WMU News

Researcher dispels myth of the strained, female in-law relationship

April 16, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- The pervasive notion that the relationship between a mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law is destined for heartache and years of uncomfortable holiday dinners is a perceptual illusion, according to a Western Michigan University researcher.

Dr. Paul Yelsma, professor of communication, has completed a study involving 66 pairs of mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law and found there was little basis for the belief that this adult relationship is more difficult to develop and maintain than any other family relationship.

"A woman's feelings about the relationship, and the way she expresses her feelings with her mother-in-law or daughter-in-law are more important than how the other woman views her," says Yelsma.

Yelsma's research refutes a 1954 study that reported the relationships between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law are the most difficult of all family relationships because mothers-in-law were found to be too meddlesome, interfering, possessive or demanding.

"Even though there might be problems within the relationship, the way each person sees herself communicating and developing an expressive atmosphere with either her mother-in-law or daughter-in-law ultimately determines the level of satisfaction she has with the other," says Yelsma.

Surprisingly, Yelsma says, he found the quality of the relationship was not affected if the daughter-in-law had been previously married. Instead, he found that it was the mother-in-law who was more likely to adjust in order to preserve a relationship with the daughter-in-law.

"Clearly, daughters-in-law today have many more resources affecting family relationships than they did 50 years ago," says Yelsma. His data indicated that daughters-in-law today have higher education levels, and earn more money than their mothers-in-law.

Media contact: Matt Gerard, 269 387-8400, matthew.gerard@wmich.edu

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