Designed by ISABEL CASTILLO GUIJARRO.
THE PSYCHOLOGIST'S GUIDE TO IN-LAW DRAMA
Dr. Terri Apter, psychologist and author of Difficult Mothers: Understanding and Overcoming Their Power
"Major problems do arise between the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. This is understandable when you consider that the main problems are about status and value within the family and questions about who is closer to the man — mother or wife? Closeness, respect, and influence in the family are particularly important to women. For all the change that’s been, women still feel that part of their personal worth is linked to their roles in the family, whether that’s day-to-day care or long-term nurturing. Since in-law visits often take place in the home, where kinship, status, and respect are expressed — and tested! — there can be competition. Sometimes the competition arises because one of us feels threatened. We get into the mindset: 'I have to prove to her that I have more status/respect/love because I need to reassure myself that I’m still an important part of this changing family.'
"Let's start with the daughter-in-law, who can be aggressive about staking her claim as the alpha woman in the family and discounting the value her mother-in-law contributes. Sometimes the two women simply feel insecure and worry the other is trying to undermine her or criticize her. So, each tries to 'lord it over' the other, but each would actually be satisfied simply by being seen as equal to the other as long as each has her own turf. And, that’s often difficult when your family turf overlaps with someone else’s.
"My best advice is to address the fears of being marginalised or excluded or criticised that underlie the problems:
1. You can reassure your in-laws that family connections will continue even as marriage changes kindship patterns.
2. You can show that you value what an in-law brings to the family.
3. You can show you want to learn who they are and, in that way, you give the message that you welcome them, that you are not threatened by them.
"Basically, the key is to turn competition into collaboration. It’s much easier to set boundaries between you and your in-laws if you have also established connections. It’s easier to hear, 'That’s not a good time to visit,' or 'We’re going to make this decision ourselves' if you’re not afraid of being totally cut off."