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How to Be the Best Son-In-Law You Can Be

A little bit of effort goes a long way.

Establishing a good relationship with your in-laws can be one of the key factors in maintaining a happy marriage  Statistics have shown that, in marriages where the husband has a close relationship with his wife’s parents, the risk of divorce decreased by 20 percent. So, it’s a pretty good idea to make sure that you’ve got your relationship with your in-laws on lockdown. The catch is, even if you have a decent bond with your wife’s mom and dad, there’s always something you could be doing better. So, how do you step up your son-in-law game? It’s all about the little gestures and, within reason, taking their feelings into account. Here are a few ways to do just that.

Take an Interest in Their History

Every family is a tribe with their own values, traditions, and history. It pays to be interested in all of them, but especially the latter. No, you probably don’t want to ask about That One Cousin they never speak of who maybe, definitely did that thing the papers said he did. But you do want to ask about that deli Nana owned or how great Uncle Gus helped build the Erie Canal. Taking a curiosity about family history shows that you’re interested in where they came from and proves that you want to fit in more. Chances are, you’ll stumble upon something great. Just not Gus’ arrest records.

Be of Use

If you’re at your in-laws’ house and it’s not the hour after Thanksgiving when everyone is so stuffed that they just sit around and act like they’re really invested in the Lions game, chances are laying on the couch with your feet up is not a good look. No, you don’t want to be needy and have your in-laws create jobs for you. But, there are probably errands that can be done, plates to be put away, stories that can be told, games that can be organized. This is to say: you want to play an active, not passive, role when you’re spending time with them. Otherwise, they’ll perceive you as someone who puts in no effort around the house.

Balance Their Traditions

Maybe you and your wife live in a different state than her folks, but her folks are really big we-need-the-family-together-for-the-holidays people. Or maybe your father-in-law is really keen on the whole family being there for his Memorial Day pig roast. And now that you’re a dad, you’d prefer to fire up your own grill or spend a quiet Christmas morning with your kids. How can you navigate these issues without stepping on anyone’s toes? You have to be tactful and considerate. Can you alternate holidays? Maybe having one year at home and then visit her parents’ house the following year? Or would her dad be willing to slide the father’s day BBQ up a day or even a week? If you let them know that observing their traditions is just as important as creating your own, that will go a long way to making the in-law connection even stronger.

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Set Firm Boundaries

The first time you meet your in-laws, you have a singular goal: impress them. They are the gatekeepers, after all, the ones through whom you must pass to have a happily ever after with their child. So you go out of your way to be accommodating. But, especially after kids come into the picture, you must shift to the gatekeeper. It is your responsibility to maintain balance in your family and, because you may have been a tad too accommodating before, your in-laws can be a bit overbearing. The key, then, is to set boundaries early to make sure everyone is on the same page and that your in-laws don’t get their feelings hurt down the line.

Be Generous

No, you don’t need to send your in-laws one of those jumbo tins of popcorn every month. But you should think of ways to be more generous with your inclusion of them (within reason). If your child has a game, a recital or a school activity, make sure they’re invited. Even if they can’t attend, the simple act of letting them know they’re being thought of will carry a lot of weight. Additionally, find ways to pitch in and give them a hand. If your in-laws live close by, drop in and offer to help with a household task that they have been meaning to get to. If you notice that their lawn is getting a little unruly during a visit, stop by and offer to mow it for them. Random acts of kindness and thoughtfulness build a lot of equity in your relationship.

Make Their Impact Obvious

Most grandparents love to dote on their grandchildren. They send toys. They send outfits. They send other stuff because ‘oh look how cute it is!’ And as you’re in-laws are human beings, they’ll like to know that their small gestures are recognized. So it’s important, then, to send back a photo of your kid wearing said outfit (even if you hate it) or playing with said toy (even if your kid only looked at it for four minutes and went to do something else). This will make them happy — and, more importantly, give them a steady stream of new photos to show friends, coworkers, and, let’s face it, everyone they come in contact with and immediately flash photos of their adorable grandkids.

Ask For Their Advice

Both mothers and fathers-in-law are fountains of advice, suggestions and guidance, a lot of it unprompted. It’s easy to tune them out or to even be irritated by the seemingly constant stream of counsel, but a better course of action is to flip the script and actually ask for their opinion. A couple I know recently bought a house that needed a great deal of TLC. The wife’s father had spent years doing handiwork around his own house, but hadn’t had a project to keep him busy in a while. The husband called him up and invited him to come over and tackle some of the work with him. Not only did the father appreciate being asked, but working together also ended up creating some invaluable bonding time. These moments are important. They don’t make themselves.

Choose Your Words Wisely

Knowing what to say is important, but knowing what not to say is just as vital. That is to say, it’s important to be sensitive and aware of what your in-laws are thinking and feeling. If you disagree with your family’s politics, you don’t have to keep it quiet, but you don’t always have to mount a rigorous defense during every dinner. Focus on other things, other interests that you know they’ll want to discuss. If you can even make enough conversation to get by for the night, you’ll score big points, both with him and with your partner as well.

Be Good to Their Daughter

This may sound obvious — and it is. But the simplest thing you can do to be a great son-in-law is to be a great husband and father. Above all else, most in-laws want to know that their child is happy and healthy and growing in a marriage. So, when you’re around them, be sure to demonstrate how strong your relationship is. A lot of sons-in-law, whether because they don’t want to step on any toes or because they think a visit to the in-laws is a day-off, tend to recede to the background when with their wife’s family. Don’t do that. Be present. Be affectionate. Be helpful. Be encouraging. Be jokey. In other words: Be your best self around them. Prove to them that their daughter made the right choice.