The (Science-Backed) Way to Win Over Your In-Laws

A new study reveals the most well-received tactics. 

couple-mother-in-law
Photo by George Doyle/Getty Images

Meeting your partner’s parents can be nerve-wracking and awkward. Do you flaunt your best qualities or shower them with gifts? Should you ask your partner to talk you up beforehand? According to a new study, some tactics are more successful than others when it comes to winning over the in-laws—and showing you're right for their child could be the best approach.

The three-part study, which is published in the journal Human Nature, identified the seven most popular manipulation tactics, finding that individuals are good at determining which approach will work, and that mothers are more likely to be influenced than fathers. 

"Parents do not always find their children's mate choices to comply with their own preferences and engage in manipulation in order to drive away undesirable boyfriends and girlfriends," Menelaos Apostolou, lead researcher of the study, said in a statement. "To avoid this situation, individuals engage in counter manipulation in order to change their prospective parents-in-law's minds to accept them as mates for their children.”

In the first part of the study, more than 100 Greek-Cypriots were asked to consider a scenario in which their in-laws' parents did not approve of them. They were then asked to list at least five acts they would engage in to change their in-laws’ minds, and the researchers compiled their answers into 41 distinct acts.

In part two, more than 700 Greek-Cypriots were asked to rate the likelihood of using the acts on a 5-point scale. The researchers then classified the acts into seven manipulation tactics and identified the ones most likely to be used. 

The most popular tactic was the "I am right for your child" approach, in which individuals attempt to prove to their in-laws how good of a fit they make as partners. Following this came the "I do not deserve this" tactic, in which individuals tell their in-laws that they do not deserve rejection—and often ask their partner to interfere and help. 

How well these tactics work on parents was considered in the third part of the study, in which more than 400 Greek-Cypriots were asked to rate the likelihood that the acts would influence them. 

The "I am right for your child" and the "no confrontation" tactic, in which individuals avoid further disagreement by ignoring negative comments, were the most likely to persuade parents. The least successful techniques? The "approach" tactic, in which individuals buy the parents dinner, and the "tell them I am good" tactic, in which the partners were asked to do the convincing.

One limitation of the findings? Because the study was performed in Greece, it may not apply to other cultural settings.