A good relationship with your wife’s parents cuts risk of divorce — study

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The first two years of marriage for Dorothy Mwende and Peter Kimani were bliss. The couple were happy raising their toddler in a peaceful home in Umoja estate.

However, when Peter’s job was transferred to Nakuru that’s when their marital problems began.

“Peter’s mother lived in Nakuru, when my husband was transferred there, we all moved so that we could be together as a family, My mother in law was very happy when we moved there but little did I know she would frustrate our marriage,” Dorothy said

Peter, being the only son to his mother made him his favorite child. However, she became a nuisance to the family as she would always show up unannounced at his son’s home and start commanding how they should do things.

“One time, I fell sick and could not do my chores well. My husband volunteered to cook and clean the house. My mother in-law visited us unannounced and upon seeing my husband clean the house said that I have turned his son to a maid.

“Usikubali huyu mwanamke akukalie” she told my husband.

Besides that, many decisions they would make with her husband would suddenly be reversed whenever the mother in law heard of it.

The mother in law dictated how they would run their home from what they cooked to what her husband should spend their money on.

“It reached a point I felt taken for granted by my husband as he would not stand up for me whenever his mother spoke ill of me,” Mwende said.

“I grew tired of his mother’s controlling behavior such that I gave up and quit. After I left, the mother looked for my husband a new wife though they did not last,” she narrated.

Dorothy and Peter are not isolated cases in Kenya. A study conducted by Daystar University established that most couples divorced before their tenth anniversary.

In the survey done in 46 counties in Kenya, 97 percent of respondents attributed their divorce to their in-law interference in particular mother in law.

Divorce risk is decreased if sons in law have a good relationship with wife’s parents.

According to this study by professor Abraham Waithima, Kenyan wives felt that mother in laws were a big threat to their marriages. They felt that if mothers in law kept their hands off, they would still probably be married to their husbands.

In another 26-year longitudinal study from the University of Michigan found out that when a husband reported having a close relationship with his wife’s parents, the couple’s risk of divorce decreased by 20 percent.

Conversely, when a wife reported having a close relationship with her husband’s parents, the couple’s risk of divorce increased by 20 percent.

In this study, son’s in law are encouraged to develop a good relationship with their wifes parents.

Terri Orbuch, psychologist and research professor at the University of Michigan who began the study told the Wall Street Journal that she believes the findings are due to the different ways husbands and wives approach their relationships with their in-laws.

 “Women value a close relationship with their in-laws but may ultimately view them as meddling, while men are more interested in providing for their families, and take their in-laws’ actions less personally,” Orbuch said.

“Because relationships are so important to women, their identity as a wife and mother is central to their being. They interpret what their in-laws say and do as interference into their identity as a spouse and parent.”

Wall Street Journal columnist Elizabeth Bernstein suggests that when a husband makes an effort to get along with his wife’s parents, his wife feels taken care of, too.

“He has forged a relationship with them, and that reads to his wife as if, boy, he cares about me if he’s going to bother with my parents. If he’s going to take care of my parents, he’s going to get to know my parents, [then] he really cares about me,” Bernstein said.

Orbuch advises parents of sons to be mindful of behavior their daughter-in-law may interpret as “meddling,” while parents of daughters should be open to bonding with their sons-in-law. Wives should maintain boundaries with their in-laws, and husbands should remember to take care of their in-laws and treat them as important.

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