»Here’s a dangerous debate you may have found yourself engaged in after a weekend of turkey and togetherness: Whose parents—yours or your spouse’s—are more difficult?
If you have prickly relations with your in-laws, whether you are a husband or a wife, new research offers some surprising insights into the risks and benefits of maintaining your distance from your spouse’s parents.
One finding of a 26-year longitudinal study of married couples is that marriages in which the husband reports feeling close to his in-laws are more likely to last for the long haul. “These ties connect the husband to the wife,” says Terri Orbuch, a psychologist and research professor at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research. “They say, ‘Your family relationships are important to me because you are important to me. I want to feel closer to them because it makes me feel closer to you.'”
Dr. Orbuch, with funding from the National Institutes of Health, is studying 373 same-race couples who were between the ages of 25 and 37 and in their first year of marriage when the study began in 1986. Dr. Orbuch asked the newlyweds each to rate, on a scale of one to four, how close they felt to their in-laws. She has followed them over time to collect data, including whether they remained married. The results will be published in a coming issue of the journal Family Relations.
In couples where the husband initially reported being close to his wife’s parents, the risk of divorce over the next 16 years was 20% lower than for the group overall. Yet when the wife reported being close to her in-laws, that seemed to have the opposite effect: The risk of divorce with these couples was 20% higher.
Dr. Orbuch has a possible explanation: The wife who feels close with her husband’s parents may find it difficult to set boundaries and over time may come to see their close relationship with her as meddling. “Because relationships are so important to women, their identity as a wife and mother is central to their being,” says Dr. Orbuch, author of the 2012 book “Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship.” “They interpret what their in-laws say and do as interference into their identity as a spouse and parent.”
Men, for the most part, don’t have this problem. Their identity as a father and a husband is often secondary to their identity as a provider, Dr. Orbuch says. As a result, they don’t tend to take what their in-laws do so personally.
The research suggests two sets of advice for parents. For parents of a son, if you think you are close enough with your daughter-in-law to offer her advice on parenting or other important topics, think again. For parents of a daughter, make an effort to show your son-in-law that you consider him to be part of the family. […]
Want to improve in-law relations in your family? Here are some tips from Dr. Orbuch.
If you are a parent of a daughter, be open to bonding with your son-in-law. You are probably from different generations and backgrounds, but you can still find common ground. It will make your daughter happy to see this man is a cherished member of her family. Be practical, though. A father- and son-in-law will rarely be as tightknit as a father and son.
Parents of a son, tread carefully. Your daughter-in-law is probably more sensitive to meddling than a son-in-law would be. She may perceive interference when none was intended. Or maybe you were intruding a bit.
If you are a wife, be aware of the need to maintain boundaries with your in-laws—especially when sharing details about your marriage, parenting decisions or personal issues. Reassure your in-laws that you want a close and loving relationship, but learn to say no. If conflict arises, ask your husband for help settling it.
If you are a husband, treat your in-laws as special and important. Remember that when you care for them, your wife feels you are caring for her.»
E pronto, para mim – mãe de dois pequenos rapazes – fica já a advertência para o futuro: dar poucos conselhos e respeitar a distância das minhas futuras daughters-in-law. Nada que o bom-senso não sugerisse já.