07/12/2014 20:44 GMT | Updated 20/05/2015 10:12 BST

In-Laws At Christmas: A Survival Guide

'Mature woman in Christmas costume, with bell.'

Mothers-in-law have been doing Christmas a lot longer than you have, they know how to do it properly and they are often keen to provide handy tips throughout the holiday season. Meanwhile, fathers-in-law are often happy to get comfy in their son-in-law's armchair, reading their son-in-law's paper, drinking their son-in-law's wine with a beaming grin that says, "I don't have any responsibilities, any jobs to do or any small children or teenagers to tend to."

It's a stereotype, of course, but surviving the in-laws at Christmas – even the nice ones – can be a real struggle. Here's our guide to getting through it and staying sane.

They criticise the way you are with the children... the state of the house... the consistency of the gravy....

Upon seeing your Christmas table, there's every chance your mother-in-law will comment that without the right glasses/napkins etc, you might as well not celebrate Christmas at all. This may be because she's noticed you're not using her Christmas present from last year - a stylish set of cut-glass wine glasses or serviettes which you sold at a car boot sale back in the summer. Or it may be because she feels pushed out and vulnerable in her relationship with her son, who now has new priorities.

Don't take it personally, otherwise you'll end up feeling sad and/or cross. Critical people want recognition and a reaction. But this is about them not you. Keep a warm and cheery outward manner and agree where possible as it really throws them.
"Yes I think I could do the potatoes better – I'm more of a carrots woman!"
"Yes, I know the house is a bit of a tip – if only I had a cleaner."

If this tactic fails and you can stand it no more, talk to them calmly and directly about it before their visit and be sure to balance what you say with lots of positives.

"Or make a pact with yourself to go for a breather when it all gets too much," says clinical psychologist Helen Nightingale. "Have a whole set of excuses on the tip of your tongue – that you need to walk the dog, make a work call or nip and get some milk, for instance. Above all, remember this is only temporary."

Golden rule: Never snap back because they'll know exactly how to push your buttons next time and a happy Christmas can be undone in seconds if a family argument breaks out.
You have nothing in common

Struggle to find anything at all in common with your in-laws, who are not only stuck in their ways, but 100Slideshow-247842%