You don’t have to be crazy about your mother-in-law. But studies suggest that a rocky relationship between parents and grandparents, regardless of who is to blame, leads to children losing out on potentially valuable relationships. Fortunately, there are ways to nip bad relationships with in-laws in the bud. For example, you should steer conversations away from family drama and minimize personal attacks against both members of the family and outsiders. Still, getting along with your partners’ parents is invariably difficult and at times impossible.
Sociologists researching the relationships of men and women to their in-laws have found specific stressors that lead to conflict. Here’s a different way to put that: You hate your in-laws for the same reasons everyone else hates their in-laws. Here is the data on those reasons, and why it’s important to get past them.
The Strongest Predictor of Grandparent-Grandchild Relationships
You would think grandparents who spend the most time with their grandchildren would report the strongest relationships with them. Or perhaps that a grandparent’s education level, health, or closeness with their own child might influence how they feel about the grandchildren. But a 2004 study in The Journal of Family Issues suggests that these factors barely scratch the surface, compared to the one strongest predictor — the relationship between grandparents and their children-in-law. Grandparents who cannot get along with their sons-in-law or daughters-in-law report worse relationships with their grandkids, and those who get along with their in-laws report the strongest relationships with their grandchildren.
“Grandparents rated the qualities of ties to daughters, sons, sons-in-law, and daughters-in-law in distinct ways,“ the authors wrote. “Relationships with children-in-law were more strongly associated with qualities of ties to grandchildren than relationships with grandparents’ own children.”
The Conversations That Improve and Destroy In-Law Relationships
Given that the entire relationship between grandparents and grandchildren hinges upon the relationship between parents and grandparents, it’s worth knowing what makes those latter relationships tick. In 2008, researchers asked more than 100 newlyweds to comment on their relationship with their in-laws and how various private “disclosures” had impacted their feelings.
Predictably, they found that sharing information about in-group status and acceptance (a mother-in-law telling her daughter-in-law that she is a member of the family, for instance) helped the relationship. So did sharing family traditions and even relationship problems in a nonjudgmental way (disclosing a divorce in the family, for instance). Conversely, gossiping about other family members and slandering them was linked to a nosedive in relationship quality.
What Your Wife Hates About Your Mother
One of the most emotionally fraught relationships in the family is often between a daughter-in-law and her mother-in-law. One 2015 study attempted to pinpoint the interactions that daughters-in-law find most offensive. Not surprisingly, personal attacks and displays of overbearing, controlling behavior were major no-nos. But daughters-in-law remain hard to please. A reasonable percentage felt that under-involvement, rather than over-involvement, was the biggest problem in their relationship with their mothers-in-law.
“I actually felt sorry for mothers-in-law,” study coauthor Christine Rittenour, PhD, told the Boston Globe. “The same things that were making some daughters-in-law satisfied were making others dissatisfied. And I thought, these poor mothers-in-law, what the heck are they supposed to do?”