It is often said that when you get married, you are not just marrying your spouse but, rather, that you are also marrying his/her family. Depending on how close your spouse is with his/her family, this could mean spending holidays together, traveling to see them regularly, and/or having various family members “pop in” at your house whether or not you are expecting them. For spouses who are both close with their families, having to split or share holidays and other events can be difficult. Conversely, for people who are not particularly close to their own family, adding this new dimension of “familial closeness” can be uncomfortable, especially at first.
Whatever you relationship with your own family, when you get married you will forge new relationships with your spouse’s family. A study by the University of Michigan looked at the relationships between husbands and wives and their in-laws, and how the nature of the relationship impacted marital success. In-Laws And Marriage Study: Son-In-Law Key To Lasting Marriage, The Huffington Post, November 27, 2012. The study followed 373 couples over 26 years, beginning in their first year of marriage. The findings are interesting: When a husband had a close relationship with his wife’s parents, the couple’s risk of divorce decreased by 20%. However, when a wife had a close relationship with her husband’s parents, the couple’s risk of divorce actually increased by 20%.
Terri Orbuch, the research professor who conducted the study, stated that she thinks the findings “are due to the different ways husbands and wives approach their relationships with their in-laws.” Women may want a close relationship, but may view the in-laws as meddling. Thus, if a woman is close to her mother-in-law, and her mother-in-law offers unsolicited advice on a subject, the woman may see it as meddling, whether or not the mother-in-law intended it as such. A strained relationship between wife and in-laws could cause a rift between husband and wife.
Men, on the other hand, don’t take what their in-laws say and do as personally as women might, so they are less likely to be offended. In addition, seeing her husband bond with her parents may make a wife feel that her husband cares about her that much more to work on having a close relationship with her parents.
Relationships with in-laws can be complicated and, as this study points out, can have an impact on marital success. All you can do is have open and honest communication with your spouse about any issues that come up, and make a pact to put the relationship with each other above the relationships with the in-laws.