Guidance Counseling Project Topics

Family Types, Mother-in-laws Interference and Marital Adjustments for Couples in Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor LGA of River’s State: Implications for Counseling

Family Types, Mother-in-laws Interference and Marital Adjustments for Couples in Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor LGA of River's State: Implications for Counseling

Family Types, Mother-in-laws Interference and Marital Adjustments for Couples in Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor LGA of River’s State: Implications for Counseling

Chapter One

Purpose of the Study

Despite some studies that involved the constructs of interference, support and boundaries, these constructs were not measured using more than one item, or several items were used to measure these constructs within a different context (e.g. work-family interference).  Due to the lack of availability of questionnaires that specifically measured the construct of marital interference, support and boundaries, the author, in an earlier study (Goldstein, 2011b), developed a new scale called the Marital Interference and Boundaries Scale (MIBS;(Goldstein, 2011a)) that aimed to measure these constructs within the context of the aforementioned triadic relationship from the perspective of married males and females.



In order to understand the phenomenon under investigation, it is important to be knowledgeable about the literature that relates directly and indirectly relates to the phenomenon under investigation.  Therefore, in preparing to undertake this study, the following areas of literature were reviewed: marital satisfaction, adult-child parental relationships, daughter-in-law mother-in-law relationships, social networks’ impact on marital satisfaction, and in-laws’ behaviors’ effect on marital satisfaction.  This chapter provides a summary of those areas of the literature.

Marital Satisfaction

Researchers often disagree on the definition of the construct of marital satisfaction, positing that many studies actually measured other variables such as marital quality and/or dyadic adjustment.  Spanier (1976) referred to dyadic adjustment as “a process of movement along a continuum which can be evaluated in terms of proximity to good or poor adjustment.”  Spanier (1988) claimed that his instrument, the Dyadic Adjustment Scale (DAS; 1976) worked best as a global assessment of marital quality and the individual subscales of the instrument did not adequately capture their reflected constructs.  Since the creation of the DAS, researchers have utilized the combined subscales to represent marital satisfaction.  However, according to Ward, Lundberg, Zabriskie, and Berrett (2009) the construct of marital quality or dyadic adjustment, suggested by  Spanier (1976, 1988), refers to a person’s global evaluation of the marriage relationship, which is similar, but not equivalent to marital satisfaction.  Ward et al. (2009) argued that the construct of marital satisfaction should have a positive connotation rather than a meaning that is derived from the absence of distress.

Since the purpose of this study is to differentiate between distressed and nondistressed  couples to test the phenomenon under investigation, and since the Revised Dyadic Adjustment Scale (RDAS) was utilized in the present study to test the construct whose definition was not modified from Spanier’s original definition, Spanier’s (1976) definition of dyadic adjustment will be utilized to represent marital satisfaction: “A process, the outcome of which is determined by the degree of: (1) troublesome dyadic differences, (2) interpersonal tensions and personal anxiety; (3) dyadic satisfaction; (4) dyadic cohesion; and (5) consensus on matters of importance to dyadic functioning.”

Even though some researchers try to draw clear distinctions between various constructs and terms i.e. marital quality, dyadic adjustment and marital satisfaction, many others have used them interchangeably without specifying their unique definitions and conceptualizations.  Nevertheless, marital satisfaction is one of the most studied phenomena and robust constructs in marriage and family research.  It has for many couples become a measure of the success and stability of a marriage and by extension, personal satisfaction and happiness.  For numerous researchers, it has become a useful dependent variable in predicting distress or divorce.

20% of marriages are disrupted by separation or divorce after five years (Bramlett & Mosher, 2002).  The research undertaken in the area of marital satisfaction has yielded various factors that explain the success or failure of couples’ relationships.    The following factors have been identified in the research as having significant influence on marital satisfaction:  positive perceptions, adaptive behavior, individual characteristics, external stress, couples’ social networks, and adult-child parental relationships.

Positive perceptions

The findings of Huston, Caughlin, Houts, Smith, and George (2001) suggested that most differences between happy and unhappy couples are a result of the difference in attitude and exist already at the start of marriage rather than developing later.  Spouses involved in lasting happy marriages identified the ability to focus on each other’s positive qualities and pay attention to the enjoyment they experience in their relationship as major factors that serve as an explanation of the strength of their union.  In contrast, couples that are less in love later in their marriage viewed each other as less open, are more ambivalent about their relationship, and are more pessimistic than are couples who stay married and are happy in a marriage.  It follows that, according to Huston et al. (2001), in more troubled marriages, the propensity to give one’s partner the benefit of the doubt may subside.





All participants were tested utilizing internet sampling.  The confidential survey, consisting of the demographic questionnaire, the Marital Interference and Boundaries Scale, the Revised Dyadic Adjustment Scale, and measures of mother-in-law discord were uploaded onto utilizing a new account created by the author.  To recruit participants, the link to the survey was emailed to the researcher’s contacts and posted daily on social networking websites, including Facebook and Linkedin, for approximately two weeks from November 23, 2012 to December 11, 2012.  When participants followed the link to the survey, the screen displayed the approved informed consent document.


  Participants were married females (N = 299) with living mothers-in-law.  52 participants failed to complete the survey.  Six participants were screened out of the study because they reported that their mothers-in-law were no longer living.  Of the 241 participants that completed the survey, the reported median age was 34.  196 participants (81.3%) reported their race as White, 25 participants or 10.4% reported their race as Hispanic. 


Revised Dyadic Adjustment Scale  

The Revised Dyadic Adjustment Scale (RDAS ; Busby, Crane, Larson, & Christensen, 1995) consists of 14 items and is a commonly accepted and widely used measure of marital satisfaction (see Appendix A).  Participants mark their responses on a five point Likert-type scale ranging from 0 (always disagree) to 5 (always agree).  A sample item is “making major decisions.”  All items are summed to determine a score representing an individual’s level of marital satisfaction.  Individual scores range from 0 to 70; higher scores indicate greater satisfaction.  This measure has been demonstrated to have acceptable internal consistency.  Although utilized by researchers and practitioners alike, this scale was not originally intended to measure marital satisfaction, but dyadic adjustment.



Confirmatory Factor Analysis

Maximum likelihood estimation was used in this CFA model for this analysis because of the balanced, reliable, and efficient estimates it produces. Also, because of the limited sample size of the current study, Hu and Bentler (1999) recommended using this estimation technique to reduce errors in the calculation of the fit indices. The hypothesized CFA model was analyzed using Amos 21.0. The fit indices chosen in this analysis include the chi-square statistic, the root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA), the CFI, and the NNFI, and they were chosen from the suggestions of previous literature and their sensitivity to model misspecification (Hu & Bentler, 1999).  MacCallum, Browne, and Sugawara (1996) considered RMSEA values in the range of .08 to. 10 to indicate mediocre fit.  Hu and Bentler (1999) recommended cutoff values of .95 or higher for the CFI and NNFI.

The value for the RMSEA (.096, 90% confidence interval = .090 – .101) suggests a mediocre fit for the CFA model, according to MacCallum et al. (1996), whereas the values for the CFI (.84) and the NNFI (.80) fall below the Hu and Bentler’s (1999) suggested cutoff of .95.  However, as noted by Lance, Butts, and Michels (2006), some authors argue whether the .95 cutoff should be lowered or abandoned all together.  The chi-square statistic, X2 = 2(350) = 1302.77, p <.01, supports the conclusion for lack of model fit.  However, the problem of relatively well-fitting models being rejected by the chi-square statistic has been well documented in the literature.   Thus, the results showed mixed support for the hypothesized factor structure of the instrument.



Development of the MIBS

Due to a lack of availability of instruments specifically measuring outside interference and support from a marital couple’s social network, including in-laws, the Marital Interference and Boundaries Scale (MIBS) was created by the researcher.  The items intended to reflect interfering and supportive behaviors that could conceivably be engaged in by a man’s mother with regard to his marital relationship.  The items constructed with regard to boundaries were created to demonstrate a husband’s active alignment with his spouse relative to his mother.  These items were developed by a thorough review of the literature related to marital satisfaction, couple’s social networks, adult child parental relationships, and in-law relationships.

Hypothesis 1 predicted that the confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) would validate the three-factor structure of the MIBS.  The CFA showed mixed support for the hypothesized structure of the instrument.  While the RMSEA value suggested a mediocre fit (MacCallum et al., 1996), other fit indices (CFI, NFI, and chi-square) suggested that the proposed model was a poor fit to the data.  This suggests that the MIBS items may represent more than the hypothesized three factor structure.  Indeed, other authors have suggested that there may be more variables involved with in-law relationships, such as positive and negative aspects of support, for example, showing acceptance or withholding trust and appreciation.  However, it was noted by Lance et al. (2006) that suggested cutoff’s and the implication of those cutoffs for the goodness of fit indices have been widely misinterpreted over time.  Further, despite the conceivable poor fit, the instrument’s subscales possessed good to excellent internal consistency.  The instrument also possesses good criterion validity and demonstrated convergent validity.

Regression Findings

Hypothesis 2 asserted that within the triadic relationship between the daughter-inlaw, her husband, and his mother, the level of interference that existed as a result of the mother-in-law’s behavior would be a significant predictor of marital satisfaction.  Hypotheses 2 regarding interference received support as participant’s Interference factor scores significantly predicted Revised Dyadic Adjustment Scale (RDAS) scores.  This is consistent with findings from the literature related to couple’s social networks, which indicates that interfering relatives can detract from marital satisfaction (Julien et al., 1994; Marotz-Baden & Cowan, 1987; Widmer et al., 2009).  Similarly, Hypothesis 4 regarding supportive in-law interaction was supported, which is consistent with findings that indicate supportive in-law interactions can result in increases in marital satisfaction.

Hypothesis 3 asserted that participants’ greater Boundaries factor scores on the MIBS would serve as a mediator to the effect of Interference factor scores on RDAS scores.   Similarly, this hypothesis received support as it appears that the relationship between Interference and marital satisfaction is mediated by husbands’ supportive and boundary-setting behaviors.  This is divergent from Wu et al.’s (2010) findings which suggest a moderating relationship of husbands’ supportive behaviors.  Rather than lessening the effect of interference on marital satisfaction, when the Boundaries factor was added to the regression model, the effects of interference on marital satisfaction were completely counteracted.

Theoretical Implications

Taken together, the results confirm results achieved by researchers of couples’ social networks (Bryan, Fitzpatrick, Crawford, & Fischer, 2001; Julien et al., 1994; Widmer et al., 2009).  The results also can be explained by and suggest support for Bowen’s (1972) theory of triangles.  Within a triadic relationship between an adult son, his mother and his wife, that is characterized by interference, the mother appears to be the marginalized third party who is trying to re-establish a relationship and connection with her son, which has defined her for so much of her adult life (Turner et al., 2006).  When the adult son allows his mother to interfere by not defending his wife if his mother criticizes her, it results in the son’s alignment with his mother, which in turn makes the wife the alienated third party.  It follows that this alienation from the triad results in decreased marital satisfaction.  Thus, even though wives’ marital satisfaction may decrease with interference from her mother-in-law, those effects are nulled when husbands set appropriate boundaries and show support for wives when interacting with husbands’ interfering mothers.  For example, when a mother-in-law is openly critical of her daughter-in-law, interference will exert its effect on the couple’s marital satisfaction.  However, when women perceive that their husbands set and enforce boundaries with their mothers, the effects are twofold: the mother lessens, if not discontinues, engaging in the interfering behavior, but also the marital bond is strengthened because the husband’s act of setting boundaries with his mother demonstrates trust and support for his wife.  Thus, the balance of power shifts in favor of the marital relationship relative to the familial relationship, and in turn increases marital satisfaction for wives, which occurs because the dyadic relationship between husband and wife is being strengthened by husbands’ boundary-setting behavior toward their mothers.

The findings of the present study are also consistent with Serewicz’s (2008) triangular theory of communication with in-laws.  Serewicz’s theory posited that the relationship between in-laws usually manifests as the weaker side of a triangle in which the other two sides represent the stronger bonds.  In the present study, the stronger bonds would be the spousal and familial relationships.  Floyd and Morr’s (2003) findings demonstrated that while the marital and familial sides of the triangle are characteristically stronger than the in-law side, the two strong sides of the triangle are not likely to be of equal strength.  Thus, it is not likely that the strength of the familial relationship, between adult son and his mother, and the spousal relationship can be equal.   Serewicz (2008) suggested that differences in the relative strength of the marital and familial relationships correspond to differences in the power of the two in-law triad members. The in-law triad member with the closer bond to, in the case of the present study, the husband, can exert greater influence on the other in-law, the wife or mother, through that relationship.

Additionally, according to Serewicz (2008), the quality of the husband’s relationships with his mother and his wife are independent of the relationship between the daughter-inlaw and mother-in-law.

In the present study, in accordance to Serewicz’s theory (2008), daughters-in-law who reported more interference by their mothers-in-law can be said to have less power in their marital relationship than their mother-in-laws have in the relationship with their sons, respectively.  Similarly, those wives who reported that their husbands set a higher level of emotional boundaries with their mothers-in-law can be viewed as having greater power in the relationship with their husbands relative to their mothers-in-law.    Those wives who reported lower Boundaries have less power in the relationship with their husbands than their in-law counterparts.  Consequently, this discrepancy of power, according to Serewicz’s (2008) findings and the results of the present study, translated to reduced marital satisfaction.

In sum, while discord between daughter-in-law and mother-in-law may be an important predictor of marital satisfaction for the daughter-in-law, even more essential is the degree in which her husband supports her in the face of her in-law relationship conflict.  It seems that Boundaries is a better predictor of marital satisfaction than Interference.  This is consistent with research which demonstrates that positive communication, trust and cooperation are significant predictors of marital satisfaction (Tallman & Hsiao, 2004).

Interestingly, Interference was significantly negatively correlated to participants’ current perceptions of closeness between their husbands and mothers-in-law, which suggests that as daughters-in-law perceived their mothers-in-law to be increasingly more interfering or negative, they perceived that their husbands were less close within the relationship to their mothers.  Thus, with regard to Serewicz’s (2008) findings and theory, the closer a man is in relationship with his mother, the less she interferes in his marital relationship.  This may suggest that she already possesses sufficient power relative to the marital relationship.  A man’s closer relationship with his mother allows his marital relationship more freedom from interference because his mother feels secure with her familial bond with her son, and therefore boundaries are easier to establish and enforce.

Conversely, when reported interference is higher, daughters-in-law reported that their husbands are less close to their mothers.  Because of the correlational nature of these findings, we must be cautious about making causal inferences.  In addition,Widmer et al. (2009) points out that the effects of couples’ social networks’ behavior on marital satisfaction are characteristically bidirectional.

Boundaries scores were significantly negatively correlated to participants’ perceptions of their husbands’ and mothers-in-law’s closeness prior to marriage.  This suggests that daughters-in-law who perceived their husbands to be extremely close with their mothers before marriage, experience their husbands as less able to effectively support them by setting boundaries in the marital relationship with their mothers.

Consistent with Morr Serewicz’s (2008) triangular theory of communication with inlaws, this may imply that for daughters-in-law who reported their husbands had a close relationship with their mothers before marriage it was harder to gain power in the relationship with their husbands relative to the power already possessed by their mothersin-law.  Additionally, these husbands with close ties with their mothers may have been ineffective in, unaware of the need to, and/or found it more difficult to set and enforce appropriate boundaries with their mothers due to being too close.

Supportive In-law Relationships

Support predicted marital satisfaction, which implies that while it may be important to a marriage for a female to gain the respective power over her husband in relation to his mother, it may be even more useful to try to maintain equal power.

Serewicz (2008) asserted that if a power struggle between an in-law dyad does not occur, the strength of the bond between the two in-laws is likely to be enhanced as they get to know each other.

Therefore, if a husband maintains a close, but healthy relationship with his mother before marriage, this may increase the likelihood that his wife will enter into the triadic relationship with equal power and over time, his wife and mother will grow to achieve mutual love and respect.  According to Serewicz (2008), it is likely that in-laws who like each other will experience a relationship that more closely resembles a voluntary, genuine relationship than will in-laws who dislike each other.


  • Amato, Paul R., & Booth, Alan. (1991). Consequences of parental divorce and marital unhappiness for adult well-being. Social Forces, 69(3), 895-914. doi:
  • Amato, Paul R., Loomis, Laura Spencer, & Booth, Alan. (1995). Parental divorce, marital conflict, and offspring well-being during early adulthood. Social Forces, 73(3),
  • Baucom, Donald H., Gordon, Kristina C., Snyder, Douglas K., Atkins, David C., & Christensen, Andrew. (2006). Treating Affair Couples: Clinical Considerations and Initial Findings. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 20(4), 375-392. doi:
  • Beaton, John M., Norris, Joan E., & Pratt, Michael W. (2003). Unresolved issues in adult children’s marital relationships involving intergenerational problems. Family  Relations, 52(2), 143-153. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3729.2003.00143.x
  • Birditt, Kira S., Miller, Laura M., Fingerman, Karen L., & Lefkowitz, Eva S. (2009). Tensions in the parent and adult child relationship: Links to solidarity and ambivalence. Psychology and Aging, 24(2), 287-295. doi: 10.1037/a0015196
  • Bowen, Murray. (1972). Family therapy and family group therapy. In H. I. Kaplan & B. J. Sadock (Eds.), Group treatment of mental illness. New York, NY England: E.
  • Dutton. Bramlett, M.D., & Mosher, W.D. (2002). Cohabitation, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the United States. National Center for Health Statistics., Vital
  • Bronfenbrenner, Urie. (1986). Ecology of the family as a context for human development: Research perspectives. Developmental Psychology, 22(6), 723-742. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.22.6.723
  • Bryan, Laura, Fitzpatrick, Jacki, Crawford, Duane, & Fischer, Judith. (2001). The role of network support and interference in women’s perception of romantic, friend, and parental relationships. Sex Roles, 45(7-8), 481-499. doi:
  • Bryant, Chalandra M., Conger, Rand D., & Meehan, Jennifer M. (2001). The influence of in-laws on change in marital success. Journal of Marriage & the Family, 63(3),
  • Buhl, Heike M. (2008). Significance of individuation in adult child-parent relationships. Journal of Family Issues, 29(2), 262-281. doi: 10.1177/0192513×07304272
WeCreativez WhatsApp Support
Our customer support team is here to answer your questions. Ask us anything!