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Coping with the in-laws often brutal

Thanks for the misery.

The holidays are over, but the lingering effect of time spent with extended family can make you feel like a fighter who just spent 12 rounds up against the ropes.

Whether you spent the holidays tossing and turning on your sister-in-law's flimsy sofa bed with a bar jammed into your back or trying to explain to your rosary-clutching mother-in-law that your kids really are Jewish, conflicts with the in-laws can have a chilling effect on a marriage.

Your family does it one way, your spouse's family does it another and when the two cultures come together under one roof, tempers flare faster than a fuse box overloaded with 47 strands of lights.

If you came out of the annual battle of the dueling candy canes unscathed, consider yourself lucky. For many people, a holiday with the in-laws is an event to be endured, not enjoyed.

A friend of mine just spent her entire Christmas on peanut patrol. She was amazed to discover that after going to great lengths to arrange a peanut-free flight for her highly allergic toddler, she entered her in-laws' home to find them making peanut butter buckeyes at the kitchen table. Although they'd been told exposure to nuts was extremely dangerous for the child, the women in the family continued their long-standing tradition of bringing out peanut-laden goodies all week long.

While it might be tempting to write off her in-laws as a barrel of mixed nuts, I doubt they're the first family so determined to do things their way that they make life miserable for anyone who has the audacity to marry into the clan.

If there's one relationship that ignites the angst over conflicting traditions more than any other, it has to be the one between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. Many women may struggle to please their own mothers, but I doubt there's a woman alive who does things exactly the way her mother-in-law thinks she should.

And because women typically own the holidays, when the wreaths go up, the gloves go on. While the men are slugging back the eggnog in front of the tube, the women are in the kitchen seething because some interloping in-law had the audacity to sprinkle powdered sugar over Grandma's prized fruitcake.

There's a reason why a meddling or overly critical mother-in-law is always good for a few laughs on a TV sitcom - everyone can relate.

There's nothing like watching her son's wife do it differently to bring out the beast in a woman. It doesn't matter if the question is over opening two presents instead of one on Christmas Eve or whether Junior gets to play with his dreidel during services, problems ensue when the daughter-in-law doesn't do it the way the mom did. The mother-in-law feels invalidated, the daughter-in-law feels judged and the poor husband/son is in the middle feeling like the two women in his life have his head in a vise.

However, unless the guy wants to die a lingering death, there's only one way out: jump onto his wife's side as fast as he possibly can.

In my friend's case, her husband stood up to his mother and said that for the safety of his child, they were going to have to go buckeye-free during the holidays or he and his family would not be back.

Other marriage moments might not be quite as dramatic, but in the end, smart men who want to stay married will always side with their wife.

The mother-in-law may determine how long the sparring goes on, but in the battle for family traditions, the last woman standing is usually the younger one. Wise mothers-in-law retire gracefully and never step foot into the ring. And smart daughters-in-law pick their battles carefully.

Now back to your corners, ladies - only 11 months until the rematch.

Snellville resident Lisa Earle McLeod is nationally recognized speaker and the author of "Forget Perfect: Finding Joy, Meaning, and Satisfaction in the Life You've Already Got and the YOU You Already Are." She has been seen on "Good Morning America" and featured in Lifetime, Glamour and The New York Times. Contact her at www.ForgetPerfect.com.