The No. 1 way to respond when your in-laws are rude to you, says Harvard-trained etiquette expert

There are many environments where it would benefit you to check any people-pleasing tendencies at the door: work, romantic relationships, even friendships.

Holidays at your in-laws’ house is not one of them, says Sara Jane Ho, a Harvard-trained etiquette expert. Ho is the founder of the finishing school Institute Sarita, host of the Netflix show “Mind Your Manners,” and author of an upcoming book, also called “Mind Your Manners.”

If an in-law lobs a passive aggressive comment or a more direct insult your way, “just agree and play along,” she says. “Be very smiley.”

Let your partner take care of their parents

No matter how rude your spouse’s parents are, it’s not your job to reprimand them, Ho says. It’s your partner’s job.

“If you want to piss off your in-laws, let your spouse do it, not you,” she says.

In the moment you should only be agreeable. And you can let your spouse do the “dirty work” of explaining to their parents why certain comments are inappropriate, Ho says.

The same rule applies when your parents say something that makes your partner uncomfortable.

“You need to take care of your parents and they need to take care of their parents,” Ho says.

If you want to piss of your in-laws, let your spouse do it, not you.

Sara Jane Ho


If it doesn’t make sense to smile and agree, Ho suggests just being silent.

“Oftentimes, I feel like when people are being rude the best thing is to just not say anything,” she told CNBC Make It earlier this year. “Let everyone wallow, and let them wallow in their misbehavior.” 

Don’t let the comments or questions sour your mood during the holiday.

“The greatest power is showing that the other person doesn’t have power over you,” Ho says.

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