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Surviving The In-Laws

As any married person knows, a marriage means committing to not one other person, but to an entire second family.

Susan Ungaro, Editor-in-Chief of Family Circle, says relationships with in-laws can be rewarding -- and a big headache. She visited The Early Show with tips on being a good in-law.

Ungaro says most people see in-laws at least once a month, but those relationships are often tense. A Family Circle poll found that mother-in-laws are commonly the least favorite in-law, followed by sister-in-laws.

Why are these relationships notoriously negative? According to Ungaro, most of us fall in love with someone who is our opposite. That means this person's family is typically very different as well, and adjusting to those differences is not easy. Yet, she says your spouse's family is going to be a constant in your life, so you need to find a way to make things bearable.

Whose responsibility is it to make things work? In a perfect world, Ungaro says the older couple would be wise and pave the way. However, nine times out of ten, it's going to be the new husband or wife who needs to play nice and make good.

Ungaro gave some common dos and don'ts for being a good in-law:

Don't Make Love a Contest

Ungaro says when sons, daughters, moms, dads, husbands and wives are asked to choose between parent and partner, it's going to get ugly. Unfortunately, this happens a lot, and Ungaro says it's the biggest cause of tension in the in-law relationship.

The message here is "If you really loved me, you would spend less time with them." Ungaro says partners need to support how much time their spouse wants to spend with family, and family members need to support a son/brother's or daughter/sister's marriage. Family Circle points out: "Loyalty tests are dangerous. Someone always gets hurt."

Do Zip Your Lip

Ungaro suggests to avoid complaining to your son that his wife's house is a mess, or complaining to your husband that his brother is lazy. It may not be easy, but according to her you have to swallow those criticisms. Ungaro says keeping good relations is more important than expressing your opinions.

But what if the younger couple asks for advice? Ungaro still recommends not offering up an opinion. It's fine to be a sympathetic listener and ask questions that might help lead to an answer such as "What have you done so far?" or "Do the two of you agree on the goal?" Whatever you do, she says never take sides in an argument between husband and wife. Eventually the argument will end, but your words may be remembered.

Don't Keep a Time Log

Balancing time between families is hard for new couples, and it becomes even more difficult once the grandkids arrive. It doesn't help for mother or father in-laws to keep a time log of which in-law family gets the most visits. Instead, Ungaro says get creative. Plan a fun event and set aside special time for family. For instance, start a tradition of taking a family vacation over Labor Day weekend or going out for pancakes one Saturday a month.

This is a particularly sensitive issue around the holidays. Ungaro says don't expect or demand equal time. She suggests to focus on enjoying the time you do have together. Holidays are about joy, not stress. She says getting worked up about this probably won't change much. It will only make you and your adult children upset.

However, if as a husband or wife you feel that your family is getting the short end of the stick, you need to speak up and work to divide your time more equally, Ungaro says.

Do Mind Phone Manners

This is a little thing that makes a big difference according to Ungaro. When a mother calls and the daughter-in-law answers, both women need to take five minutes and talk to each other instead of immediately asking for the husband or immediately handing over the phone to the husband. Believe it or not, Ungaro says, many women fail to do this. It won't kill you to spend a few minutes chatting, and making a point to show some interest in each other is quite symbolic of your relationship.

If you did get off to bad start, Ungaro says it's never too late to mend broken fences. Usually just admitting that you got off to a bad start and would like to be closer makes a difference. So start there and then keep the above dos and don'ts in mind.