All married couples know that mothers-in-law can be wedges or bridges. Getting along with your spouse's family is just good practice for a happy marriage. But a new study suggests the pressure to charm the mom-in-law falls heaviest on the husband; a son-in-law who wins over his wife's mother reduces the couple's chance of divorce by a whopping 20 per cent.
Not so for the wives: Cozying up to the mother-in-law actually had the opposite effect – and increased the risk of divorce by 20 per cent.
That statistic comes from a 26-year longitudinal study of 373 couples who were first married in 1986. Dr Terri Orbuch, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, asked the couples how close they felt to their in-laws when they married and then continued to collect data over the decades. When new husbands reported being close to their in-laws at the beginning of their marriage, the rate of divorce was 20 per cent lower than the group over all.
"These ties connect the husband to the wife," Orbuch told The Wall Street Journal. "They say, 'Your family relationships are important to me because you are important to me.'"
But why did those mother-in-law bonds not hold up as a marriage boost for wives? Perhaps, Orbuch speculated, women who initially feel close to their husband's mother, come to resent the relationship, especially when kids come along.
Orbuch goes on to offer some sage, if not surprising, advice. To parents with a daughter-in-law: be aware she will be more "sensitive to meddling" than a son-in-law. Meanwhile, parents with a son-in-law would do well to bond with him.
A holiday tip for new husbands visiting the in-laws this month: Come bearing gifts. Your marriage, apparently, will thank you.