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Think Tank

The In-Law Conundrum: Don't Let Thanksgiving Ruin Your Marriage

Thanksgiving is a time to be grateful. It is a time to eat too much. It is also a time to deal with in-laws, which is the cause of great stress. 

In fact, studies conducted over the past fifteen years give us a disturbing picture of just how toxic in-law relationships can be. According to Terri Apter, author of What Do You Want from Me?: Learning to Get Along with In-Laws, "we integrate our love for our parents with our rage against our parents when they are not perfectly responsive to us and lack the power to protect us from all human ills."

This means that we are able to accept a mix of qualities, and we extend this "emotional integration" to siblings who we love but also view as rivals. We learn to do this from infancy. But when it comes to in-laws, we lack strong emotional bond that "facilitates integration of mixed feelings with other family members."

Apter's studies found that the most difficult in-law tension occurs between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. Mothers-in-law are the cause of sustained stress for more than 60 percent of married women. Only 15 percent of married men experience this. 

So how can these relationships be managed? One chapter in Apter's book asks hard questions about "our own biases and our own tendencies to discount others' criticism." Apter says this is the most difficult chapter in her book because it essentially asks readers to identify ways that they may be contributing to their problems with in-laws. 

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