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Why Bonding with Your In-Laws is Important

Do you have a good relationship with your in-laws? It might be more important than you realize.

Researchers at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research led a 26-year longitudinal study of married couples with funding from the National Institutes of Health. The author of the study, Terri Orbuch, followed the couples beginning in 1986. She asked them to rate how close they were with their in-laws on a scale of 1 to 4, and she collected the data throughout the years as they continued with their relationship.

Orbuch found that there was a demonstrable link between a couple’s marriage and their relationship to their in-laws. She found that when husbands reported a close bond with their wife’s parents, they were 20% less likely to be divorced as compared to those men who were not close with their in-laws.

Interestingly, the opposite was true for the women in the study. Wives who reported being close to their husband’s parents were actually more likely to end up divorced—in fact, the risk was 20% higher.

What can account for this difference, and what does it mean for couples?

Lead researcher Orbuch believes that it could be due to the different way that men and women approach relationships with their loved one’s parents, and the different expectations that come with such bonds.

For example, a woman who is close with her in-laws might be more likely to feel as though she is being nagged or scrutinized, and frequent connection and interaction might only increase feelings of annoyance and irritation. Alternatively, a woman who isn’t close with her in-laws might have less interaction with them and therefore feel less anxious about pleasing them or being “perfect.” 

The researchers theorize that this could be of importance because many women place a high importance on their roles within the family as a wife and mother. Hence added anxiety and pressure about pleasing the in-laws could be reflected negatively in the marriage, and it might explain the higher incidence of divorce among women who are close with their in-laws.

As for the men in the study, a close relationship with the in-laws was beneficial, possibly because familial ties such as this help to demonstrate love and commitment. When a woman sees their partner make an effort to be close with their family, it can help them to feel more connected and cared for by their mate, as it can help him to demonstrate his commitment to her.

The researchers also theorize that since men might be less likely to feel like they have to “measure up” by being the perfect partner, homemaker, and parent as women often do, having the in-laws around a lot might not come with the same anxiety and stress that it did for the wives in the study. 

Still, the truth is that we can’t be 100% sure why these results differ by gender and why men and women react differently to their in-laws. However, the findings are interesting and certainly bear more investigation. And, one thing the study does show for certain is that in-laws can play an important role in a couple’s relationship and the future of their marriage.

Perhaps the lesson is to find a good balance between time as a family and time as a couple, and to work to keep your relationship intimate and connected, even when the in-laws always seem to be dropping by unannounced.

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