If films like Monster-in-Law are any reflection of real life, a woman’s relationship with her mother-in-law is often fraught with tension and anxiety, since both women are competing for the man’s affection.
Indeed, according to research by Dr. Sylvia L. Mikucki-Enyart, assistant professor of communication at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, mothers are overwhelmingly more anxious about their sons getting married than they are about their daughters.
And the friction is experienced by both parties; most of the 133 new wives surveyed reported feeling insecure in their relationship with their mother-in-law, for fear that she will speak ill of them to their husband, or interfere too much in their married life.
In a similar vein, a 2008 study conducted by Terri Apter, a psychologist at Cambridge University, found that 60 percent of women feel friction with their husband’s mother, while only 15 percent of men report a strained relationship with their mothers-in-law.
Dr Mikucki-Enyart surveyed 89 mothers to determine their biggest concerns about their sons getting married.
She found that a mother worries most about her son’s general well-being, that he will not visit as often after marriage, and that his new wife will change him.
The women also reported worrying that their daughters-in-law were bad cooks, that their sons weren’t happy with their new wives and that they became less reliable because of the new woman in their lives.
Both women are essentially vying for the role of nurturer to the man, says Mikucki-Enyart, which explains the inherent competitive feelings between them.
What’s more, a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law can feel strained because they do not know how to act around one another.
And the stressful relationship takes a toll not only on the women, but also on the man between them.
This is because when a man’s wife and mother are fighting, his “self-preservation instinct tells him to hide,” according to the Wall Street Journal.
Still, it is up to the man to mediate the relationship when it has its tense moments.
“[The husband] needs to step up to the plate,” says Mikucki-Enyart.
“He has to make his wife his priority and let that be known.”
For their part, wives should minimize negative feelings by keeping a mother-in-law involved in the family.
Some ways to do this, says Mikucki-Enyart, are to invite them to dinner regularly or send them photos of the children.
“Don’t make it a competition,” she advises daughters-in-law, adding: “You both love this man in completely different ways.”