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Should You Embrace Your In-Laws or Avoid Them?

Family walking down hill

According to results of a recent study, spouses should tread lightly when forming bonds with in-laws. Terri Orbuch, a professor and psychologist at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, recently spoke about the findings of a study she has been conducting that spans more than 25 years. Orbuch originally interviewed 373 newlywed couples in 1986 and has been following them to assess their relationships. One of the factors she has examined is the dynamic of the in-law relationship. Orbuch found that the husbands who had close relationships with their in-laws were 20% less likely to divorce than those who had strained in-law bonds. However, this type of intimate family tie did not have the same effect for wives. In fact, wives who were very close to in-laws were more likely to divorce than those who kept their distance.

These results seem to fly in the face of conventional wisdom. One would think family harmony and close bonds would strengthen a marital relationship. But Orbuch believes these findings are not all that surprising. Men, she says, see their primary role as provider, not husband, son, or father. Women, on the other hand, may have difficulty distinguishing between in-law closeness and meddling. “They interpret what their in-laws say and do as interference into their identity as a spouse and parent,” Orbuch said.

The data from this study shouldn’t scare wives into running as fast and as far away as they can from their husbands’ families. It should, however, provide some guidance into navigating delicate in-law relationships. Orbuch suggests that parents should embrace sons- and daughters-in-law but remember that daughters-in-law may be more sensitive to advice and input. Orbuch also recommends that husbands treat their wives’ family members as they would treat their wives—with love and respect. Wives should do the same, but should also set clear boundaries when it comes to issues related to the marriage, personal problems, or parenting. This will allow in-laws to maintain a level of involvement without imposing on the relationship.

Bernstein, Elizabeth. The power of the son-in-law. The Wall Street Journal. N.p., 26 Nov. 2012. Web. 28 Nov. 2012. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323713104578137222992767676.html

© Copyright 2012 by www.GoodTherapy.org Santa Rosa Bureau - All Rights Reserved.

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  • Barbara December 7th, 2012 at 12:16 PM #1

    If there is something I have learnt from all these years of being married, it is that it is always a good idea to maintain a healthy but not-to-close relationship with the in-laws.Best to avoid being hostile and cut of but even getting too close can create fiction and the best way would be to tread the middle path of being courteous and respectful but not too interfering.

  • AmyH December 8th, 2012 at 4:27 AM #2

    There have been times in my marriage when I have gone both ways. I started out trying to make them really like and love me, but when I felt like that didn’t work then I avoided them all together. I guess over the past few years I have found more of a balance with them, which allows me to spend time with them in a friendly way when I have to to, but not going out of my way to try to be another daughter to them. I don’t think that they really wanted that, and personally I ddin’t really want that either.

  • benjamin December 8th, 2012 at 11:40 AM #3

    I didn’t get married expecting my parents and wife to become best friends, but I also thought that they would have a better relationship with each other than what they do. Sometimes it is as if they don’t even want to be in the same room with each other and I really do wish that all of them would grow up a little and be more civil with each other.

  • Lila December 9th, 2012 at 3:58 PM #4

    Good grief, can’t we all just get along?! I don’t want them breathing down my neck but at the same time I don’t want to feel like I have to head in the other direction just because they’re coming over either. Know what I think? I think that many people just automatically assume that these are people that they will not get along with so they do everything that they can to make this into their reality. The gfact of the matter is that most people are actually cordial and kind to their in laws and get along just fine, but it’s the bad cases that make all the headlines and that’s what we think that most of the relationships are actually like.

  • Dwayne December 9th, 2012 at 9:30 PM #5

    This is probably a question most of us will never get a definitive answer to.I don’t know what it is about this relationship but in laws are almost always those magnets that go repel no matter how you place them!

  • Nancy December 10th, 2012 at 1:26 AM #6

    I have never had a major falling out with my in-laws. My mother-in-law has royally ticked me off before, but we’ve always made up in the end. Or, well, I guess enough time as gone by that we are both able to let go of whatever got us going. I think at the bottom of it all, I am grateful to my mother-in-law for raising my husband to be the man he is today. And, I think she is grateful to me for making him happy and raising two great kids.

  • Mary Anne December 10th, 2012 at 1:28 AM #7

    Nancy, you are lucky my mother in law was out to get me from the start. i dont no how my husband wput up w/ her all that time. he is a saint as far as im concerned.

  • jason bennett December 10th, 2012 at 4:07 AM #8

    Guess I am lucky that my wife and I both have pretty good relationships with one another’s parents. We have all known each other for a long time so I can see how this aspect would help. But we have always tried to have an open mind and be pleasant with them even when there of course have been times when we didn’t necessarily want to. It is just so much easier to be civil than it is to be mean and carry around anger for no good reason.

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