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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Books by Page Turner:

Dealing with Difficult Metamours

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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