Tag Archives: musings

The Secret Powers of the Son-in-Law

Working in healthcare, I get a few daily updates with snippets of health information that summarize newsworthy items from the press.  Today, a snippet from the Advisory Board caught my eye, and you’ll see why….it was titled “The Secret Powers of the Son-in-Law,” and of course, I had to read it and share it.  I don’t have enough experience to vouch for it….yes, I’m a daughter-in-law but not married long enough to qualify for the study.  A 26-year longitudinal study of married couples finds that women who initially have close relationships with their parents-in-law are more likely to get divorced 16 years down the road.

The NIH-funded study that will soon be published in the journal Family Relations—began in 1986 and followed 373 couples ages 25 to 37.  Dr. Terry Orbuch, the lead researcher and University of Michigan psychologist , asked each participant to rate the closeness of their relationship with their in-laws on a scale of one to four.  The study found that amongst couples where the husband reported feeling close to his wife’s family were 20% less likely to get divorced over the next 16 years. However, couples where the wife reported feeling close to her husband’s family were 20% more likely to get divorced.

According to Orbuch, the difference may have a lot to do with identity and boundaries. For example, a wife who feels close to her husband’s parents may have trouble establishing certain boundaries and, over time, may regard even well-intentioned advice as meddling.  “Because relationships are so important to women, their identity as a wife and mother is central to their being,” Orbuch says, adding, “They interpret what their in-laws say and do as interference into their identity as a spouse and parent.”

Meanwhile, men tend to put their identity as a provider ahead of their identity as a father and husband. As a result, when husbands feel close to their in-laws, “These ties connect the husband to the wife… They say, ‘Your family relationships are important to me because you are important to me. I want to feel closer to them because it makes me feel closer to you,'” Orbuch concludes.

Some of you who read this may be the parents-in-law, and others may be the son-in-law or the daughter-in-law, and maybe you or someone you know could relate to this.  And, maybe you are still unmarried.  But, the study has its limitations in that although it was a 26-year longitudinal study it followed only a few hundred couples.  Happy Reading or maybe Happy Debating (and, don’t blame me!)!!

Here is a link to the article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal:


Posted by on November 28, 2012 in General, Healthcare


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