Whether you love your in-laws or not, the relationship you have with them may well determine the success of your marital relationship.
Terri Orbuch, a psychologist and research professor at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, did a 26-year study with more than 300 married couples who were newlyweds back in 1986. She monitored these couples and asked them to keep a record of their marriage success and failures.
The couples who had close relationships with their in-laws decreased their risk of divorce by 20 percent.
It’s safe to say no one is exempt from experiencing tension with their in-laws, especially if you’re joined at the hip like in the following case study.
Jennifer and Derek have been married for five years. Derek recently got laid off from his job as a software engineer. He’s been having difficulty finding suitable employment and finances have been tight. The couple agreed it would be wise to move into Jennifer’s mother’s house temporarily, until Derek is able to find a job that would restart his career.
Jennifer’s mom, however, doesn’t buy it. She suspects Derek is just making excuses and using her, so he doesn’t have to be a responsible husband.
Moving in with Jennifer’s mom has taken a great toll on her marriage. Derek can’t get through a simple conversation with Jennifer, without it resulting in a big argument, as she seems to take her mother’s side routinely.
Jennifer thinks Derek reacts to her mom’s criticism of him too seriously. Derek claims he has a right to defend himself.
Derek is keen on finding an apartment so they can live without interference. He feels living with his mother-in-law will set them further behind in life and prevent them from achieving their dreams. Jennifer is against the whole idea. She feels living with her mom for a while will help relieve a lot of financial pressure.
.Derek reached out to Mind-Focused Coaching to assist him in achieving his future goals, while living through a difficult situation.
Upon completion of an assessment of their vulnerabilities and strengths, MFC created a customized program to help Derek and Jennifer stop the freefall of their relationship, increase the positive interactions with her mother, focus on job finding, and re-establish their shared priorities. The program consisted of strategies and tools to guide them in identifying and reaching their life destination without being sidetracked by challenges and conflicts.
The first step called on Derek and Jennifer to acknowledge that their marriage and renewed trust were primary destinations for life happiness. Whatever friction or tension they encountered in living with her mother were seen to be a loss of focus and not a threat to the relationship.
To reach this destination, Derek and Jennifer engaged in a systematic process of conscious awareness – of their own thoughts and feelings as well as the behavior of the other – with the aim of identifying the actions that would be most helpful in diminishing conflict. Derek learned how to not personalize his mother-in-law’s critiques and hear her comments instead as expressions of concern for Jennifer. Jennifer learned to be attuned to the way her mother’s words and expressions could be experienced by Derek as hurtful and mocking.
Both Derek and Jennifer became more mindful of ways to express their care and affection for each other by seeing opportunities to reduce conflict and increase satisfaction that they had never noticed before. They learned to perceive choice in all their interactions and recognize the power they had to choose words and deeds that would bring them closer rather than pull them apart.
MFC Interventions included:
- Understand that destination comes before the journey.
- Discover how to focus on the primary goal and not get distracted by secondary goals.
- Learning the choice to approach and not withdraw – Leaning In – in communication and intimacy.
- Practice thoughtful deliberation. Understand that every feeling, thought, and action involves choice.
- Constant awareness of constantly choosing. All choices are binary and under one’s own control.
Derek’s relationship with his mother-in-law has improved. He discovered his lack of clear communication with her has fueled the conflict between them. He learned how to listen and respond to his mother-in-law’s comments without becoming defensive.
As Derek started taking ownership of his personal behavior, he began to notice a decrease in potential for conflict. He also discovered he has a lot in common with his mother-in-law. They both love the culinary arts. He actually enjoys having meaningful conversations with her about cooking.
Jennifer recognized how her bias of siding with her mother had caused her to overlook inappropriate comments. As she became more supportive of Derek, their mutual trust increased. Derek and Jennifer have grown closer together. They are both on the same wavelength and they are looking forward to achieving their future goals together.