If you’re an introvert who has extroverted in-laws, it’s probably going to take more understanding on your part than theirs.
I got married a year and a half ago, and for the most part, it has been great. There is just one thing: I have in-laws now… and they don’t really understand introversion, or even realize that they are extroverted. They fit into the societal norm, so they have never had to question how they are.
Toward the beginning of the relationship, I made the mistake of saying “yes” to every invitation from my husband’s family. Last summer, I gave them my first “no,” although I encouraged my husband — an extrovert — to go on without me. I don’t ever want him to feel like he should choose between his family or me. In fact, I love it when he goes to spend time with them solo because then I get to stay home and get the house to myself.
However, the first “no” resulted in my husband’s family thinking they had done something to offend me. But my husband gently explained to them that I am an introvert. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know how they took it. My guess is that they pondered it for a few minutes and shrugged, then went back to whatever they were doing.
No matter how long you have been married, if you are an introvert, you have probably run into this with your own extroverted in-laws, family members, or friends. Given my own — admittedly brief, but intense — experience with this, I want to share some tips for surviving your extroverted in-laws.
5 Tips for Surviving Your Extroverted In-Laws
1. It’s never too late to start being yourself.
Initially, I made the mistake of trying to seem extroverted to impress my husband and his family. There were a few Sundays that I stayed over at his dad’s house for several hours and pretended to be interested in football. I said yes to every dinner and drink invite from the family. Suffice it to say, I was not able to keep it up for very long.
The thing was, I didn’t need to impress my husband. He saw from the beginning that I spoke softly, enjoyed reading and writing, and generally did not want to go to loud or crowded places. He was fine with that and loved me for it.
I didn’t need to impress his family either. I love them, but at the end of the day, I am married to my husband, not to them. If he ever has to come to bat for me and my introversion, I know he will. The truth is, my introversion is not the wrench in the relationship that I feared it would be.
So often, introverts try to be someone they’re not for fear of the truth disappointing people. In my own experience, it has mattered, but not nearly as much as I’d imagined. People ask about me if I don’t show up and probably wonder why. They probably think I am a little weird. Maybe they talk about me, but I try to remember that it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks; I am giving myself time to recharge my battery that I need as an introvert.
2. Don’t use alcohol as a crutch.
Having a few drinks to take the edge off probably seems like a good idea when you’ll be hanging out with people you don’t know or don’t have much in common with. If alcohol loosens your tongue, then even better, right?
This may not apply to everyone, but in my own experience, this is not the best idea.
When you end up at an event for more than a couple of hours, one or two beers can easily turn into binge drinking if you are a socially anxious introvert. Not only is the recovery time not worth it if you get a hangover, but it can lead to saying or doing things you wished you hadn’t, including agreeing to future social engagements or making plans you won’t want to keep when you’re sober.
Again, the urge to drink may go back to feeling like you need to be someone you’re not. It may be more uncomfortable to stay sober, but you will be in more control of yourself. People might think you’re awkward or quiet, but the best ones will be able to work through that with you. You might even make a friend based on your true self! Wouldn’t that be something?
3. Communicate with your partner ahead of time.
Before you go spend time with your in-laws, have a talk with your partner. Be clear on when you would like to leave the event (if you don’t know, then take some time to think about it in advance). If you feel comfortable, you might even consider taking separate cars so that your partner will not feel like they have to leave at the same time as you.
My husband and I recently did this, and it worked out well. If anyone thought it was weird, nobody made a comment. I felt free to leave when I needed to, and I didn’t feel guilty about potentially asking my husband to leave if he was still having fun.
Skipping out on every event with your in-laws won’t be an option, so it is important to have clear boundaries and enact them when needed. Your partner may not fully understand your introversion if they are extroverted, but in most cases, they will understand that you have needs and you are doing your best to be reasonable about them.
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4. Make it clear that you like them.
When you see your in-laws, give them a hug. Compliment them on something they’re wearing or on food they’ve made. Thank them for organizing the outing, and when you leave, tell them you had a good time.
Chances are, even if you feel miserable or you wish you were alone, you can find at least one thing to appreciate. This point is not about deceiving anyone. (With some families, I understand that it is more difficult to find something nice to say, yet you may surprise yourself if you give it a shot.)
Making it clear that you appreciate your in-laws will make it less likely that they take your introversion personally. It can still happen, but if you can manage to be as friendly as your quiet nature allows, it will help to smooth things over.
Even if they do still talk about you when you aren’t there or think you’re odd, you will know you did your best to be kind. I find that I often wish to have my introversion “validated” by people so that I feel like it’s acceptable. The sort of validation I crave is rare, and I have come to accept this. Being kind will soothe your conscience (and make it harder for people to say a bad word about you).
5. Validate yourself — care more about how you feel than what other people think.
Even if your extroverted spouse and in-laws make every effort to understand your introversion, it may not always feel okay to be who you are. People might give you “the look” when you say you cannot attend another summer cookout, or they might scoff at your hobbies. Trust me, I know this well — my hobbies include reading Tarot cards and writing The Legend of Zelda FanFiction.
It all comes back to this word that no one seems to like anymore, and that word is “self-love.”
It is an act of self-love to care more about how you feel than what other people think. Introverts need alone time and to engage in what they enjoy. Otherwise, life quickly becomes a sad monotony of endless obligations.
You don’t need to give anyone your resume or work three jobs to deserve time to yourself. People will often disappoint or misunderstand you, and when you can accept that and expect that, it doesn’t hurt as much when it happens. It makes the people who do understand even more special, and you can bet that a fellow introvert will get it. (The problem is, most of us are either staying home or afraid to speak up.)
All in all, it is possible to be an introvert and have a harmonious relationship with your extroverted in-laws. The key to this is knowing that it is probably going to take much more understanding on your part than theirs.