An experienced family-law attorney, John Spiegel has devoted his practice exclusively to family mediation since 1996. John is a graduate of Yale Law School and has been active as a mediation trainer and presenter in Maryland and nationally. He served in 2003 and 2004 as President of the Maryland Council for Dispute Resolution (MCDR), a statewide ADR practitioners’ organization, and in 2005 – 2008 as President of the Montgomery County Divorce Roundtable, an interdisciplinary professional organization. John has published articles on mediation and law reform issues and has lobbied on behalf of these issues before the Maryland General Assembly. In 2001, he received recognition as a Certified Mediator from MCDR. The father of four children, John views mediation as a continuation of his legal work on behalf of children and families.
What should I do if my in-laws are nasty and mean towards me?
Family-law attorney John Spiegel discusses the importance of recognizing that you do have a choice of whether or not to build a relationship with in-laws.
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John Spiegel: My name is John Spiegel. I am a full time family mediator and we are going to talk now about how to handle tense situations with in-laws.
Host: What I should do if my in-laws are nasty and mean towards me?
John Spiegel: These things can be so hard. The starting point, I think, is to keep in mind that you are a good person. You are trying to do your best in this situation and not to take these harsh comments and these inappropriate comments that might be made, not to take them personally. In fact, some people find it's helpful to take a three by five file card before a family reunion and just right on it. I am a good person and I am not going to take any of this personally. So, that way, it would be a starting point.
The basic concept here is taking leadership, thinking strategically. So, part of thinking strategically about an in-law relationship is recognizing that people are going to bring a history and they are going to bring expectations to it and the things may come out of their mouth that are not nice, not easy to hear. Don't make a whole lot of sense, it's not because they are bad human beings, it's because their thinking is getting pulled off track by their history that they may bring. There could be prejudices involved loads of things that have nothing to do with you.
So, if you start out with the idea that this could happen and that you are not going to take it personally. Often, it's possible to listen through this stuff and just ask people, well, what's it about that, that bothered you and then they may say some stuff. Why you did this. You did this and I didn't like this and it can be quite disarming and quite useful than to say to someone and then what else. Because they are not expecting somebody to have that kind of relaxed confidence in the situation. Then, they may say, well, you know, as a matter of fact, now that you mentioned it, it bothered me that me that, blah, blah, blah, they will say, some more stuff and then if you can stay relaxed and say, well, what else bothered you and eventually you get to the point, where they will say, "you know I think that's it" And often they will have a big smile on their face at the end because they are not expecting to be listened to and often times if people have a chance to say ugly things that's on their mind and somebody else doesn't take it personally, stays calm, it's like a huge gift.
I am not saying you have to be a masochist about this. But to the extent you have the attention and you thought about this possibility beforehand, I think you will find it much easier.