A dad holding his two kids.

4 Things to Do Instead of Complaining about Your In-Laws

Micro-habits to help you be more calm and happy.

“Ya! Are you?”

I stood at the front of the check-out line. The cashier asked if I was excited about the upcoming holidays. I said I was. I asked if she was as well. Her response was… not as excited. “My in-laws are coming to town,” she said. I could hear the sadness in her voice. The disappointment.

“Would you like your receipt?” she asked. I left the store and our small talk was over. At least, it was for me. Unfortunately for her, that’s a conversation she will continue to have with each new customer that comes her way.

“Are you excited about the holidays?” “No, my in-laws are coming to town.”

“Are you excited about the holidays?” “No, my in-laws are coming to town.”

“Are you excited about the holidays?” “No, my in-laws are coming to town.” Again and again, ad nauseam. Saying it once isn’t a big deal, but saying it on repeat all day, every day, will take its toll. To the point that when those in-laws do come to town, she will live the sad reality she prophesied.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are four things to do instead of complaining about your in-laws.

 

A smile while you wait

A woman in front of me was clearly agitated. She glanced again and again at her watch. At one point, she looked at me and made the “Can you believe this bs?” face. The line was backed up. The cashiers had their hands full and service was slower than usual. And this woman was not having it. I could see her frustration.

Meanwhile, I stood a few feet back.

I had my headphones in and was listening to white noise. Specifically, sounds of rain. And I was doing my daily gratitude practice. I thought of all the things I was thankful for. That I own my time and could thus go shopping in the middle of the day. That I had money available to go shopping with in the first place. The list went on and on.

I was running late. I was behind schedule. Yet I was having a much different experience than the woman ahead of me. I felt great.

Instead of complaining about your in-laws, try your hand at gratitude.

 

The liar in the mirror

I am a judgmental person. I’m the guy that makes fun of people who run weird (knowing full-well that I probably run weird myself). That said, I’m aware of this flaw. And I’m doing something about it. In Loving What Is by Byron Katie, the author provides a playbook for acceptance.

She shows you how to embrace reality. To see yourself and others as they are instead of how you wish they were. For a judgmental person like me, the book has been revolutionary. Obviously, I still have much to learn – this article in itself is a form of judgment – but I have felt myself making progress.

What Katie helps you realize is that we often judge someone for the same things we do.

For instance, you may blame your spouse for being a liar, but how many times have you lied to them? You may be angry with your neighbor for being loud, but how often do you blast your music? Her book helps you understand that until you clean your house, you can’t grumble about someone else’s.

Instead of complaining about your in-laws, practice acceptance and non-judgment.

 

Look over there

In The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, the author points out that if you want to discourage something, you can’t be against it. To be against it is to give it attention. The more attention it gets, the louder it becomes.

Instead, you must advocate for an alternative.

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand makes a similar case. At one point, the character Ellsworth Toohey makes a comment to a small gathering about a random playwright. He says, “Sure he’s good, but suppose I didn’t like him. Suppose I wanted to stop people from seeing his plays. It would do me no good whatever to tell [the people] so. But if I sold them the idea that you’re just as great as [him] – pretty soon they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.”

In other words, when you complain about your in-laws, you find more things to complain about. The more attention you give them, the larger they loom. However, if you turn your focus to something else – say, gratitude – that will consume you and your in-law-woes will become insignificant.

Instead of complaining about your in-laws, focus your attention on something else.

 

Rewire your mind

There they are. Standing at the door. Your in-laws have arrived. But instead of tensing up like you have in the past, you greet them with a smile. You give them a hug and tell them just how excited you are for them to be there. You feel the warmth, love, and joy of the interaction. It’s nice.

And then you open your eyes.

In Breaking The Habit of Being Yourself, Dr. Joe Dispenza explains that by embodying an experience before it happens, you can change how you act in a given situation. Put another way, you can consciously rewire your brain.

In the case of your in-laws, you’ve unconsciously set things up a certain way. When the doorbell rings, you grimace. When they come in, you scowl. And when they give you a hug, you shrink away. Those behaviors are automatic. You aren’t choosing to do them in that moment. Rather, they are habits forcing you to feel and act a certain way.

That said, by envisioning a more loving interaction, by really seeing it and feeling it, you prime your brain and body to act differently when the time comes.

Instead of complaining about your in-laws, imagine being happy to see them.

 

Final thoughts

Complaining once isn’t a big deal. But complaining all day, every day, will take its toll. To the point that when your in-laws do come to town, you will live the sad reality you prophesied. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

For your reference once more, here are four things to do instead of complaining about your in-laws.

  1. Try your hand at gratitude.
  2. Practice acceptance and non-judgment.
  3. Focus your attention on something else.
  4. Imagine being happy to see them.