Falling in love with another person and forming a connection that your parents or partner’s parents disagree with can be highly disruptive for everyone involved. There’s been extensive research on how parents try to steer their child away from the partner they don’t approve of, as well as research on how children work to gain their parent’s approval. But until now, there’s been a gap in how the child’s partner manipulates parents to get on their good side. The new study, published in the journal Human Nature, outlines the tactics that work and the ones that tend to fail prospective son- and daughter-in-laws.

"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," said the study’s lead author Menelaos Apostolou, a social science professor at the University of Nicosia in a press release. "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 this three-part study, Apostolou and his team first asked 106 Greek-Cypriots to answer an open-ended questionnaire, which resulted in a total of 42 different ways that participants worked to gain approval from their partners’ parents. Signs of approval ranged from inviting their child’s boyfriend or girlfriend over for dinner to buying them gifts. Next, a second group of 738 participants was asked to indicate which tactics they used actually worked.

'I Am Right For Your Child'

The most popular tactics demonstrated ways in which the boyfriend or girlfriend fit into their partner’s life. This was followed by significant others proving they deserved to be with the parents’ child. The third most employed tactic involved partners trying to figure out why the parents didn’t like them and how they could address that specific concern.

The least common approach was one in which a boyfriend or girlfriend asked their partner to do the job for them by telling their parents they’re a good match. Other less popular approaches for the shunned significant other included telling the parents they’d have to accept the fact that they’re dating their daughter or son, or even going as far as to threaten the parents that they’ll never see their grandchildren.

After Aspostolou gathered this information, his next step was to test each tactic for effectiveness. To do this, the researchers questioned 414 parents to find out what could sway and alter their minds. They found the tactics used to demonstrate worth were most successful for proving worth,whereas the less popular, forceful acceptance approach were the least effective. Across the board, mothers were more easily influenced by persuasion tactics when compared to fathers.

So, why are prospective in-laws important? Because the relationship partners have with them can affect marriage success. According to a 2012 study that followed families for 26 years, researchers from the University of Michigan found that when husbands reported having a close relationship with their wife’s parents, their risk of divorce dropped by 20 percent. On the other hand, women who were close with their in-laws increased the risk of divorce by 20 percent. In a way, this suggests that it’s in the man’s best interest to focus on which tactics work because it’s the man’s relationship with the in-laws that affects marriage success.

"Women value a close relationship with their in-laws but may ultimately view them as meddling, while men are more interested in providing for their families, and take their in-laws' actions less personally," the study’s co-author Terri Orbuch, psychologist and research professor at the University of Michigan, told The Wall Street Journal in 2012. "Because relationships are so important to women, their identity as a wife and mother is central to their being. They interpret what their in-laws say and do as interference into their identity as a spouse and parent."

Source: Apostolou M. I Am Right for Your Child! Tactics for Manipulating Potential Parents In-Law. Human Nature. 2015.