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Will Your Marriage Make it? The Mother-in-Law Variable

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I was listening to a piece on NPR one day after lunch. I don't know which show it was, but the topic was fascinating. It had to do with a long-discussed marital issue here in America, one that, apparently, garners as much consideration, due to sheer necessity I'd imagine, in most other parts of the world as well: the mother-in-law.

The woman being interviewed told the story of her own marriage and how it was indelibly altered by her mother-in-law's effect on her, her husband, and the relationship itself. However, what I'm concerned with here is not their personal story, but some fascinating statistics and factoids from Italy, which the woman related on the show.

I think many of us here in the U.S. have the idea that Italian families are extremely close-knit, and that that extends to in-law relationships. No doubt this perception has been fostered by portrayals of Italian family life in movies and on television. And it may well be accurate, at least for the most part.

However, a study of marriages in Italy found that a marriage was more likely to survive and remain intact…for every 100 yards that a wife's mother-in-law (yes, this "effect" seems to largely focus on the fallout caused by a husband's mother, not a wife's) lived away from the couple's place of residence.

This must be a real problem in Italy, because the storyteller went on to state that, in recent years, the Italian legislature has amended divorce law to include "meddling by a mother-in-law" as a possible grounds for divorce and dissolution of a marriage.

Amazing. Personally, I could relate to the interview I was hearing because, although I've had fantastic luck in this area, I am aware of one couple who actually did have to move away because the husband's mother simply refused to stop interfering in the couple's marriage.

As it was reported to me, for the length of time that the couple lived — gulp — across the street from the husband's mother, the marriage was close to foundering on the rocks. After the couple removed themselves to a location a fair number of miles away, the marriage improved and blue skies were visible once more.

So, what does this say about the mother-in-law variable? Well, it says the effect is not confined to the U.S., of course.

More importantly, it says that a marriage can be saved from a meddling mom so long as the couple, i.e. the husband, is willing to take the steps needed to preserve the marriage. Up to and including…moving away.

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About Tim Moore

  • Believe me, sometimes the distance doesn’t matter. I can say one thing though. I learned a lot from how my own mother-in-law behaved, and I vow not to make the same mistakes.

    Of course, my son lives 2300 miles away too. 😛

  • anon

    FYI – it was the Diane Rhem show, author as Terri Apter (sp?)… it was a very interesting show….

  • Thank you anon, it was the Diane Rhem show. Great show.