Blood is thicker than water. Trust me, it is. Even if you've sworn allegiance to your partner 'til death do part you, make no mistake — family will ALWAYS trump your romantic relationship, no matter how sound. Even when said family is estranged or annoying or downright abusive, the ties that bind weigh heavier than the old ball and chain.

Even if you (like me) are that rare creature blessed with kindly in-laws, consider these cardinal rules for keeping the in-laws sweet:

Pick Your Battles

Unless it directly involves you or your children, don't, I repeat, don't get involved. Your partner is old enough to fight his own fights. In wartimes you'd be wise to stay neutral. Once peacetime rolls around, family members may forgive each other's trespasses, but they're unlikely to forget the role you (aka the outsider) played.

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Ok, so maybe fond is a stretch. Yet all relationships are richer at a distance, when we are given time to mull over the miles and actually miss someone. If you are lucky, there is a buffer of at least a city or two between you and your in-laws. Visits are sporadic and tolerable, if only for their infrequency. If you are unlucky, your outlaws live a block away. By all means, be a diplomat about it, but establish clear ground rules early on. There will be no dropping by unannounced, for instance.

Bite Your Tongue… Hard

Your sister-in-law may be a royal biatch and your nephew-in-law a good-for-naught freeloader. Your partner may say as much in so many choice words, but under no circumstances are you entitled to agree with him. The minute you insult the family, sit back and watch the hackles rise. Even relatives who seem to outwardly loathe each other will perversely rush to one another's defense when the heat is on.

A Little Respect Goes a Long Way

In trying times, look for the silver lining. Elder in-laws who may seem mulish and backwards, even bigoted, helped raise and shape the partner you know and adore. There must be some redeeming quality shrouded in all that irritation and interference.

The converse is equally true. We may not choose our families. However, we do choose our life partners, and usually for good reason. So dust off your preconceptions and take a fresh look. Without those pesky in-laws, you wouldn't have the precious family you have today.

No matter how you feel about your in-laws, kids benefit from close contact with an extended family, and they learn a great deal from the rich tapestry of personalities in each family. Don't rob them of this valuable contact. In time they'll be free to make up their own minds about dear Aunty Edna. But for now it's up to you to keep those family ties intact.

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