(LifeWire) -- There's no more potentially problematic situation than a long family vacation -- except one that includes your in-laws. Bring young children along and the chance of things unraveling increases even more.
Here are tips for preserving relationships during your getaway.
Set vacation-time goals, discuss money and plan some alone time before vacationing with your in-laws.
1. Map out a flexible agenda beforehand. Rather than drafting a single itinerary for the whole family, discuss which activities each person will find interesting. Keeping an open schedule -- and an open mind -- is crucial to making the vacation enjoyable for a large group.
Dr. Roy Loo, a 40-year-old Las Vegas retina specialist and father of two, knows this first-hand. His extended family joined several other friends' families for a weeklong cruise in the Caribbean. However, with the headcount totaling around 30, half of whom were children aged 1 to 17, it was impossible to participate in certain activities en masse. The solution?
"Everybody would tell everybody else what they were going to do, but no one felt pressured to do something they weren't interested in," Loo says. As the father of two of the youngest kids, Loo, his wife, and their 1-year-old and 4-year-old sons played on the beach together while older children took more strenuous excursions.
2. Realize the purpose of the trip. "Get a mutual vision of what is to be accomplished on this trip," advises Dr. Pepper Schwartz, professor of sociology at University of Washington and relationship expert at Perfectmatch.com. "If it is bonding, sacrifice everything else to that goal. If it is for the kids to know their grandparents, organize expectations about that."
For Nettie Owens, 27, getting out of the weekly routine was the motivation for a two-day camping trip with her in-laws. Hiking in Virginia's Shenandoah National Park and staying in a cabin was a welcome departure from her life as a professional organizer in Havre de Grace, Maryland. Even her mother-in-law, who is not passionate about the outdoors, "enjoyed the scenery and the changing of the leaves, which was the entire point of the trip," Owens says.
3. Discuss monetary issues. Airfares, hotels, meals and activities can add up quickly, not to mention be a cause for unnecessary awkwardness during an otherwise relaxing time. "Talk about how money deals will be negotiated beforehand, or how to jointly grin and bear it," advises Schwartz. This is one situation where the lack of surprise is a good thing.
4. Find out what your spouse's family vacations are normally like. Ask your spouse about their parents' likes and dislikes, and find out if there are any family traditions that are unknown to you.
Tatiana Mahoney relates this story about her husband Matthew and her late mother: During a trip to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, Mahoney's mother offered to make the couple lunch -- but didn't think to mention that in her native country of Colombia, lunch is generally served around 4 p.m.
"I forgot to tell Matthew that my mom's internal clock is a bit off," says Mahoney, 39, who lives in New York City. "I also forgot to tell him that it is an insult to help out with the cooking." Any misunderstanding, however, was quickly resolved. Matthew and Tatiana would snack to avoid the munchies, and while her mom cooked, Matthew kept everyone amused with jokes, and the family shared stories to pass the time.
5. Make personal time. Even though you're on a vacation with your significant other's parents, you don't have to be joined at the hip the entire time. Your in-laws will likely understand if you suggest spending an afternoon alone with your spouse, or if you want to take a nap. However, if you can't get physical space, making mental space is a good alternative. Read a book, meditate, do breathing exercises, listen to music or take other steps to relax and divert yourself.
Family conflict resolution
If an argument is imminent, approach the situation with caution. The last thing you want to do is have a face-off within the family and ruin your vacation. Here are some sensible solutions for resolving conflict:
• Define the problem. Take a step back and ask what the conflict is really about. Listen carefully to concerns raised by others.
• Choose your words wisely. Avoid accusatory or personal statements. Discuss how you feel about the other person's words or actions. Offer examples of what's bothering you rather than speaking in generalities.
• Try to be understanding. Ask yourself, "If I were on the other side, how would I be feeling?" Don't try to win the argument.
• Develop solutions. Come up with a list of possible resolutions and try to reach consensus amongst yourselves about the best course of action to take. Be prepared to compromise. E-mail to a friend
LifeWire provides original and syndicated lifestyle content to Web publishers. Jocelyn Voo is a freelance journalist and relationships editor at the New York Post.
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