Ever since ancient times, the relationship between a married woman and her mother-in-law has often been the butt of many jokes. Mother-in-laws generally view their daughters-in-law with suspicion and are not able to tolerate their mistakes. Is there a psychological explanation for the mother-in-law type of behavior?
The mother might have an overwhelming sense of responsibility for her son. She might be a woman with no clear boundaries. She allows her son to be the focal point of her life and does not have a clear understanding of his life. Such a woman will often be an unwelcome intruder into her son’s life. There are other mother-in-laws who have the unnatural fear of losing their relationship with their son. A mother with this fear works hard at being what her son needs her to be. This makes her less honest and fearful.
There are other mothers who think it’s their duty to protect their son from other bad people and sometimes, this might even include his father. This gives her a false sense of importance. There are women who never outgrow the idea that their son is a grown up man now. Such women tend to be over possessive mothers in law who continue to baby their son and even smother him with sweetness whether he likes it or not (Sadasivan, 2006). These abnormal traits in a mother in law can lead to conflicts with the daughter in law.
It is possible that an aggressive mother-in-law who has difficulty in coping with her son’s wife may be suffering from Sons Detachment Disorder (SDD). The mother finds it difficult to detach herself from her son and allow him to live and independent life. Because of this attachment, she feels the need to control her daughter-in-law and any resistance by her is viewed with hatred and anger. Control, hate, and anger are the three main qualities of this disorder.
Every human being desires freedom and in any relationship the threat to freedom is the greatest danger. In the case of mothers-in-law, there is a desire to control and this affects the freedom of the younger ones. When there is an overwhelming desire to control, mothers are not willing to let go of their sons even when they get married. Mothers try to make decisions for their sons even after their marriages and control them by keeping track of their expenditure patterns, where they are going, what they are wearing and advising them even in matters such as where to buy a house.
Many mothers feel more in control when they are able to predict the behavior of others and when others meet their expectations. Hatred and anger are often signs of insecurity. Here, the mothers might have a feeling that their sons are leaving them for another woman and this arouses a lot of hatred and anger towards her son’s wife. This is more compounded when the mother in law also happens to be a widow. Such anger and hatred can cause destruction not only to their sons and wives but also to her.
Sometimes, the problem may lie with a daughter-in-law’s perception of her mother in law. When a woman gets married, she needs to cope with a new family with new rules. She often fears her mother in law even before knowing her because of her exposure to the image of a mother in law as evil personified in the media. A mother-in-law is often depicted as a dragon personified in TV serials and novels.
Due to this stereotyping of mother-in-laws, the son’s wife enters her new life with a lot of doubt, anxiety and worry. In this case, even a small remark by her mother-in-law will be seen in an enlarged dimension. She might be so wary of her that she does not communicate much with her mother-in-law. This can lead to a huge gap between the two women and lead to mother-in-law based conflicts. In this case it’s easy for the mother in law to judge her incommunicative daughter in law as a careless and destructive person.
Another reason contributing to this conflict is that the mother in law might be too dependent on her son for her self-esteem needs. She needs him so that she might get a sense of importance. When she sees her son beginning to rely more on his wife, she feels upset and might start feigning sickness just to get the immediate attention from her son.
Apart from the reasons cited above there might also be the case of mothers-in-law hating their daughters-in-law due to their personal reluctance to accept another woman into the household. There are likely to be differences based on status, education, age and culture between a married woman and her mother in law. These differences might make the connection between the two women more difficult.
However, no problem is so complex that it cannot be solved. Every relationship needs some time, patience and understanding and trust to develop. Once developed, it’s possible that the two most important women in a man’s life might become the best of friends.
Sadasivan, Padma (2006). The Mother-in-Law – Daughter-in-Law Syndrome. http://www.womenexcel.com/relati