There’s a reason there are so many jokes about in-laws – maintaining a good relationship with your partner’s parents can be challenging. A survey of 2,000 British couples by the law firm Slater and Gordon found in-laws were the cause of arguments in 60 per cent of marriages, and 28 per cent said their in-law problems were so bad they’d considered splitting up.

Common stressors were when in-laws offered unwanted opinions, particularly about how to discipline grandchildren, and when a partner sided with their parents if opinions differed. If you’ve spent time with your in-laws this summer or relied on them for childcare, this may be sounding familiar. But we all know couples who seem to get on famously with theirs – so what are their secrets, and how might you help things run more smoothly in future?

Enlist your partner’s help. When there are disagreements within three-party relationships, a common reaction is for two to form an alliance against the third. You’ll hope to avoid disagreements, of course, but if or when you can’t, you’ll want to know your partner will support you. The best way to do this is to solicit their help and advice ahead of time. Ask them to tell you all they can about their parents, which topics to avoid and which would please them. Ask, too, about their warning signs, how to spot when things are heating up so you can change the subject.

Expect to listen more than talk. Asking questions, and listening fully, flatters. It makes the person feel valued, and keeps you from having to reveal more about yourself than you wish. If you’re asked to respond, answer briefly and then ask another question. If you’re not sure how to answer, say something vague, for example, "That’s an interesting suggestion! Let me think about it."

Emphasise the positive. Relationship expert John Gottman believes relationships are more likely to thrive when those in them offer each other more positivity than negativity.

Whether or not you receive positivity, stick with neutral or, if genuine, positive comments.

Challenge yourself to do this with your in-laws.

Maintain perspective. Much of the criticism in-laws level at their child’s partner is motivated more by their discomfort with the change you represent in their family dynamics than about you as an individual, says Terri Apter, author of What Do You Want From Me? It may not always feel like that’s the case, but if you try not to take things personally you’ll be better able to let go of criticism.

However, if visits are still tense whatever you do, follow the example of a couple I worked with who found themselves in that situation. On their way home after every visit, they took the time to stop for an excellent meal, or even to stay at a nice B&B. They intended this only to reward each other afterwards. However they also became more relaxed during the visits and more positive towards their in-laws.

The Daily Telegraph

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