The Secret Powers of the Son-in-Law: Research Shows That Charming Your Wife’s Parents Helps Make a Marriage Last
Here’s a dangerous debate you may have found yourself engaged in after a weekend of turkey and togetherness: Whose parents—yours or your spouse’s—are more difficult?
If you have prickly relations with your in-laws, whether you are a husband or a wife, new research offers some surprising insights into the risks and benefits of maintaining your distance from your spouse’s parents.
One finding of a 26-year longitudinal study of married couples is that marriages in which the husband reports feeling close to his in-laws are more likely to last for the long haul. “These ties connect the husband to the wife,” says Terri Orbuch, a psychologist and research professor at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research. “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.’”
Dr. Orbuch, with funding from the National Institutes of Health, is studying 373 same-race couples who were between the ages of 25 and 37 and in their first year of marriage when the study began in 1986. Dr. Orbuch asked the newlyweds each to rate, on a scale of one to four, how close they felt to their in-laws. She has followed them over time to collect data, including whether they remained married. The results will be published in a coming issue of the journal Family Relations.