Although the man vs. mother-in-law dynamic has long been the focus of family jokes, new research suggests that in-law conflict occurs more often between mothers and their daughters-in-law. For her new book What Do You Want From Me? Dr. Terri Apter, a Cambridge University psychologist and senior tutor, researched hundreds of families for two decades and found that more than 60 per cent of women say the relationship with a female in-law causes them long-term unhappiness and stress.
Apter claims that the tension between female in-laws is often linked to competition for the "mother" role in the family: While a daughter-in-law expects that she will be the decision maker in traditionally female areas like housework and child-care, a mother in law may expect deference because of her established maternal expertise. As she explains, "Mother-in-law and daughter-in-law conflict often emerges from an expectation that each is criticising or undermining the other, but this mutual unease may have less to do with actual attitudes and far more to do with persistent female norms that few of us manage to shake off completely."
Apter also claims that "an element of romance" often present in the mother/son relationship is also part of the problem. When the daughter-in-law enters the picture, she expects to be the most important woman in her husband's life, which may make the mother feel that she is trying to sever her maternal relationship with her son. Rather than battling with their wife's mother, more men are having problems maintaining and differentiating their relationships between their own mothers and their wives. "The only realistic way to approach marriage is to accept that there will be six people in the marriage bed," advises Apter. Sounds... hideously kinky!
In-Law tensions Hit Women The Hardest [The Guardian]