Why do daughters hate daughter-in-law

The daughter-in-law as a competitor

The daughter-in-law as a competitor

A lot of women are familiar with that with their mother-in-law. Terri Apter has thoroughly investigated the problem as a psychologist & ndash; and as affected

Mrs. Apter, how many women do you know who say, "I have a great relationship with my mother-in-law"? Good relationships are not impossible. After all, 10 percent of the women I interviewed for my current book about dealing with relatives-in-law gave me positive reports. Up to and including the statement: “She is like the mother I always wanted.” But the majority of those questioned had less positive experiences? Yes, around 60 percent of daughters and mothers-in-law described their relationship as tense, difficult, hostile or terrible. Mostly, daughters-in-law complain about interference and know-it-all.

Is this criticism justified? A little bit. When people see their status threatened, they can become intolerant. Women still feel strongly responsible for family cohesion. They measure their worth by their influence in the family. This can create a competition between the two women. Because the mother-in-law thinks she has to prove how important she is for her son's new family.

Does that mean that mothers-in-law claim first place in their son's life for life? For a mother, the marriage of the son means that an outsider takes the place of the closest confidante. She wonders whether this new woman will care for her son lovingly and well enough, whether her position in the family is threatened, whether the relationship with her son will change. The daughter-in-law, on the other hand, would like to form her own family with her partner and perceives the mother-in-law's demands as an attack on this unit.


From the beginning, try to have a good relationship with your mother-in-law. The more stuck conflicts become, the more difficult it will be to resolve them later. Once the marriage bond has been made and children are involved, you will likely need your mother-in-law's support.

Causes of conflict

So the conflict actually arises from the fact that mothers cannot let go of their sons? Daughters-in-law often claim: “She cannot share her son.” Or: “She does not accept that he is an adult.” However, if one examines the cases more closely, it becomes clear that it is not simply about the cliché of the jealous mother. Then what is it about? Most of the time the problems arise from interaction between the three. Sure, the mother-in-law is afraid of losing her son. But there is also the daughter-in-law's claim to be the most important woman in her husband's life. She also wants to be supported by her mother-in-law, but also to be left alone.

So daughters-in-law aren't innocent angels either? Oh no! You can be aggressive in pursuing her goal of being the number one woman in the family. Many admit to being as grumpy and moody when dealing with their mother-in-law as they were when dealing with their own mother as a teenager.

Why is there so seldom insoluble quarrels between men and their in-laws? There are also disagreements, they just don't escalate like that. Men stay more in the background when visiting their in-laws and are less likely than women to worry about subtle criticism. Often, daughters and mothers-in-law get on really well with each other at the beginning.

What happens then? Every family has its own culture of argument. Becoming a family also means learning the rules. As long as you don't know them, dealing with one another is characterized by uncertainty. We are nice to avoid conflict. But the constant striving for harmony ultimately increases the discomfort.

Addiction to harmony slows down communication

Please explain that in more detail. Avoiding convulsive conflicts restricts communication. Many women criticize that. They find the stressed friendliness of their mother-in-law superimposed - and react with displeasure. Whereupon the mother-in-law wonders why they are so cool and repulsive to her. Fearing that the situation might remove her from her son, she reacts with the niceness syndrome, which continues to annoy her daughter-in-law.

Your book is based on your own experiences as a daughter-in-law. What were the problems? My mother-in-law was a woman of the 50s through and through. She believed that your role as wife and mother alone defines yourself. Therefore, her appreciation for me focused on these areas of life. For example, there was praise for well-done laundry. I hated that. I saw myself as an equal partner and reacted brusquely. From her point of view, however, she just wanted to be friendly. So she kept praising me for things I didn't want praise for - and I withdrew even more. A typical vicious circle.

What role do men play in such conflicts? A very decisive one! The partner could cushion the problems: by assuring his mother that she will always be an important part of his life, that he loves and respects her. At the same time, however, he can show her that his most important caregiver is his wife, for example by immediately blocking criticism of her. She will feel provoked by his mother less quickly if she is sure that he is on her side.

Competition hardens the fronts

Why does this strategy often fail? The fact that men have a hard time with her. Even as teenagers, women practice setting boundaries for their mothers: “Don't always tell me what to do!” As boys, men have less experience in such fine-tuning of relationships because they were less encouraged by their mothers to do housework. If you suddenly have to set limits on your mother, as husbands, you prefer to leave this relationship work to your wives.

Mothers-in-law are very reluctant to be put in their place. Why are they so sensitive? They have great confidence in their own life experience and judgment. Why should they allow themselves to be reprimanded by someone who is likely to have less authority than a mother and housewife? This competition often even leads to divorces.

Does it have to be that way? The tensions usually only have a destructive effect on the marriage when the woman feels that she is powerless and defenseless in her own home. When her own needs count less than those of her mother-in-law in everyday family life.


How can couples counteract the danger in good time? In principle, a man's conflict of loyalty is a major risk factor. A typical exchange of blows often takes place in such constellations: he has to ask his wife which side he is on. To which he counters, why she doesn't support him in his duties as a son. Such an escalation, however, can be avoided: by the couple defining their mother's role within the family and working out a way of keeping in touch without neglecting their own happiness. The trick is to turn competition into collaboration.

The expert:

Dr. Terri Apter, 57, a psychologist, teaches at Newnham College, Cambridge, England. Her books on family relationships are internationally recognized. Her current work “What Do You Want from Me? Learning to Get Along with In-Laws ”(Norton) she explores the conflict between daughters and mothers-in-law. Apter is married and has two grown daughters.

And there are mothers-in-law involved? They accept a lot as long as they are sure of a place in the family. A rejection like “This is not a good time to visit” or “We'd like to make this decision alone” is easier to swallow if you don't feel left out.

Looking back on your own biography as a daughter-in-law, would you do things differently? Naturally! I now understand that our conflict also arose from an interaction. If I had made it easier for her, she might have understood me more. However, I think she was convinced that she was doing the right thing all her life. And she still is today, at 91 years old.