Wife and Mother-in-Law Are Programmed Not to Like Each Other

Author says friction is due to stereotypes

By on August 5th, 2009 18:31 GMT
The tension that is instantly generated whenever his mother comes to visit, or when wife and husband go to his house for dinner has often made the subject of tragedies in ancient times and, more recently, highly popular sitcoms. Getting the wife and the mother-in-law to get along is like reconciling cat and dog, many believe, and Dr. Terri Apter, a psychologist and senior tutor at Newnham College, Cambridge and author of “What Do You Want from Me?” has just the explanation for that, as the Daily Mail informs.

According to the author, over two decades of research for the book clearly indicate that wife and mother-in-law are basically programmed not to like each other. This happens because, while rivalry should not even be an issue, both want to be the “primary woman” in the man’s life and, clearly, because of the different roles they play, they would both fit in just fine. This also explains why only one in five women actually likes her mother-in-law and why so many wives complain of being traumatized by the mothers of their husbands.

“The conflict often arises from an assumption that each is criticizing or undermining the other woman. But this mutual unease may have less to do with actual attitudes and far more to do with persistent female stereotypes that few of us manage to shake off completely. Both the mother and the wife are struggling to achieve the same position in the family – primary woman. Each tries to establish or protect their status. Each feels threatened by the other.” Dr. Apter explains in the book, now out in bookstores in the UK.

After spending almost 20 years analyzing the dynamics within both large and smaller families, and studying the interactions between wives and mothers-in-law, Dr. Apter came to the realization that, of course, they would be much better off if they got along because of the joint experience they would have. However, it is precisely these two different types of experience that make the two women fight constantly, because one believes the other is rejecting her example / model to go with what she knows best.

“It’s a tragedy. This impasse divides women who should have so much in common, and who could benefit from each other’s friendship. It causes both sides terrible unhappiness and distress.” Dr. Apter says. “Each is the primary woman in her primary family. As each tries to establish or protect her status, each feels threatened by the other.” the doctor points out. Instead of dwelling on the differences, she continues by saying, both wife and mother-in-law should work together for a better life.

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