How Spouses Deal with In-Laws Increases or Decreases Divorce: Study

Men who report having a close relationship with their in-laws are 20% less likely to divorce, while women who report having a close relationship with their in-laws are 20% more likely to divorce.

By Josh D. Simon
Updated: June 13, 2016
in-laws and divorce

Here’s some more “men vs. women” fodder to add to an ancient lexicon that already includes toilet seat positioning habits, unwillingness vs. willingness to ask for driving directions, and the belief that hanging items of intimate apparel outside a window for a couple of hours constitutes laundry: men who report having a close relationship with their in-laws are 20% less likely to divorce, while women who report having a close relationship with their in-laws are 20% more likely to divorce.

That’s the seemingly unusual finding of a 26-year longitudinal study led by University of Michigan psychologist and research professor Terri Orbuch, who followed 373 couples after they tied the knot in 1986.

For her part, however, Orbuch doesn’t find the results unusual; in fact, she says they make sense in light of the difference between how husbands and wives typically approach relationships with their in-laws.

How husbands and wives approach relationships with their in-laws

"Women value a close relationship with their in-laws but may ultimately view them as meddling, while men are more interested in providing for their families, and take their in-laws' actions less personally," Orbuch said in an interview with the Huffington Post. "Because relationships are so important to women, their identity as a wife and mother is central to their being. They interpret what their in-laws say and do as interference into their identity as a spouse and parent."

As for bringing all of this down to earth so that it might help more husbands and wives stay that way – and avoid looking for a family lawyer – Orbuch offers four bits of advice that could come in very handy this holiday season, as extended families hunker down for a few days of sharing, smiling and, unfortunately in some cases, making each other’s lives a living hell (albeit with all of the egg nog and turkey gravy one can handle).

  • Parents of sons should ensure that their activities and behaviors aren’t seen as “meddling” by their daughter-in-law

  • Parents of daughters should spend more quality time with their son-in-law so they can bond

  • Wives should appropriately, but firmly, set boundaries with their in-laws to prevent meddling

  • Husbands should reach out to their in-laws and make sure they feel included, important and loved

Wise advice anytime of the year, for sure.

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December 17, 2012

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