I’ve been married all of 11 days now and, as if on cue, the day my husband (still very much getting used to saying that!) and I tied the knot, he stopped putting the toilet seat down. I ignored it at first, but by our first weekend together as a married couple, I couldn’t stand it any longer and said something to him about it. I made a jokey comment about his sudden change in behavior — more embarrassed than pissed at being such a cliché so early in our marriage. After over three years together, surely he must realize if there’s one thing I wanted to avoid in marriage it was being a cliché, but I suppose the lesson here is that that’s a lost cause for any married couple, even those of us who think we’re so “modern.” One cliché I will be able to avoid, though, is the terrible mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship so many women have. My own mother-in-law passed away long before I got a chance to meet her, and while I’d love to think we would have had a wonderful relationship — if her sons are any indication, she was a terrific woman and I hope she would have approved of me — the odds, apparently, aren’t in our favor.
A recent study of “hundreds of families has revealed that nearly two-thirds of women complain they’ve suffered long-term unhappiness and stress because of friction with their husband’s mother.” During the research, which was conducted over two decades, “women accused their mothers-in-law of showing unreasonably jealous love towards their sons.” For her new book What Do You Want From Me? which publishes this month, Dr. Terri Apter, a psychologist, interviewed more than 200 people, including 49 couples, and “attended family parties and get-togethers so she could observe women with their mothers-in-law and scrutinize the family dynamics for herself.” What she discovered is this: “Both the mother and the wife are struggling to achieve the same position in the family—primary woman. Each tries to establish or protect their status. Each feels threatened by the other.” Apter says that many problems between wives and mothers-in-law are based on expectations and assumptions. The daughter-in-laws assume their MILs are judging their homemaking skills, and MILs fear that everything their son’s wives do differently than they way they did it, from child-rearing to cooking, is a “rejection of their own choices.”
So, those of you who are married: Does this ring true? Do you have tense relationships with your mother-in-law and do you feel constantly judged by her? Do you feel like you’re both competing for the role of “primary woman” in the family? And, if so, how does your husband balance his relationships with the both of you?
Original by Wendy Atterberry