Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

My In-Laws are Driving me Nuts: New Research on In-Law Relationships

In-law struggles seem to be a natural part of the transition to marriage. Movies are continuously made that address the topic of in-law relationship problems (i.e. "The In-Laws", "Meet the Parents", "The Son-in-Law", "Monster-in-Law"). Just this week I took my family to see the movie "The Croods", and sure enough there was an aspect of the movie that dealt with in-law relationships. This got me thinking about the myths and facts about the transition to marriage and negotiation of in-law relationships. Surprisingly the research I found countered some of the most commonly held beliefs as presented in pop culture. For instance, the most quintessential in-law struggle that is seen is either between the husband and his in-laws. It is almost taken for granted that the husband WILL have in-law struggles. Rarely are we shown positive in-law relations in pop culture. Yet, recent research suggests that the quality of the in-law relationship seems to determine the strength of the marital relationship (i.e. positive relationship means strong marriage). This may sound like a no-brainer, but the surprising fact is that contrary to popular belief, spouses can have a positive relationship with their in-laws, and doing so improves their marital relationship. 

Orbuch, Bauermeister, Brown and McKinley (2013) published a 16 year longitudinal study on the transition to marriage and how in-law relationships affect the marital relationship. They specifically looked at two potentially confounding factors of race and gender and how males/females and Black American/White American families negotiate this transition. They found that for husbands (both Black American and White American) the closer they felt to their in-laws the less likely they would get a divorce over the first 16 years of marriage. Suggesting that if husbands can negotiate the in-law relationship early on in marriage, so they are able to have a closer relationship with their in-laws, this relationship can be a protective factor in their marriage over the first 16 years of marriage. Again this counters popular cultural presentations of the husbands relationship to in-laws, wherein husbands CAN and do have a positive relationship with their in-laws. 

Orbuch and colleagues (2013) found some interesting results when looking at wives relationship to in-laws. For White American wives, the closer they felt to their in-laws during the first year of marriage the more likely the marriage would end in divorce over the first 16 years of marriage. However, for Black American wives, the closer they felt to their in-laws during the first year of marriage the less likely the marriage would end in divorce over the first 16 years of marriage. It is most interesting to me that feeling close to in-laws during the first year of marriage can increase the likelihood of divorce over time. 

Obviously there are many different reasons this could be the case, however, it is something that newly married couples should be aware of. I am in no way suggesting that new wives should shun their in-laws during the first year at the hopes of countering this research, but having an awareness of possible reasons for these results and making sure to strengthen your marital relationship in the process can help avoid you becoming a statistic. 
  • What are your thoughts? 
  • Why do you think the results were different for Black American vs. White American wives?
  • What advice would you give a newlywed considering these results? 




Orbuch, T. L., Bauermeister, J. A., Brown, E. and McKinley, B.-D. (2013), Early Family Ties and Marital Stability Over 16 Years: The Context of Race and Gender. Family Relations, 62: 255–268. doi: 10.1111/fare.12005

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