Despite what the movies might show you, it is possible to have a good (great even!) relationship with your in-laws. One way to make sure things get off to a smooth start with the newest member of your family? Don’t put your foot in your mouth by uttering one of these phrases. Here’s what not to say to your son-in-law, according to psychologist and family therapist Dr. Danielle Forshee.
1. “When are you going to give me a grandchild?”
Look, we get that you would really love to have a grandchild (or four). But it’s important to understand that this may not be something your child or your son-in-law wants—right now, or possibly even ever. “Moreover, it’s important to consider that some people can have difficulty naturally conceiving children,” cautions Dr. Forshee. “Projecting your own ideals onto others or making assumptions regarding such personal choices may have the unintended side effects of being interpreted as intrusive and a violation of personal boundaries,” she adds.
What to say instead: Unless they bring it up themselves, Dr. Forshee says it’s best to avoid this topic entirely. But if you truly must say something, “it’s best to come from a place of non-judgement and curiosity.” For example, you could say something like: What do you think life will hold for you and Samantha within the next (insert number) years?
2. “My daughter likes it this way…”
“This type of statement insinuates your son-in-law is not as well versed in your child’s preferences as you are,” explains Dr. Forshee. “It is likely this statement was made due to the perceived closeness in the mother-daughter relationship, however, this statement poses a risk of creating a perceived power differential within the son-in-law and mother-in-law relationship, leaving limited space for your son-in-law to be open to your influence.” In other words, trying to one-up your SIL by proving that you know your child best is only going to backfire.
What to say instead: Here’s another instance where coming from a place of curiosity is the way forward, while adding what you know in a way that comes across as helpful. Here’s an example: I had no idea Lizzie liked her coffee black. For as long as I can remember she’s always added exactly two creamers!
3. “When are you going to get a better job/bigger house/new car?”
“This statement is critical, conveys displeasure and contempt, and is a personal value judgement—any recipient would feel the sting,” says Dr. Forshee in no uncertain terms. So yeah, it’s basically a guaranteed way to create distance between yourself and your son-in-law. “We all have a desire to be accepted by those closest to us, including a need to feel good enough. While you may prefer your son-in-law’s achievements to be enhanced, it’s either not that way for him because his values, choices and preferences may be different from yours (which isn’t good or bad), or they may be similar yet the financial aspect may not be comfortably there yet.” By the way, if it’s the latter then Dr. Forshee notes that this actually means your son-in-law is likely being very responsible, which is a good thing.
What to say instead: OK, again—the best course of action here is really not to say anything at all. (So what if their house is small?) But if you must, then “it’s best to try and come from a place of non-judgement and exploratory curiosity to better understand the situation, including your son-in-law’s thoughts, beliefs, feelings and opinions.” Try: It must be really frustrating that your car requires to be serviced so frequently. What are your thoughts about all of this? Or here’s another example: The size of the house seems to not allow for the things you and Dylan want to do with it. What types of ideas have the both of you come up with to have what you both want? As for the job situation, try asking your son-in-law how he feels in his current job. Follow up by inquiring if there’s anything he wishes was different or what are the things he likes about the role.