Conversation Topics to Avoid
After this election year, family members are more on edge than usual about gathering together. When the two of you and your respective families don't align on sensitive topics like politics and religion, it's best to avoid those conversations altogether. If you are trying your best to stay on safe subjects and others insist on making a point, directly (but kindly) remind them of your differences and state that you would prefer to switch the conversation to something more neutral. Shift the discussion to who was robbed of a Golden Globes nomination this year or your position on fruitcake.
Savor Moments Away
Trying to get to know your new in-laws, but also completely overwhelmed? Savor tiny moments away, either alone or with your new spouse. Volunteer to run to the grocery store to pick up another jug of eggnog. Go for a long walk or jog. Hit up the local boutiques for a couple of stocking stuffers. Even getting just a few minutes away from the family crowd (even if everyone is being absolutely lovely) will help you feel better. If either your family or your spouse's is less than lovely, scheduling time out of the house is absolutely imperative to having a positive experience.
The best and easiest way to dodge family arguments or uncomfortable moments is to keep everyone occupied. Sitting around the living room with nothing to do is a recipe for disaster. Plan activities that everyone will enjoy and be able to get involved in, from sledding excursions to board game nights. If you are at your family's house, find ways to honor your traditional activities, but also make sure that your new spouse feels included.
Short & Sweet
You probably shouldn't book a week-long stay unless everyone knows each other and gets along. Otherwise 3-5 days is more than enough time for blissful family togetherness. If you are visiting family locally, and they've proven to be difficult, you and your spouse should set a firm time you are leaving the festivities and then stick to it.
If you are trying to build a relationship with your new mother-in-law (a wise thing to do, btw), flattery will get you everywhere. You don't need to shower her in compliments. Rather, find something that she does well and ask her to teach you. Perhaps she makes the world's greatest sugar cookies or maybe she never loses a game of cards. Whatever it is, expressing an interest will give both of you a chance to bond over a shared activity.