Getting on badly with your mother-in-law could actually be good news for your marriage, researchers say.
According to a new study, women who enjoy a positive relationship with their in-laws actually have a 20 percent greater chance of separating.
Dr Terri Orbuch, a psychologist and research professor at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research studied 373 same-race couples over 26 years to come up with the findings.
She believes there are two explanations for this.
“When a wife gets close to her in-laws, this takes time away from bonding with her husband and family, especially early in marriage,” the Sydney Morning Herald quoted her as saying.
“When a wife gets close to her in-laws, she has a difficult time not taking what her in-laws say as personal or interference. In contrast, marriages in which husbands have a close relationship with in-laws are 20 per cent less likely to end in divorce. These family ties connect him to his wife,” Orbuch said.
So what should you do if relations between you and your mother-in-law are so tense that they threaten to derail not just Christmas but your own sanity?
“My best advice is to address the fears that underlie the problems,” Dr Terri Apter from Newnham College, Cambridge, said/
“The key is to turn competition into collaboration. It’s much easier to set boundaries between you and your in-laws if you have also established connections. It’s easier to hear, ‘That’s not a good time to visit’ or ‘We’re going to make this decision ourselves’ if you’re not afraid of being totally cut off,” Apter said.
According to Orbuch, it is important to have realistic expectations.
“Don’t try and change her or expect that this year things will be different. They won’t. Instead find some common ground between you and her. Try and remember that comments your mother-in-law might make about your parenting style, marriage or work are not about you, and all about them,” she said.
“Usually, the most prickly issues across families are about who will have the most influence,” she said.
If there is still too much conflict and tension, she suggests that you ask your spouse for help, to which Apter agrees.
“Get your spouse on side. The man’s role is crucial,” Apter said.
“He can head off problems if he reassures his parents that they are still an important part of his life, that he still feels connected to them, still loves and respects them, while at the same time showing them that his primary connection is now with his wife,” she added.
The study will be published in the journal Family Relations.