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Spend the holidays with your son-in-law

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Every couple I know has a plan for the holidays. Which family will they spend their time with? Some take turns, some spend Thanksgiving with one family and Christmas with the other, but a new research study implies that the best place to be may be with your wife's family. This is especially true if they love their son-in-law.

We have all heard stories about the in-laws. In fact, when the topic of the in-laws comes up, you may see couples rolling their eyes or voicing a verbal insult. According to Terri Orbuch Ph.D., from the University of Michigan's Institute of Social Research, a 26-year longitudinal study of married couples showed that marriages in which the husband reported feeling close to his in-laws were more successful and content. For the couples in the study where the husband reported being close to his wife's parents, risk of divorce over the next 16 years was 20% lower than for the group overall. This same effect was not seen with the wife. In fact, if the wife reported being close to her in-laws, that seemed to have the opposite effect and the divorce rate was 20% higher than the overall group.

This study is enlightening for us because it spanned over 26 years, and it holds information regarding the importance of family when we talk about marriages. There are numerous explanations why the husband's in-laws may be instrumental in helping keep a marriage together, just as why a wife's in-laws have the ability to cause problems in the marriage. Dr. Orbuch explains that when wives feel close to their husband's parents she may find it difficult to set boundaries and therefore as she becomes close to them she may also misconstrue good intention by her in-laws as meddling. This causes problems between her and her husband (the in-law's son). Dr. Orbuch goes on to say that husbands, for the most part, prioritize their ability to provide for their family, and therefore may become less involved with the emotional aspects of a relationship with his in-laws. Therefore, boundaries are less likely to be an issue for him. In my practice I have witnessed marital issues when wives get too close to their in-laws (especially with their husband's mother) as they may develop a bond which resembles a "ganging up" mentality felt by the husband. However, when husbands become close with their in-laws the wives seems to appreciate and respect them more. This may explain as well some of the changes we see in marital satisfaction as it correlates with the son and daughter-in-law.

No matter if you are an in-law to a son or an in-law to a daughter you do have an incredible amount of influence on your children's marriage. Holidays are the perfect times to secure that relationship even further. Below I have suggestions that may help you help your child's marriage last happily ever after:

1. Don't ever get into comparing one family against the other. Embrace your son-in-law and appreciate his strengths, and let your daughter-in-law know that you are grateful she is considerate and kind to your son.

2. Over the holidays work with your children to arrange to see both in-law families. You can do this by alternating times to open presents and eat Christmas dinner.

3. When possible make an effort to see your in-laws' parents. When you get together this is sure to make your daughter happy, and your son reassured.

4. If you have a son-in-law, spend time with him alone (it can be as simple as a café over the kitchen table). He needs to know you like him and are glad he is in your family. Guys need the support from their wives' parents, and your daughter will love you and her husband more for it.

5. If you have a daughter-in-law that you adore, spending time with her is great as long as you don't exclude your son. Your son will not be as supportive of you as parents if he feels as though you and his wife are plotting against him.

Parents have so much influence in their children's lives, not only in childhood, but in adulthood too. When your child gets married the person they choose becomes part of your family legacy. Marriages where the spouse of the child is supported have a stronger foundation in which to grow, and they are better able to handle conflict as well as the stressors life throws that way. If you are feeling as though you did your job once your kids are grown, this study suggests your job as a parent is never over, and in fact intensifies once the kids marry.

– Mary Jo Rapini

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