Sons-in-law are not exempt from meddling moms

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Sons-in-law are not exempt from meddling moms

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Instead of the usual discord between a wife and her husband’s mother, a recent trend has seen more husbands citing conflict with interfering mothers-in-law as a significant factor in divorces.

After six months of dating, a 34-year-old office employee surnamed Shim popped the questioned to his girlfriend and married her in August 2011.

But from their honeymoon on, his relationship with not just his wife but his in-laws was rocky.

His mother-in-law was meddlesome enough that she checked up on how large the loan was for the house that Shim provided for the couple.

If he had a squabble with his wife, his in-laws - who lived five minutes away - would come over immediately and intervene. Shim’s mother-in-law would demand, “Why won’t you understand my daughter?” She would even resort to throwing remote controls or phone receivers at him and, when angered, call him rude names like “son of a b----.”

After seven months of constant arguments with his wife and her mother ensued, Shim’s father-in-law was the first to suggest, “Why don’t you just separate?” He also requested the man pay alimony of 30 million won ($25,900).

There is a saying in Korean that translates as “the further away the in-laws, the better,” which now makes sense to Shim.

A Korean marriage consultant company, Bien Aller, stated on Monday that according to a survey of 138 men who divorced last year, 26.1 percent claimed their divorce was due to “conflict with and intervention of the in-laws.” Of 186 women surveyed, a markedly lower 17.2 percent claimed to have divorced their husbands for the same reason.

Traditionally, sons in Korea are revered by their doting parents and grandparents, and the women they marry are subjugated to pleasing their eagle-eyed mothers-in-law by carrying out household chores, cooking and childbirth and rearing.

One possible reason for the increased tension between the husband and mother-in-law could be parents’ increased attention to their daughters.

Another man who got divorced last year due to trouble with the in-laws said, “My ex-wife was an only daughter, so growing up she received a lot of love from my in-laws. Her parents were very invested in her education and she has a master’s degree.” The 35-year-old, surnamed Kim, added, “As they had high expectations of their daughter, they found that their son-in-law did not meet their expectations, so they were disappointed.”

Son Dong-gyu, a representative from Bien Aller, said, “As women have higher educational degrees and better jobs, and the number of offspring [per household] is shrinking, more parents are still doting on their daughters even after they marry. There are increasing cases where the wife’s parents demand a divorce if they believe their daughter is being treated wrongfully.”

As problems during pregnancy and infant rearing are oftentimes solved with the help of the in-laws, the number of times that the husband and mother-in-law bump heads also increases.

Specialists in family counseling state that to resolve the conflict between the husband and the in-laws, the wife must play the role of mediator.

Her parents should treat her as an independent adult, specialists said, adding that both sets of in-laws should also be treated equally.

Choi Gang-hyeon, a researcher on spousal relationships, said, “When the presence of the wife’s parents is strongly felt, it is important that the wife makes an effort to prevent her husband from feeling alienated.”


By Kim Min-sang [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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