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Study Reveals A Possible Key To Winning Over Future In-Laws

Last updated Oct. 19, 2015

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD, MPH

"Understanding this manipulation is necessary for understanding family dynamics and mate choice. However, this domain of inquiry is not well researched, and this study has contributed to closing part of the gap in our knowledge, but more research is required in order to gain a better understanding of the phenomenon.”


In a three-part survey involving over 1,200 participants, a research article looks into the manipulation tactics employed by men and women to successfully convince their future in-laws that they were the right match for their child. The study suggests that to show “I’m a good influence on your child” is key to winning approval of the in-laws.

When looking for a mate, many individuals are faced with a dilemma of being disliked by the prospective parents-in-law. The differences of opinion could arise due to looks, personality, family background, and religious beliefs. This makes the selection of a mate a tricky process. On the one hand, a person is bound by his or her beliefs. On the other, not all desired traits might be found in the prospective partner. For example, if the priority is to go for good looks, then he or she might have to compromise on other desirable traits. Conflict arises when the parents-in-law desire a trait separate from their offspring in their son- or daughter-in-law and in many instances, the children’s choice does not appeal to parents.

The participants in each study were adult Greek-Cypriots, with more or less comparable gender composition in each study. The research being discussed here was divided into three studies with the following aims:

Study1: To understand what people do to manipulate their prospective parents-in-law.

Scenario: Prospective parents-in-law disliked the participants.

Task: The 106 participants were asked five specific things each would do to impress their prospective in-laws. The participants listed tactics, such as buying gifts, taking the prospective in-laws for dinner, and confronting them.

Study 2: To classify the 41 acts defined in Study 1 into broader manipulation tactics.

Scenario: Prospective parents-in-law disliked the participants.

Task: The 738 participants were asked about the likelihood of their choosing one of the 41 tactics identified in Study 1.

Study 3: To identify how well the tactics worked in future parents-in-law.

Scenario: The 404 participants, who at least had one child, were told that their child was dating someone they do not approve.

Task: The parents had to rate the likelihood of how each of the 41 tactics identified in Study 1 would influence them.

The results show that:

  • The most common tactics employed to woo the prospective parents-in-law, in order of likelihood, were:
    • I am right for your child (I will be a good influence on your child).
    • I don’t deserve this.
    • Why don’t you like me?
    • No confrontation.
    • You have to accept the situation.
    • Approach (where one tries to give gifts and offer dinners).
    • Tell them I am good.
  • The tactics of “I am right for your child” and “No confrontation” were the most preferred by the parents.
  • The “Approach” and “Tell them I am good” tactics were least favored by parents.
  • Mothers were thought to be more impressionable than fathers.

In essence, parents prefer a son- or daughter-in-law whom they think would be a good influence on their child. Mothers appear more swayed by the tactics than fathers when it comes to the selection of a spouse for their children.

The study completely depended on “self-reporting” by the participants, which limits the scope of the study, as does the surveys having been conducted in a single culture (Greek-Cypriots).

In the words of the author, “…the reproductive stakes are high in the choice of a partner, and considerable manipulation is likely to arise between the parties involved. Understanding this manipulation is necessary for understanding family dynamics and mate choice. However, this domain of inquiry is not well researched, and this study has contributed to closing part of the gap in our knowledge, but more research is required in order to gain a better understanding of the phenomenon.”

Written by Mangala Sarkar, Ph.D.

References and Information Sources used for the Article:


Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Oct. 19, 2015
Last updated: Oct. 19, 2015