Generally speaking, the divorce rate is lower for people who have good relationships with their in-laws. However, the sad reality is that the majority of husbands and wives do not.
For the most part, it’s the daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law who take issue with one another. According to a study conducted by Terri Apter, a psychologist at Cambridge University, 60 percent of daughters-in-law report having a stressful relationship with their mother-in-law, but only 15 percent of sons-in-law do. The primary reason: mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law feel a need to compete.
Let’s break it down. A mother gives birth to her son and puts all her energy into raising and caring for him. Then, this other woman comes along and takes him away after only knowing him for maybe two or three years. This is what sets the stage for the competition between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law.
My first rule for all you daughters-in-law out there is to stop being so prickly and try to look at things from your mother-in-law’s point of view. I recently had a caller on my program who felt insulted because her live-in mother-in-law was constantly cleaning her house for her. From the mother-in-law’s perspective, she was simply trying to have a purpose – instead of sitting around watching TV all day, she wanted to do something. However, the caller interpreted her cleaning as a hint that she couldn’t take care of her own house. I advised the caller not to confront her mother-in-law, which would only make her upset. I told her instead to think about things from her mother-in-law’s perspective: How was she feeling? What did she need?
Another piece of advice: Don’t sweat the small stuff. People say and do things all the time that they may not intend to be hurtful. Be able to stand back and ask, “Does this person really want to hurt or harm me in some way, or are they just being a little assertive, overbearing, or excited?”
Next, always try to avoid the criticism or insult. Listening will win you more points than arguing.
In addition, remember that everyone likes to feel appreciated. Find ways to show your in-laws respect. Take your mother-in-law out to lunch for her birthday, or remember to send a card and/or flowers on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day.
Finally, don’t always think of your in-laws as “the in-laws.” They can certainly be your friends and mentors. Try to get involved with something they enjoy, like gardening or golf. At the very least, sharing a common interest with them will give you something to talk about during family dinners and holidays.
Now, there is a caveat to all of this. Some people simply have mean and nasty parents. If that’s the case, you can expect that no matter how hard you try, they will create stress for you and your spouse. Don’t let them. Husbands and wives need to watch each other’s backs. Mark my words, if you side with your parents against your spouse, it’ll be “The End.” If her mother is being a pain, then she should talk to her. If his mother is being a pain, then he should talk to her. Don’t allow them to tear your marriage apart.