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Is Having a Mother-in-Law From Hell the Norm? Not Necessarily

Is Having a Mother-in-Law From Hell the Norm? Not Necessarily

Ah, in-laws. There are so many popular references to monstrous in-laws. I can’t tell you how many “my mother-in-law is a nightmare” jokes I heard growing up.

Because of this, I grew up with the expectation that if I did eventually marry, my mother-in-law would be a royal pain in the neck.

Interestingly, this is not what happened. I’ve been married twice in my lifetime, and both times I had the joy of getting along swimmingly with my spouse’s mother. In fact, my current mother-in-law is one of my favorite people (she’s awesome). I’m arguably closer to her than I am to many people in my family of origin.

This led me to wonder: Is my situation unusual? Were all the jokes true? Do most other women war with their mothers-in-law? Did I just luck out? Twice?

It turns out that a new study has the answers to those questions.

Most Women Have Positive Relationships With Their Mother-in-Law

Researchers surveyed hundreds of women across the US about their relationships with their mother-in-law. In general, the researchers found that daughters-in-law (DIL) actually reported a positive relationship with their mother-in-law (MIL), at odds with cultural stereotypes.

Why MIL and DIL Don’t Get Along in Some Relationships

In this study, the researchers further focused on those women who reported a negative relationship with their mothers-in-law to see if they could find some potential contributing factors. The following correlations were noted in negative MIL-DIL relationships:

  1. DIL and MIL differed in their parenting philosophies.
  2. DIL reported not being able to speak directly with their MIL (suggesting that the spouse acted as a go-between).
  3. MIL interfered in DIL’s marriage.
  4. MIL had a closer relationship with another DIL or son-in-law than with the surveyed participant.
  5. MIL was emotionally withholding.
  6. MIL otherwise made DIL feel anxious.


It would appear that based on this study, it’s not all that unusual that I have had good relationships with my two mothers-in-law.

And honestly, looking back at the times when I chafed a bit with my first mother-in-law (who I got along well with but wasn’t as close to as my current MIL), I can see that it was whenever she was emotionally withholding or cold. Thankfully, this wasn’t a common phenomenon (which is why we generally had a positive relationship), but when it happened on occasion, I did feel the relationship strain. So I could absolutely see that if that were her norm that it would have made for a very negative relationship.


This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.

Featured Image: CC 0 – Pixabay