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Relationships with spouse's parents could affect divorce rates

The relationship that spouses have with their in-laws is a famously tricky one. It can be so contentious that it's become a mainstay of TV comedy- as seen in the husband who groans when his wife's mother comes to visit, or the mother-in-law who disapproves of a wife's cooking. Outside of television, however, it seems as though the relationship between spouses and their in-laws can have some interesting- and surprising- effects on divorce rates.

Many North Carolinians may assume that a strong relationship with the in-laws would have a positive effect on the relationship as a whole. A recent 26-year study, however, suggests that notion may only be half correct. The study found that while a close relationship between husbands and their in-laws does result in lower divorce rates, sustaining a close relationship between a wife and her in-laws actually raises the odds that a marriage will end.

Overall, marriages in which the husband is close with his wife's parents experienced a 20 percent lower risk of divorce. Conversely, marriages in which the wife held a close relationship to her husband's parents had a 20 percent higher risk of divorce. The author of the study has offered some insights into why this might be.

She claims it has to do with perception. A wife may view a close relationship between her husband and her parents favorably, as it suggests that the husband cares deeply for her. On the other hand, wives may view their in-laws as meddlesome or intrusive; it is possible that a husband's parents could be viewed as judgmental or otherwise intrusive on the wife's identity. Men, by contrast, do not value relationships with in-laws very highly, and tend to focus on providing for the family.

The study's author suggests that women should therefore take care not to interpret their in-laws actions as meddlesome, and men should take time to build a close relationship with their wives' parents.

Studies such as this one can provide useful insights into some of the underlying causes of divorce, but readers should approach them with a wary eye. A slight increase in the odds of divorce does not mean a marriage is doomed if a woman doesn't like her in-laws. Rather, studies such as this one provide us with an opportunity to reevaluate our relationships and examine the effect they may be having on a marriage.

Of course, in some cases, divorce is inevitable. Whether it is influenced by the in-law relationship or not, spouses often feel that their happiness and long-term fulfillment could best be served by a separation. Spouses in such a situation should be sure to obtain as much information about the divorce process as possible before moving forward, as proper planning can lead to a smoother and simpler separation.

Source: The Huffington Post, "In-Laws And Marriage Study: Son-In-Law Key To Lasting Marriage," Oct. 27, 2012