it wasn’t until we lived together (i.e., I was a permanent fixture and we insisted on spending holidays together) that she allowed me to come visit for extended periods of time. One of their biggest fights was when he asked if I could visit over a spring break in college; they didn’t speak for over a week. However, she’s genuinely a lovely person. She’s just very anxious and always feeling like she’s failing as a hostess (cultural pressure is involved), so I think she freezes up a lot of the time and figures it’s easier to just not host at all.

    • anonpsu

      Yes, my only thought on this is hoarders. I know that my fiance has relatives who don’t allow anyone over ever, and it’s because they are hoarders. Their house isn’t unsanitary, but it is stuffed to the gills with STUFF.

    • Anon

      My similar experience with my in-laws reflects what others have said– hoarding/cluttering. It took a very long time for me to be welcomed into the house, and to this day (it’s been five years) I’ve never had a meal at my in-law’s home. This was such a foreign concept to me because growing up, my mom always invited my friends to stay for dinner, or wanted to host people as the first step of getting to know each other. It makes me sad sometimes to hear that my husband never had any sleepovers growing up, and that none of his friends have been past the front door. He doesn’t seem to realize how atypical this is, so I’ve tried to be sensitive in the way I react when inside I’m like “WHAT???”. I am used to the way it is now though. We just drop by briefly, or meet at a restaurant for dinner. I am concerned about what this will look like when we have a baby, since I know they will want to babysit.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      I know why we haven’t had company since we got married, almost 2 years now, but it’s a temporary situation. We’re not hoarders. I asked my husband to make another Goodwill run today.

      We live in a 1-bedroom apartment. My husband has sleep apnea. He sleeps on a mattress on the living room floor. I can’t have company and an unmade bed, so that’s 1 big hassle to having company.

      My husband also has some mental illnesses, for which he takes medication. Because the illnesses make him forgetful, the medications are left out. But he doesn’t want people to know about his condition, so they’d have to be hid for company (and put back out). A small hassle.

      The biggest thing is that my husband’s mental illness make him almost no help in getting all 4 rooms clean at the same time. And because of the apartment’s layout, we can’t just throw messes into the bedroom. (He’s very helpful on discrete projects – like mopping the kitchen.) I could go into details, but to, say, have someone over Sunday afternoon, I’d have to spend all of Saturday cleaning and some of Sunday tidying (like hiding the medications after he takes them Sunday morning). The effort just isn’t worth it to me.

      Admittedly, you see some of my own hang-ups here. We have friends who wouldn’t be appalled to visit with the bills still out on the kitchen table, but I’m not comfortable with that. Growing up was somewhat similar. People could not just drop-by, because my parents were embarrassed by our usual clutter. Hospitality required at least a half-day of preparing.

      We’re looking for a new apartment. Then we’ll have at least 1 bedroom where we can just close the door, no mattress-in-the-living-room problems. I’m also hopeful that my husband can be more helpful in putting things away if he’s the one who’s decided where they go in the first place.

  • Amy March

    I’m surprised this answer skips the most obvious solution- don’t seat your parents together at your wedding! They can each have their own table full of their favorite people while you and your future spouse sit together, alone, with your bridal party, or with friends.

    I’m also not clear on why all the advice on being nice, respecting them, and growing to love them is even included. The OP’s concern is being embarrassed by their horrible table manners. She doesn’t say anything about having trouble coming to grips with the fact that they will be in her life for a long time.

    • Cathi

      Agreed.

      Logistically, it just worked out for my husband and I to have our various parents sit at tables with their sides of the family. Granted, both sets of parents are divorced so it was almost easier to do that way, but it worked out just fine. My dad sat with his brother and my cousins, who he rarely sees. My mom sat with her best friend and my friends who are like daughters to her. MIL sat with her parents and brother. FIL sat with his brothers and their children.

      Let this be a time for the parents to catch up with their own families. It sounds like EOP doesn’t envision their two families merging into one big wonderful überfamily, so honestly why bother trying to make them merge into one big happy table at the wedding?

    • Yep, that’s exactly what we did. Our families sat at different tables and it wasn’t for any reason other than we wanted to put my parents with their relatives/friends from their town (who were traveling across country to my wedding), and J’s family with her relatives. We didn’t even think of seating them together now that I think about it… it’s no big deal. And J and I did a sweet heart table which I actualy loved because after the rush of the ceremony and the WHOLE SHEBANG it was nice for us to get to breathe and look at each other and be “off” for a minute. Our table was surrounded by the tables of our families and the bridal party, so people could come over and visit if they wanted. But that way we could have some semi-alone time and get to eat a good meal and take the whole room in. (geez talking about it is making me miss it so much!!)

    • Liz

      As is sometimes the case, the OP asked to edit her question after submitting it.

      As is always the case, a wedding day concern can speak to a long term problem and require a long term solution.

      • orienteeringirl

        I agree, Liz. I’ve wasted a ton of time stressing out over the meeting of the parents. Whether it’s at the wedding or before, that first meeting can set the tone for family relations for a long time to come. In my case, after five years together and an engagement, it only ups the ante for the occasion. I’m facing a different set to circumstances, but like the OP, I’m pretty sure that their personalities are going to clash. When talking through the worst that could possibly happen with a girlfriend, she stopped me and told me that I’m not responsible for the behavior of any of them. They’re all adults, and they should know how to be on their best behavior. If any of them choose not to, it’s neither my or my fiance’s fault. It seemed obvious, but I hadn’t really thought about it that way, and it’s been incredibly liberating to know that whenever they do meet, I’m really only responsible for the way that I conduct myself (and to ensure that we choose a setting that is comfortable for everyone.) If any of the parents has a problem with another, they can take comfort in knowing that after the wedding, they’ll once again be on opposite sides of the country and will hardly have to ever see each other again.

  • Angela

    My stepmother in-law has problems with appropriateness. I was mortified when, at our rehearsal dinner, she loudly shared her marriage advice with me, which was to ALWAYS sleep in the nude (with lots of winks toward her husband, my father-in-law–gross). But throughout the weekend people told me me they thought she was “such a hoot!” I’m kind of a people pleaser and worry what others think, so I’m often anxious about situations like these. BUT in the moment and at such a joyful occasion, your guests will likely give such annoyances the benefit of the doubt.

    • Lizzie C.

      So. Gross. I would have died. But I’m glad the other guests thought she was funny.

      • vegankitchendiaries

        I would have thought it was funny! But I’m really inappropriate. And kind of gross.

        • Angela

          In retrospect it IS pretty funny!! In that moment, though, I was trying to figure out how to politely run away.

    • up_at_Dawn

      One of my future sisters in law also has problems with appropriateness (and apparently boundaries). But there is generally more sharing of EVERY KIND of information at my future in-laws than with my family. I’m sure there is stuff about my family that drives my fiance nuts. Still though Future-sis-in-law asking my partner how many sexual partners I’ve had and whether I prefer circumcised or uncircumcised (WTF!) penises?!? Pretty much takes the cake for inappropriateness. Then again when going through a photo album she’ll point out all the dudes she’s bonked…I’m still not used to her :/

      His parents are, however, quite lovely.

      • Angela

        Oh man! I’ve found it really interesting that once you’re engaged, new in-laws can take it as an open invitation to air everything you never wanted to know or ask the most personal questions…because hey, we’re family now!! I’ve had to navigate some of this and it’s really tough.

  • Anonymous

    I have to admit, I smiled and then couldn’t wait to read this as soon as I saw the title. I fully support Liz’s advice, especially the part about embracing the positive in them, just like you would with one of your own immediate family members. I love my sister dearly, but I can only spend so much time with her because her mannerisms and rambling stories get on my nerves. This was good practice for my future in-laws, who are friendly, caring, loving people, with good hearts and intentions, but who can also be incredibly annoying. I’ve been with my partner for over 10 years and am very close with his family, as he is with mine, and I’ve learned that I enjoy his parents the most when we are at casual family gatherings where I am not stuck talking to them one-on-one for long periods of time, or stuck seated next to them at family dinner. His mom always thinks the worst, is the most neurotic person I know, and considers her use of “Jewish guilt” (her words) as a source of pride. She is passive aggressive and always acts like a martyr. His dad has been an alcoholic for all of my partner’s life, appears to struggle with depression, and tries to compensate for his lack of confidence by talking CONSTANTLY, including repeating the same stories over and over (but with the delivery of a breaking news story every time). They are still married, living together, but act like they are divorced. During the most intense moments of annoyance, I remind myself that they have always welcomed me with open arms, are generous and caring, and his mom instilled wonderful values in her son. When you wipe away all the annoyances, they really are good people and I’m happy that they see me as one of their own children. Sometimes I just need a glass of wine before I go over their house…

  • Lauren

    Can’t you just give your parentals a heads up that your future in-laws can be kinda gross when they eat? Then they’ll know what to expect if they are seated together at your wedding and for any dinner occasions in the future.

    • Amy March

      I mean, if my daughter asked me to expect to just put up with being seated with people eating like pigs at one of the most important meals of my life (possibly one I am paying for) I don’t think I’d be like “oh ok sure sweetie that’s fine.” My mother wouldn’t hear of it and wouldn’t understand why I was placing her comfort a rung below theirs on the ladder.

      • K.

        I agree with that generally, but sometimes mothers really, really WANT to be at the head table (or so I’m told, cough). What do you do then? Only sit the bride’s parents there? That would then shift the scales in a different way (i.e., unfair to leave out groom’s parents just for bride’s parents comfort). Assuming the parents being at the head table is non-negotiable, it’s a trickier situation.

        • La’Marisa-Andrea

          Or don’t have a head table at all.

          • vegankitchendiaries

            YES, sweetheart table just gets rid of so much seating drama right off the bat.

        • Elizabeth

          Assuming it’s non-negotiable that the parents sit at the same table (this was true at my wedding), my take is that both sides should give a little. Perhaps LW could give her parents a head’s up as to the future in-laws’ (lack of) table manners and ask that they loosen their collars a bit for her sake at the wedding. LW’s fiance could mention to his parents that LW’s parents are rather proper when it comes to dinner etiquette, and could they please be on their best behavior during dinner. Seems fair that both sides could adjust their expectations and behaviors a bit. I don’t know, to me this just doesn’t seem like a huge problem – but to each their own.

          I wonder if LW’s fiance is aware or oblivious of his parents’ table manners?

          • Bets

            I agree. If my in-laws annoyed me, I would tell my fiance more of less what OP wrote: i love your parents, they’re very sweet etc., but could you let your parents know that my parents are really picky about table manners? I’m sure the OP’s in-laws don’t want OP’s parents to have a bad impression of them either.

        • Amy March

          You just don’t have a head table.

          • K.

            I guess I was just trying to take the OP at face-value. She is having a head table and both parents are going to be seated there. What should she do?

          • La’Marisa-Andrea

            I mean, both sets of parents are adults right? I don’t know why this has to be a big deal. The parents will survive sitting at the same table for a few hours this one time. Sit them at opposite ends then or sit them near each other and trust that they will be able to manage.

        • Nell

          Or have a really long head table and seat parents at opposite ends. Or do a sweetheart table so that the couple is all alone (then no one is singled out as the “head table”).

      • Hil

        I disagree. My mom would be totally fine with that – everyone knows that the first rule of etiquette is not to point out the etiquette flaws of others! Pulling her aside and saying, “hey, these people eat like pigs, I know it’s annoying, just preparing you” would do the trick. What’s the alternative? Confronting the in-laws? Refusing to put the parents together? It’s one meal, and these aren’t just “people,” they’re now family.

        • Alyssa M

          I so agree with you. Insisting that you’re incapable of eating with people with bad table manners sounds really unmannerly to me. It’s pretty rude to go to your in laws and embarrass them by correcting their manners… whereas warning your parents is simply a kindness…

        • H

          I think there’s room for both sides here. Bride can pull hers aside and say “heads up these people eat kinda grossly” and groom can pull his aside and say “heads up these people are really into table manners.” You’re framing it as the other person’s problem each time, and they can do with that information what they see fit.

          The “not at the same table” idea is probably the best solution for this, but depending on geographical proximity, parent personalities, extended families, holidays, etc. you’re not actually AVOIDING the scenario, just delaying it.

        • Lauren from NH

          I know your comment wasn’t focused on this point persay, but I tend to take issue with absolute statements that in-laws are family in the universal sense and even further that they are family to your family. While agreeing that everyone should be cordial and well behaved on the couple’s wedding day, these two families may almost never meet again, they don’t really need to love each other. And I think a generic push for kumbaya is unrealistic in a lot of cases.
          I appreciated that Liz broadened out from the OP’s question because I think not everyone is going to click with their in-laws and that’s okay. In-laws deserve respect as important people to your spouse, but I think obligatory familial love is a tall order. I have even personally found that by trying to accept that I am unlikely to feel like family with my partner’s family of origin, I am better able to appreciate them for who they are.

          • Violet

            I agree. I respect everyone, but I choose who I consider family. Not everyone thinks that way, and that’s fine, but you’re not alone in having this conception of “family.”

  • Molly

    Thank you for this post! APW was a huge help in working with my in-laws during the wedding planning process – my husband and his family have very different communication styles and expectations in general than my family, and I think a lot of my frustrations stemmed from the fact that I never really figured out how to get my point across effectively and don’t want to hurt their feelings. I wish I had addressed some of the things that bothered me, because they probably don’t even know that there was an issue. We never butted heads before the wedding planning process and I hope to get back to that good place. They are lovely people who I have a good relationship with and I want (need) that to continue. I’m working on focusing on how wonderful our wedding day was and trying to let go of the frustrating parts of the planning process. They raised a wonderful man and have been incredibly supportive of our lives.

    On a practical level, we had each set of parents head their own table as well. We also insisted on a small rehearsal dinner the night before just for our immediate family and wedding party, so that everyone could meet each other before the big day – we wanted our team to be comfortable working and interacting with each other on the day of the wedding. Our parents will probably never be best friends, but they get along well enough to spend a weekend together.

    Putting together a wedding is a tough way straight to the heart of a family – an huge, emotional event very few people have any experience planning and executing.

  • themoderngal

    I’d gently suggest embracing them for who they are, and encouraging your parents to do so too. You never know if someone on your in-law side is seeing your family’s table manners and thinking it as “uptight.” If your in-laws are the adorable, sweet people you say they are, have a talk with your parents in advance — “Hey parents, my in-laws do this thing that’s going to bug you, but they’re adorable, sweet people, so I really encourage you to look past that and get to know them.” Maybe your parents’ manners will rub off on them a bit as they get to know one another.

  • Nell

    Our families could not be more different, and we had a fairly disastrous meeting between them. But, now at least we know what the issues are. The families are each going to head their own tables when it comes time for the wedding, and we’re giving a head’s up to the coordinator and to our photographer that we aren’t going to have a big ol’ hugfest on the day of. Amazingly, talking to vendors is really reassuring, because they have seen every variant of family interactions. They might even have suggestions for how to make things run smoothly!

    I get the impression that the kind of situation the OP is describing is more common than the magical photogenic two-families-are-now-one situation that we all wish we were having.

  • macrain

    Bad table manners are the absolute worst. I have a co-worker who chews with his mouth open and LICKS HIS FINGERS during lunch. Sometimes we’ll be hanging out and he’ll mosey up with a bag of cheetos and I’m like WHYYYYY.

    • Rachelle

      Ugh, I’m dying on the inside for you. One of my co-worker constantly chews/sucks on pens and it drives me up a wall. I can’t even imagine dealing with Cheetos and finger licking!

    • practicallyperfectineveryway

      THAT IS THE WORST. It really drives me crazy to hear people eat loudly.

  • K.

    Agreed with other posters that this seems more like a seating chart issue…which, even 9 months from my wedding, makes me feel extremely twitchy when I think about my own. In an ideal world, I wouldn’t even seat my in-laws together (lovely people individually, but man, can they *bicker* and you can’t expect people to change just for your wedding, right?). But my FMIL would be horrified by that, even if she really would like to sit with her sisters, and my FFIL…well, he wouldn’t care, but he’s probably going to try to have constant in-depth conversations about, like, quantum physics with my fiance that night anyway and get annoyed when we get inevitably get pulled away.

    But what I also have to remember is that, while my fiance genuinely loves my parents, he could probably write a similar paragraph as mine above about all the reasons MY parents might be annoying during the wedding, same as how I genuinely love his parents but wrote what I did. Like Liz said (or implied?), in-law annoying habits seem amplified because of the changing dynamics and pressure to be FAMILY, but really, their annoying habits are no different than the ones you put up with from your origin family. Plus, the dinner part of a reception generally lasts an hour, maybe two. Almost anyone can put up with almost anything for such a short period of time, especially on an occasion like a wedding.

  • I’ve just learned to roll with it. My in-laws are some of the absolute best people in the world (they let me live with them during the week since I work an hour and a half away from where my husband and I live), but they are definitely an adjustment. The fact that I know they would do absolutely anything for me mitigates some of the things that are harder to swallow…like the fact that my father-in-law literally pissed himself the first time my mom met him (the graduation party for my PhD…might have gotten a little out of hand…he had a few too many shots of tequila and was having a conversation with my mom, thought it would be rude to leave and didn’t think anyone would notice. *sigh*). There have been several other incidents in there as well, but they’re also the same people who when I was in a fender bender that wound up totalling my car the week before the wedding, drove the hour and a half down just to make sure I was OK, brought dinner because they were sure we wouldn’t have thought of it, and then left my mother-in-law’s car with us so we didn’t have to worry about not having transportation until my insurance arranged for a rental.

    In the grand scheme of things, the fact that they are a little coarser than what I am used to and occasionally make me uncomfortable doesn’t compare to what I gain from having them in my life.

  • Anon for this

    Sympathy! My MIL’s family is very loud and crosstalky and apparently don’t consider it rude to constantly interrupt each other. That’s been a huge adjustment for me, and I still have trouble not feeling insulted when I’m trying to say something and my MIL walks across the room and starts yelling up two flights of stairs to someone else. But I’ve watched them all do it to each other enough to know that it really isn’t anything personal, it’s a cultural or family style. (They’d say culture, but my FIL’s family is from the same culture and they aren’t like that.) Where I feel most troubled about it, though, is when I see my husband do this to people outside his mother’s family. He doesn’t do it a ton, but occasionally we’ll be in a group of people that to me is clearly too small to have multiple conversations going on and as someone else is talking, he’ll try to start another conversation. To him, it’s normal crosstalk and the conversation already happening should continue; to the person who’s talking, he’s interrupting and changing the subject. I don’t think I’m being oversensitive about it, as I’ve seen some furrowed brows and looks of annoyance when it happens, so I’ve been trying to find a way to talk to him about that, but it made me wonder about this original question — is it just the in-laws or is it the fiance as well? Because it’s one thing to occasionally visit people with bad manners and it’s another to have your partner have learned those manners.

    • Lisa

      I have the same issue with my fiancé and his family. The interruption thing really grates on my nerves, and he thinks of it as “active listening” when he or one of his family members talks over me or interrupts a story I’m telling. (Don’t they know that good storytelling hinges on appropriately placed pauses??) It’s a habit I’m asking him to confront and work to change, but I can’t really ask his parents to do the same so I live with it when visiting them.

    • In terms of the talking over each other/interrupting — it is pretty cultural. I remember discussing this in one of my Spanish classes as we watched clips two morning talk shows, one from the US and one from Spain. There was a massive difference in the amount of overlap between two speakers. Maybe this is something that both you and your husband could investigate on a more “academic” level?
      The other thing is that…maybe it does bother you when your husband talks over people, and maybe it does even annoy other people in that group. But does it really have a huge negative impact on his life? On your life? Try thinking about this issue from the other side: there are probably people in his family who think that you’re too quiet/shy and that you don’t show interest in the conversations they are having. Would you be able to talk/interrupt more if he asked you to do so?
      I guess what I’m saying is that this might be an area where you need to accept and celebrate the differences in your communication styles, because that the amount of nagging/arguing/discussing/reminding you would need to do in order to change his style might not be worth what you’d actually accomplish. (Or maybe it would be — you know your situation better than I do, obviously.)

  • SarahG

    This whole parents-sitting-together thing is actually one I was just worrying about (thanks for reading my mind again, APW!). Our folks are going to have spent an entire weekend together by the time our Sunday wedding rolls around, and I was wondering if it would be kosher to have them at tables with their own families or if that would be some kind of wedding faux pas. It sounds like, from the comments, either is acceptable? Relief!

    • Natalie

      Yeah, I didn’t realize it was traditional or etiquette to have a parents’ table. I don’t think there’s been one at any of the weddings I’ve been to, and while my mom is super up on all kinds of obscure (to me) wedding etiquette, she has just assumed that my parents will sit with their relatives and friends, and my FMIL & FFIL will sit with their friends. I wonder if it’s a regional thing? In our case, very close friends of both our respective sets of parents, many of whom they haven’t seen in 5-10 years, are traveling across the country for the wedding. Our parents want to eat dinner with their close friends they never see. They’ll have opportunity to spend time with their new in-laws sooner than they will see their friends again.

  • TeaforTwo

    I would gently suggest that you may be overthinking this. Unless you think the two sets of parents may come to blows during your wedding reception, they will be FINE to sit near each other for the duration of a meal. Especially a meal where the focus is going to be on you, and which will probably be punctuated by speeches.

    Your parents may have instilled the importance of table manners in you, but I’m sure that in their decades on this earth, your in-laws aren’t the only people they have ever met who chew with their mouths open. It won’t kill anyone for one meal.

    It sounds like what you’re really worried about is that your parents won’t like your in-laws. But on the day of the wedding, the joy of watching their kids get married will overshadow everything else for both sets of parents. And after that? They may see each other at your kids’ birthday parties for a few years, but probably won’t have to interact much beyond that. So if they don’t hit it off, it’s really not that big a deal.

  • Alison O

    Another great reason why my wedding won’t have assigned seating, haha!

    But yeah, I have to look away from my FIL at the dinner table. I think sometimes it makes me look disengaged so when I know he’s not chewing with his mouth open or whatnot I try to look up and make eye contact. Also, in general I try to focus on the taste, texture, and smell of my food as part of mindful eating, and that helps to direct my attention away from the less than appetizing sounds coming from him…

    • Lauren from NH

      Yeah I can’t imagine dealing with seating charts. Actually I think I would deal by shuffling everyone up like playing cards, saying ta da! and then leaving the job to someone who cares. We are planning to a cocktails reception, lots of high tables and mingling encouraged. I don’t want to sit like a guest of honor or a piece of art on display, I want to butterfly around to see all the people I love.

      • K.

        My fiance, joking-not-joking, says he’s going to create a computer algorithm and let *it* decide.

  • ElisabethJoanne

    My in-laws “headed” a table for Russian-speakers.

    To me, one of the great things about marriage is how it opens your eyes to your own family’s quirks. For example, I never realized how awful my family is at planning, and how much we plan implicitly, until I was regularly bringing someone with me.

  • Stacey H.

    This post reminds me of a Liz Lemon quote…

    “Love isn’t judgemental. Love is patient. Love is weird and sometimes gross. Love is elusive, but you’ve found it so treasure it.”

    I know she was talking about Grizz’s fiancee, Feyonce, but I thought it fit.

  • On the topic of Medical/Bathroom oversharing- YES!!! x 1000! Does anyone have advice for polite ways to handle this while being firm and making it known that it is not acceptable conversation? My MIL is a chronic over-sharer and the majority of our visits are spent hearing her and my FIL’s medical complaints in detail. I’ve tried to change the subject, or to acknowledge it kindly with “I’m really sorry you’re not feeling well,” before moving on. (These are common age-related complaints- arthritis, cholesterol, etc. The visit after their joint colonoscopy was a real doozy.)

    • ML

      I feel the same way about some of my new-parent friends. I love hearing about the baby, but do I need to know what color his poop was yesterday, or how nasty-explosive that last load was, especially when I’m trying to enjoy dinner? Generally I just try to laugh and reach desperately for my wine, but I wish they would stop! Maybe I’ll “get it” when I’m a parent, but for now, it grosses me out and I don’t know how to tell them!

      • Liz

        Gotta say as a parent, I’ve become more immune to poo chat in that medical sort of way. And yet still not okay with it as general conversation fodder, so.

    • Liz

      Probably not the best method, but I say what I’d like to say but as a joke. Like, “Whew I’m ready for a topic change, how bout everybody else?” Or “Welp, I hope I can still manage to eat lunch after that!”

  • Anony-mouse

    So – admitted moral failing that seems along the lines of the theme of this post… I don’t like my in-laws. They’re kind people and do have good intentions, but are also some of the most self-interested people I have yet to meet and their kid (my partner) falls somewhere below their dog in terms of priority. It is also incredibly difficult for both my partner and myself to hold a conversation with them; we have nothing in common and they seem to be (though that doesn’t mean they are) disinterested in finding common ground or discussing anything beyond the weather and the happenings of their small town. Fortunately (as awful as this sounds), they live across the country and so actual interactions with them are mercifully rare; my partner struggles with the weekly phone call that he seems to be responsible to make, lest we never hear from them again. I feel terribly about not liking them, though I love them for my partner’s sake – any advice, vague or specific, would be welcome… Thanks APW community!

    • ElisabethJoanne

      My in-laws abused my husband and stole his retirement accounts. They’re also racists and just cold people. I’d be content to see him cut off contact, but that’s not what he wants. I take my husband’s lead in interacting with them, and never contact them directly. Even when it’s awkward, we make sure we can always leave immediately if things get out of hand. (For example, they’d have us meet them for lunch at their house, then take their car to the restaurant. Now we insist on always having our car with us.) My husband and I usually agree in advance on a time to leave and/or a codeword. Sometimes I set an alarm on my phone and pretend it’s the office calling. We talk about their travels, their extended family, cooking, and my work.

      When in-laws can be a true second family, that’s great. But I think we sometimes go too far from the awful-mother-in-law stereotypes in what we think is normal for in-law relationships. Love can be expressed differently with different people. I still give my in-laws free legal advice, and often suggest we get them gifts. It’s possible to have a polite, even loving relationship with people you don’t like.

    • Lauren from NH

      Your situation sound very similar to mine, but we live close by and my partner is rather close with his family. As I said in my comment above, I think it is a false expectation that your in-laws should feel like family. It can be for any number of reasons, but for me his family is just too much of an in-group for me to feel like family with them. But loving my partner comes easily, so once I am able to set aside my frustrations over the lack of mutual interest and connection (hint: this is the challenging part), it is almost easy to make time for them in our lives and just accept the low quality relationship I have with them at face value and be pleasant with them none the less. Good luck! My making peace with not loving them was not easy, but it has saved a lot of headache/heartache.

  • Not Sarah

    I think I’m in the minority that I almost like my in-laws more than my own parents. My mom, unless you follow her exact way for everything, you’re not in her good books and she’ll tell you how to do it until you do. My boyfriend moving in is forcing me to set some interesting boundaries because the topic of our shared finances is really none of her business, but she really thinks it is. She asks me questions about how much we’re each going to contribute to housing, how much money he makes, how much money he saves, flat out asked him if he had/has student debt, etc. complete with worrying that he’s going to steal my condo from me and not taking my relationship seriously. I’m guessing it’s a certain level of insecurity underlying most of her concerns, with me being in a good, healthy relationship and maybe she sees it as him taking me away from her somewhat, but I don’t really appreciate her constantly undermining us after years in bad relationships. She doesn’t listen, tells you you’re wrong constantly, and is still incredibly controlling considering that I am in my late twenties and established on my own. It’s quite stressful and has definitely pushed me further away from her over the last year as my relationship with my boyfriend has strengthened. I’m looking forward to Christmas 2015 with his family far more than Christmas 2014 with my family and that’s even with transportation to his family being ~$2200 for the two us and $25 to visit my family…

    • Kristina

      I’m with you. My relationship with my parents has always been uncomfortable, and it’s only gotten worse in the last couple of years – to the point where I pretty much broke up with my mother and didn’t speak to her for several months. My fiance’s parents, though, have treated me like family since the day I met them, and I love them to death. Sometimes the family you choose is just a better fit than the one you’re born into.

      • Not Sarah

        Yes! My dad is awesome….so long as he’s sober. It’s just my mom who I have issues with, but I am super sympathetic with her around dad’s drinking. My dad’s extended family are all great. My mom’s family, on the other hand, her mom was awesome, but I tell people my mom doesn’t have any siblings because as far as she’s concerned she doesn’t. I worry about having kids because all of these issues are possibly genetic, but my boyfriend tries to reassure me because my sibling and I are much more stable than my mom, so maybe my hypothetical-future kids could be okay. My sibling and I mostly get along to rant about our mother, which is really sad :( To top it off, in the last two years, my mom’s mom passed away, and my mom has spent most of the last year sick with a variety of illnesses. I’m worried she’s getting early Alzheimer’s or something some days (she’s in her late fifties)…

  • anon

    I’m late to this discussion, so apologies if it’s already been suggested…but on a very practical note, perhaps the OP could think about clever menu choices? In this situation, personally, I’d avoid serving soup, spaghetti, noodles, corn-on-the-cob, chicken wings or ribs… basically foods which may lead to slurping, tooth picking and whatnot!

    The advice about having a sweetheart table is good too – we had a sweetheart table and it worked perfectly. It’s not exactly traditional or very common, but it’s not radical these days either…I’m sure it wouldn’t ruffle any feathers! Good luck though!

  • Amy March

    Huh. Why change the tag line from “and frankly, kinda gross” to “do I have to love them?” at this point after 50+ comments relating to the original prompt?