A Close Relationship With Your In-Laws is Good For Your Marriage…Or Is It?

A 26 year long marriage study by the University of Michigan uncovered some very interesting and surprising facts about the impact that each spouse’s relationship with the in-laws had on that couple’s likelihood of divorce.  This was first reported in the Wall Street Journal.

Impact of Husband’s Relationship with In-Laws

As one might expect, a close relationship between husband and his in-laws (the wife’s parents) was beneficial. The divorce rate for couples in this scenario was 20% lower as compared to couples where the husband did not have an especially close relationship with the in-laws. Not especially surprising and one would likely assume this to be the case.  It makes sense that couples with close extended families would be happy, better-functioning, and have less likelihood of divorce.  I’m picturing a Norman Rockwell painting with a large extended family all having a happy meal together.

Impact of Wife’s Relationship with In-Laws

Now let’s consider the other side of the coin.  If the wife had a close relationship with her in-laws (husband’s parents) this would logically yield the same result – less likelihood of divorce, right?

Not so fast, according to this study.  Couples where the wife had a close relationship with the in-laws actually had a 20% higher incidence of divorce!

Why Such Different Results?

According to the researchers, the reason for the disparity between the genders is clear.   Most husbands do not consider their role as husband and parent as their primary role.  They identify themselves more as a provider and deep-down see their roles as husband and parent as secondary to that.  Thus, when the in-law offers some suggestion (read: criticism) of how to handle the children or take care of their house, they do not take it as personally as they would if they viewed their primary role as caretaker.

Women on the other hand, according to the study’s authors, nearly always see their primary role as wife and mother, even if they have a very successful career.  So when the grandparents offer their input (read: criticism) of some child-rearing issue, the wife is often very offended and feels as though the in-laws are overstepping their bounds.

Interesting findings, to be sure.  I have had many, many cases where my client listed “meddling, trouble-making in-laws” as one of the primary issues in the marriage that led to divorce.  Anecdotally, these clients have almost all been female.

Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below, whether you agree or disagree with the study’s findings and any personal experiences you have had with in-laws and your marriage.

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Scott Morgan is Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He has practiced family law since 1994 and is the founder of the Morgan Law Firm which is dedicated exclusively to representing divorce and family law clients in the Houston and Austin areas.

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