While it’s a common joke that a mother-in-law may act like a “monster-in-law,” there is a grain of truth to it as well. An overbearing mother-in-law can exact a heavy toll on a relationship, causing significant stress affecting everyone involved. However, there are steps that couples can take to manage the situation and to prevent damage to their relationship.
Some Statistics about Mothers-in-Law
According to Yvonne K. Fulbright, Ph.D. in an article for Psychology Today, “one in four daughter’s-in-law despise their mother-in-law.” They reported that their mothers-in-law were “controlling.” One out of 10 women wanted to get farther away from their in-laws. Also, almost 25% of respondents referred to their mother-in-law as either “terrible” or “bad.” Fulbright refers these moms as a “monsters-in-law.”
How Do These Relationships Get Started?
Some thoughts on how these unhealthy relationships get started include:
- Some mothers-in-law oversteps the boundaries and interfere with their sons’ relationships. This also includes getting involved in parenting issues and pushing their own agendas.
- Some mothers-in-law often suggest that the daughters-in-law are not good enough for their sons. They can be judgmental and consistently interfere in the couples’ lives.
It’s important to note that one shouldn’t assign all responsibility to the mother-in-law. Relationships are a two-way street. The daughter-in-law may also be an instigator. Daughters-in-law can exacerbate situations too, and become overly protective of their relationships.
What Happens in These Situations?
When the relationship is strained, it can cause a tremendous amount of stress on the couple while dealing with the mother-in-law. The daughter-in-law, in particular, may experience a lot of stress, which can cause the relationship to unravel.
What Can Be Done With “Monsters-in-Law?”
Here are some tips to follow:
1. Try to understand and empathize with what your mother-in-law is likely experiencing.
Recognize that your mother-in-law is not evil (hopefully!) and has issues that are getting in the way of having a healthier relationship with you. Some common issues she might be struggling with: relinquishing control over their son, feeling jealous that her daughter-in-law is now the recipient of her son’s attention, and struggles to let go now that her role has changed (as a less involved parent).
2. Get on the same page with your partner.
Come to an understanding about the difficulties of dealing with the mother-in-law so that both of you are in agreement with how to handle the challenging issues and situations with all in-laws.
3. Husbands need to find a healthy balance when in the middle.
On the one hand, husbands should absolutely not blindly defend their mother (a recipe for relationship disaster), but on the other hand they need to avoid taking on their wife’s battles as their own. It’s unhealthy for the husband to take up 100% (or even the majority) of the fight. This only causes a triangulation to occur between the husband, wife, and mother-in-law, which is unhealthy and makes the situation very messy! The daughter-in-law should communicate directly with the mother-in-law most of the time.
It’s critically important for the daughter-in-law to set firm boundaries and assert herself. Don’t sweep concerns under the rug. However, finding the right balance can be a challenge, especially knowing when to let the little stuff go and share other issues that truly matter to you.
4. Critique your mother-in-law’s behaviors or words, NOT her character.
Character assassinations will set you up for a long, unfortunate war you’re not looking for! (This also clearly applies to your intimate relationships too.)
Getting Professional Help
If your mother-in-law is causing significant stress in your relationship, don’t hesitate to seek professional help as soon as possible. This support can be invaluable. Productively expressing your feelings about the “monster-in-law” situation helps determine how to deal with your situation together. Without finding common ground, it will be next to impossible to establish a working relationship with your mother-in-law.
It is definitely important to avoid letting an unhealthy mother-in-law situation fester. Don’t let the situation between yourself, your partner, and your mother-in-law become a disaster. Be sure you and your partner communicate. Find ways to get on the same page. Consider professional help if difficulties persist. Otherwise, you will likely deal with the “monster-in-law” madness for a very long time. In the process, you may seriously risk damaging your intimate relationship.
While financial disagreements are the most common issue in marriage (yes, even more frequent than conflicts over sex life), there has been inconsistent research as to whether these types of disagreements actually predict divorce. However, research in 2012 did find that early conflicts about money do, in fact, predictor such an end.
Research Into Financial Conflict and Divorce
To investigate this question, researchers from Kansas State University and Texas Tech University examined data collected through the National Survey of Families and Households. The researchers concluded that arguments about money are not just a contributing factor, but are actually the top predictor of divorce.
In fact, financial disagreements were even more of a divorce predictor than conflicts over:
- A couple’s sex-life
- The in-laws
Why Financial Conflict Leads to Marriage Trouble
The researchers hypothesized that arguments over money normally take longer to recover from than other arguments. Why the longer recovery time? This may be because, hidden below the surface of these arguments, there are often deeper issues within the relationship. Some of these include underlying trust issues (addressed below), and power differentials within the relationship, such as how decisions are made.
Trust in the Relationship
Another issue connected to financial disagreement is trust. For instance, if one partner decides to spend $2000 on a new road bike after previously agreeing to discuss major purchases, that could be a problem! It’s important for both partners in a relationship to know that they can trust one another. This definitely includes communicating major financial decisions in advance (yes, including that new road bike).
Financial Distress in Relationships
Certainly if a household is in financial distress, that can definitely negatively impact the relationship. The Great Recession in 2008 didn’t help couples and families that were already struggling to pay the bills and support households. For many families a job loss, increase in rent, or an accident/illness can significantly strain any relationship.
Differences in Financial Outlook
Financial differences can also reveal different fiscal approaches that each person holds regarding money and saving vs. spending. One partner may have a conservative outlook when it comes to money, and believes in saving every penny. On the other hand, another partner may spend on impulse without thinking about the future and how they will pay the bills. They may also not be able to save any money for emergencies or retirement. These differences can make agreeing on finances a challenge and certainly can lead to trouble in the marriage.
What to Do about Financial Conflict?
Here are several tips that couples can do to address financial disagreements:
- Start early, before even getting married, to make sure you are both on the same page regarding finances. Consider seeing a financial planner to project into the future and compare fiscal approaches.
- Attend pre-marital counseling and be sure to include discussions on spending money in order to come to an understanding with your partner.
- Remember, even though financial disagreements may statistically increase the chance of divorce or a break-up, it’s far from a guarantee that will happen to your relationship. When communicating, try to see things from your partner’s perspective and truly listen to them.
It’s definitely preferable to get financial issues out in the open before marrying. However, you may already be married and discovering significant financial conflict now. Fortunately, an experienced couples counselor can help you get back on track.
Overall, regardless of what stage you are at in your relationship, communication about money, and its use, are important discussions. Also, don’t assume your relationship is doomed if you have disagreements over money. Couples counseling can help you both learn to more effectively handle this issue. Furthermore, It can allow you to understand each other’s perspectives on finances and talk openly about this issue. That way, you can both move forward together. United, not just in marriage, but on the same page financially as well.
Most of us know our past experiences can have an effect on how we relate to other people. Children of divorce seem to have a reputation for having more relationship problems as adults. Research shows that they are, in fact, more likely to divorce themselves, compared to children who grow up in two-parent, intact families. By understanding how divorce affected them, adults can take steps to have more stable relationships than their parents.
How Divorce Affects Children
Here are the three main ways that divorce can affect children in future relationships:
1. They often struggle managing relationship conflict.
2. Their level of commitment in intimate relationships can fluctuate.
3. They often struggle with trust issues in relationships.
Sadly, as children struggle through the painful process of their parents’ divorce, they rarely escape unscathed. They can experience relationship instability for an extended amount of time, before trying to better understand how their parents’ divorce affected them.
Learning How to Manage Conflict
Children of divorced parents learn how to manage, or more accurately, how not to manage, conflict with their partners. They have likely seen their parents engage in frequent, heated arguments while growing up. Witnessing this conflict can impact how they manage conflict themselves. Unfortunately, they are more likely to struggle.
Learning About Commitment
Adult children of divorced parents often mirror their parents’ shaky level of commitment in relationships. Witnessing the pain and dissolution of their parent’s marriage may make adult children reluctant to commit to marriage. This means they are more likely to give up on a relationship and end it instead of trying to work through difficult problems with their partner. It’s often just easier for them to throw in the towel and give up.
Learning About Trust
Also, children of divorce typically have less trust in their romantic relationships. Issues that can arise include:
- Fear that their partner is going to leave them.
- Worry that their partner doesn’t love them.
- Concern that their partner “doesn’t have their back.”
The consequence of this limited trust is that, as adults, the children of divorce will often drift towards shallow relationships and shy away from seeking out deeper, more loving connections as a way to protect themselves. They shy away from this deeper connection for fear of being hurt and often break up with their partner when their trust is compromised.
Less Likely to Marry, More Likely to Divorce
Even if they have been in a loving and committed relationship for years, frequently, children of divorce will still remain reluctant to “pull the trigger.” If they do get married, they will be more inclined to get a divorce when the relationship hits a rough patch. The lesson that their parents modeled for them in childhood is that breaking up is more acceptable than remaining committed to working through the tough issues.
A Greater Chance, But Not Set in Stone
So, what should children of divorce do? Just because their parents’ relationship didn’t work out does not guarantee that their relationships will fail. While there is a higher risk for these children to struggle in adult relationships, it doesn’t mean their destinies are set in stone. When it comes to having healthier relationships, children of divorce can be proactive. Individual and couples counseling can help to work on these three areas where children of divorce typically struggle most.
We know that children of divorced parents may have a tough time in their own relationships as adults. Yet, it doesn’t have to be that way. By being aware of their past, taking proactive steps to understand themselves better, and learning effective relationship skills, they can absolutely have loving and enjoyable partnerships. They can break their parents’ cycle for good to create healthy, satisfying, and lasting relationships of their own.
Are you looking to improve your relationship with your partner? Have there been times when one or both of you became emotionally triggered, causing a small argument to turn into a major blowup? Mindfulness can be a helpful tool for couples looking to strengthen their relationships, improve communication, and develop a greater sense of self and awareness of others around them.
What is Mindfulness?
A mindfulness practice is a process directed at the development of having a heightened or fuller sense of self-awareness of the present moment. This awareness involves obtaining an open and non-judgmental stance regarding what is currently happening in front of you.
A developed mindfulness practice can help you to respond more effectively to varied life situations instead of reacting emotionally or instinctively. It is a mindset that allows you to better cope when there is general stress in general and specific stress between you and your partner.
What are the Benefits of Mindfulness?
There are several benefits of mindfulness, both psychological and physical. These include:
- The ability to calm down
- Lower levels of stress
- A strengthened immune system
- Less anxiety and depression
- Increased self-esteem
- Increased working memory
Mindfulness and Your Mental Narrative
Imagine a time when you and your partner began to feel stressed. Perhaps you started arguing over something that has been a perpetual problem in your relationship. Did you ever hear yourself saying, “Here we go again?” When this happens, do you feel yourself tense up and become more emotionally reactive to what your partner is saying?
Mindfulness can help us avoid playing that “tape in the background” which, in essence, is the narrative we provide ourselves when we become emotionally triggered. Instead, we can stay present and actually hear what our partner says without being judgmental.
Mindfulness and Reactivity
Let’s continue with the example from above. You begin to feel more emotionally reactive to what your partner is saying. For example, you may
- Interrupt your partner to get across your point of view.
- Display nonverbal signs such as shaking your head or rolling your eyes.
- Get up and leaving the conversation.
- Feel hurt or angry and wanting to push back.
- Miss cues that your partner is in emotional pain.
By practicing mindfulness, you can reduce your emotional reactivity. This means that you may avoid having an argument entirely. Or at the very least prevent a small disagreement from turning into a major conflict. You would able to listen and respond more tactfully, instead of emotionally lashing out at your partner.
Remember, healthy couples are skilled at not getting caught up in this negative communication cycle. They can process without easily being emotionally triggered. Some are able to more naturally stay calmer, but for most of us it requires practice.
Three Tips for Mindful Discussions
1. Set aside a specific time with your partner where both of you can be present. For instance, sitting with each other in the evening before bedtime.
2. During this time practice being fully present and be interested in learning more about your partner. Face each other, make eye contact, and listen to what they have to say.
3. Make sure that there are no electronic distractions to divert your attention. Turn off your cell phones.
These discussions can become great practice for not only learning both how to communicate with each other, but also how to truly listen to each other.
Consider Starting a Formal Meditation/Mindfulness Practice
You and your partner can go a step further with mindfulness by starting a meditation practice. There are several advantages that meditation provides us when having important discussions with our partners. For example, we can:
- Learn breathing techniques that help keep us calm.
- Become better aware of our surroundings.
- Learn to acknowledge our thoughts without being hyper-focused on them.
Couples that improve their “relationship mindfulness” are rewarded with the added benefit of having improved communication skills. Both of you can learn how to be less emotionally reactive and truly be present with one another. It can help you and your partner create a stronger and longer-lasting relationship.
Recent research shows that men in relationships consistently underestimate their partner’s interest in sex. This is in stark contrast to prior research that examined perceptions of partner’s interest in sex while dating. In dating relationship, males actually over-estimated their partner’s interest in sex. Why this shift and what can we learn from the data?
Why Do Men Underestimate Their Partner’s Interest?
Some reasons that men may underestimate their partner include:
- Motivation. Underestimation helps to encourage men to stay motivated to entice their partner’s interest. If they don’t think that their partner is interested, men will go out of their way to court their partner.
- Fear. Men are often fearful of sexual rejection. They have more to lose when their partner is not interested.
Research Into Men’s Underestimate of Partner’s Interest
Research into this subject was conducted by Amy Muise (and others) at the University of Toronto and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The research was conducted using mostly heterosexual couples. They filled out surveys in the evening that measured sex drive and how each partner felt about their relationship. This lasted for three weeks. The results showed that the couples with the highest relational quality accurately estimated their partner’s desire for sex. You could say that both were, “on the same wavelength.”
Possibility for Further Research
The study seems to operate on the assumption that it is up to men to initiate sex. This was more implied rather than directly stated. However, it opens up the possibility for further research as to whether women initiate more or less than men and their perception of their partner’s sexual interest. Research should also examine this phenomenon in same-sex relationships.
Expressing Your Feelings, Eliminate the Guesswork
The bottom line? It is best to express your feelings to your partner when you are interested and have a high desire for sexual intimacy. Communication with your partner is important for maintaining a healthy relationship and it obviously eliminates the guesswork when trying to determine whether your partner reciprocates your interest in sex.
More Doesn’t Mean Better
Research also shows that couples who have sex once a week are the most satisfied in their relationships. Couples who have sex more than once a week do not appear to have any significant increase in relationship satisfaction. The relationships don’t get worse, but satisfaction does not improve when the frequency exceeds once a week either.
Interestingly, this corresponds to other research indicating that more is not always better in terms of what makes us happy. One important example correlates to money. Studies also show, that earning more than a certain amount (somewhere $60k and $90k per year depending on the cost of living) does not increase our happiness.
Finding a Happy Balance
So how can couples get to a place where they find a happy balance in the frequency of sexual intimacy? Try some of the following ideas:
- Check in often, even nightly, about how you are feeling.
- Be more attuned to your partner’s needs.
- Establish a date night for intimacy.
- Become more aware of when your partner is- and isn’t- interested in sex.
All of these ideas require effective communicate with your partner. In addition, try to be compassionate and understanding with one another.
But what do you do if you and/or your partner struggle with communication?
Getting Help With Communication
A therapist can help both of you to learn how to communicate more effectively with each other. A couples therapist can provide perspective and help point out unhealthy patterns of communication and interaction. A skilled therapist can teach you tools that will allow you to more capably share not only the simple communications, but also your deeper feelings with one another. He or she can also help to resolve conflicts that have risen between the two of you.
Research shows that men often underestimate their partner’s desire for sex. However, that does not mean that it isn’t possible to reach a point where the two of you are on the same page. Learning and practicing communication tools can be extremely helpful. Talking with a therapist can reveal some communication barriers that may be negatively affecting your relationship. With professional support, you can both find a healthy balance in order to enjoy a more satisfying relationship.