The Mother-In-Law Daughter-In-Law Connection: Maintaining Healthy Family Relationships

1.       One of the most challenging adaptations of marital life is the relationship between a person's wife and his mother – her mother-in-law. What's happening here? A son has a biological relationship with his mother already from the moment of conception, and during his development in her womb. Even after he is born, there remains an immutable, vital and symbiotic bond between them. Naturally, this process creates a psychological- emotional bond, since the child receives love, warmth, educational values etc. This bond continues to develop especially during childhood, but with time, especially during adolescence, there is a definite decrease in the bond and the sense of dependence which accompanies it.

2.       The next stage in a son's disassociation occurs when he gets married, as there is a concurrent emotional attachment between the son and his new wife even though she didn't raise him and didn't give him what his mother had provided for him and certainly didn't give birth to him…when children are born the biological connection between a couple becomes even stronger.

We can summarize this first stage by saying that for the mother the process is biological and then psychological, with a slight dip over the course of the years, whereas in a marital relationship the order is reversed: Firstly there is a psychological relationship, and only later on a biological connection.

3.       This is the initial foundation of the relationship between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, except that we are human beings with feelings. This can cause both overt and more subtle tensions of a competitive nature, since the son and husband is in the middle between them.

4.       Research has demonstrated that a high proportion of divorces stem from these problems, especially when there wasn't sufficient guidance regarding the topic, or if one did not seek the appropriate advice for these issues, or when one of these parties acts in an insulting manner. The result may be devastating to the marriage and to the family. The Chazon Ish already remarked pithily: “Parents cause a lot of anguish to their married children”.

5.       Some have claimed that the solution could lie in one of the following methods: “Total detachment from parents, there's nothing else that can be done” or “There's nothing to do except to suffer in silence” (Which doesn't happen in reality, since the arguments will never stop). Some people have received proper guidance on how to respond when necessary and how not to cause stress to either side when using the proper methods.

6.       Rambam writes in a letter to his son R. Avraham, “Family is like fire, when one keeps a distance it gets cold, when one gets too close one gets burnt”.

7.       When a couple gets married, they must remember that their primary goal is to satisfy and fulfill one another's needs. Let us tell the dear man, your wide is supposed to be citizen no. 1 for you, and to the wife we should say, your husband is supposed to be the most important man for you.

8.       Honoring parents is a hallowed value in Judaism, and certainly one may not show them disrespect. The holy Torah has already commanded us to fear our parents and additional commandments were said regarding this important precept.

9.       We recommend that a wise couple should make a point of visiting and showing respect to their parents once a week for at least an hour and a half or two hours and should show interest in their parents and care for them, gladden them with their sweet grandchildren, etc.

10.   Couple who visit frequently and stay for a long period of time tend generally to cause friction within the marital relationship, since during the course of the visit it may be that one of them wishes already to go and the other one is unaware of that and may only become aware later, and then it may be too late…

11.   The bigger problem is the substance if these meetings. It is important to remember that words can effect a change in people. Many parents just want to…give advice, but the border between interfering and giving advice is very thin. If something is said informatively concerning a vacation, a kindergarten, a type of car to buy, a good Torah lesson etc. , this is definitely legitimate information, but if the mother-in-law says for example: “Listen to me! I was raising children before you were born…” or a son-in-law who is told “Sonny, you are still a boy”, this could create problems. Relentless invitations to visit on Shabbat and festivals can also create an uncomfortable atmosphere.

12.   Couples must support one another when inappropriate things have been said. One should not look for revenge for insulting statements but a husband must tell his parents in a sensitive and honorable way that they should not insult his wife and should not interfere in what diapers she uses etc. The same is true the other way round: The parents of a bride must realize that the groom is not their son and one cannot talk to him however one likes. The first responsibility to be sensitive to this is on the parents and if not….the couple must shelter one another and explain tactfully that they make decisions together and know how to take advice when necessary.

13.   It is incumbent both on parents and children to remember that a high percentage of divorces stem from parental interference. It is interesting to note that most divorces occur during the first years of marriage. On a building site one can read the sign: Danger, construction site! Similarly the couple are constructing their new home, please do not disturb.

14.   Never involve parents or family in conflicts between a couple. There are objective professional authorities who should be sought out. Problems should not be neglected as they do not get solved by themselves. With the right advice and proper guidance, these problems can be solved. Almost every type of dilemma can be solved.


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