You don’t choose your in-laws. You choose your spouse and then you learn that it’s a package deal – the in-laws are included in the transaction!

Because your in-laws are part of your life for the foreseeable future, it’s a good idea to learn how to get along with them. Here are six tips for building strong relationships with your spouse’s family members.

  1. Manage your expectations. Accept the fact that you may not feel close to them at the start. To expect that you would immediately develop affection for people you’ve just met is simply unrealistic. Spend time getting to know them and hope that, over time, the relationships will deepen and strengthen.
  2. Don’t expect that their family relationships – parent to children, sibling to sibling – will match those in your own family. They have their own family history, influenced by particular joys and sorrows that have shaped how they relate to one another. Observe their interactions and learn about their unique family dynamics.
  3. Avoid criticizing. This is the obvious advice, but it’s the advice that is often most difficult to follow! Not only should you not speak critically to your in-laws, you should also try to avoid saying negative things to your partner about his or her family (unless there’s a clear problem to resolve). Continually trashing your spouse’s family will eventually create animosity between the two of you.
  4. Don’t raise controversial topics. If you know that your father-in-law is a strong supporter of one political party, it’s unwise to say nasty things about that party’s leader! Instead, raise a topic that the two of you agree about, like a sports team that you both follow.
  5. Learn about each person. When the opportunity arises during family gatherings, ask your brother-in-law, sister-in-law, or even cousin-in-law about their life and experiences, their likes and dislikes. Probably you’ll find that you have something in common with each person.
  6. Give thoughtful gifts. Using information passed on by your spouse as well as tidbits you’ve learned first-hand (see the previous point), purchase meaningful gifts for each person for birthdays and Christmas. When your in-laws see that you’ve gone to the trouble of finding something that is individualized, they’ll be touched.

Getting along with your partner’s family members can be a challenge. Nevertheless, all the effort that you put into building good relationships with them is worthwhile. Good relations with your in-laws prevent unnecessary misunderstandings and strengthen your relationship with your spouse.