How is your relationship with your mother-in-law?

Tension and conflict are common in families, however, of all the members a family, the mother-in-law seems to be the cause or is often blamed. The majority of complaints come from the daughter-in-law rather than the son-in-law, although he also complains.

T Apter in ‘Psychology Today,’ explores in-law conflict and troubled marriages. Her research indicated that most men chose to protect their mothers against their wives. The husbands said that they saw wives as stronger, tougher and therefore the ones to make allowances, so they say, “That’s just the way my mother is, you have to accept it.” The wife feels betrayed by this declaration and questions whose side is he on. The husband feels helpless to negotiate between two competing loyalties, and lashes out at his wife for placing him in such a difficult dilemma.

When faced with a loyalty dilemma, the man may withdraw, stop talking, start drinking, or comment about the differences in his wife’s family norms and values as compared to his.

Common emotional statements include, “My mother does not mean any harm. You don’t know what my mother went through raising me up. That’s how she is. Stop talking ill about my mother. My mother is old. You just have to put up with her,” and so forth. The wife realizes that her husband trivializes and defends his mother’s criticism and behavior. The wife’s feelings are ignored and don’t matter. This serves to increase the tension between them and erodes the marriage.

In order to avoid conflict, men need to negotiate boundaries with their mothers once they marry. Men make the mistake of leaving this task to the women. When his wife draws the line with his mother, she is perceived to be controlling, domineering, and a ‘know it all’. On the other hand, a son’s comments are more easily accepted.

Another way to avoid conflict is to resist becoming defensive of your own family when they are wrong. Also avoid causing a distraction by pointing out a similar trespass in your partner’s family. Two wrongs are worse.

Once you marry, you need to leave your family biases aside and to be fair in dealing with areas of disagreement. Don’t let conflict make you disregard areas of commonality and the positive aspects of your partner’s family.


Dr Guru Kistnasamy

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