The Eternal Triangle?


My mother never asked me that question but I can sympathise with Jim Brown for the predicament that he found himself in, as this is a question many mothers ask their sons after the latter gets married.

My mother had different ways of getting the same message across to her daughters in law. Very subtle she was too about it but her daughters in law were were clever too and knew how to manage the situations. I do not know much about quite how the Scottish daughter in law managed, but the two Indian ones had very effective strategies and tactics to outwit the mother in law. When the intended effect was not achieved within a reasonable amount of time, my mother would simply shift her theater of operation from one son’s home to another’s or to her daughter’s to retreat and fight another day.

There were other mothers in law in her circle where notes were exchanged and acceptable strategies were discussed. Occasionally, one particularly gentle father in law, my mother’s brother, would chip in and suggest that perhaps the time has come for the mothers in law to retire and leave the daughters in law alone, only to be told in no uncertain terms to keep quiet.

From those days I always believed that the eternal triangle was not the great romances that were much written about, but the triangle of son, caught between the wife and the mother.

I have also seen a change in the scene among my generation mothers in law. I suppose having seen the other in action, my sister, my late wife and my sister in law, all three studiously kept themselves out of their daughters in law’s hairs. So the triangles may have to be the other type if at all.

Okay, this may be more in the case of India and the situation at least as I understand it, is different in the West where the mother in law is actually the wife’s mother who tries to run the son in law’s affairs! Correct me if I am wrong, but in any case, surely this should also qualify for the eternal triangle tag rather than the romantic one?


Do please read the linked to article in full.  It is very informative and quite amusing in a droll way.

18 thoughts on “The Eternal Triangle?”

  1. I have known people who have trouble with mothers/fathers-in-law being interfering. On both sides of the marriage. My mother-in-law never once interfered and neither did my own mother. I think for the most part, the expectation is that once married, the primary bond and loyalty is between the husband and wife.
    Secret Agent Woman recently posted..Leave-takings.

    1. These are social phenomenon that I enjoy watching and commenting on when I can. What I find now is that increasingly sociologists are studying these too and scientific journals give them platforms to spread their findings.

  2. My widowed Mother has lived with my wife and i ever since we got married . I can write a tome on this subject , but shan’t ..the story is still playing out ! It was not just a triangle it was a quadrangle for many years since my daughter was also with us till she got married .

  3. I have been married twice. And been very lucky. My first mother-in-law was a formidable woman, nay, a forbidding woman. Exacting. Every which way. Yet she and I got on. I was very young when I married her firstborn and, whilst she could be stern, she helped me along in more ways than one. Firmly yet kind.

    My second mother-in-law (unfortunately she died one year into my marriage to her adored son) was a dear. She was lovely, lovely, lovely. All she wanted was her son’s happiness. And that included me.

    So, no animosity with either. Not even in the kitchen. But then, I suppose, I am used to strong women and more than happy to take their lead.

    And, I am happy to report that all the girls (whether just friends or those ‘with benefits’) introduced to me by my son I welcome with open arms, a genuine interest. These girls, women, do actively seek me out. Girls, women, whom I do no begrudge anything that they can – and I can’t – give my son. Oh, how we coo over him (when he is out of earshot). That I am most likely to be a better cook than any of them stands to reason: First of all, I am an accomplished cook – by anyone’s standards.. Secondly – I am older and with that comes experience. In my wildest dreams I wouldn’t compete with my mothers in law nor my own mother, my grandmother, my aunts. There is a natural order in things – one which both (the younger and the older) are well advised to observe. Other than that: Advice to all mothers and young wives: Trust your instinct. Don’t make it a competition. And if you are the wife then don’t ask your husband whether your cooking compares to his mother’s. It’ll be his first lie. And if you are a mother of a son don’t ask the same silly question – unless you are a truly terrible cook. Which, incidentally, my mother’s mother-in-law was. My father did not hesitate to answer his mother’s question truthfully. Wisely, she smiled. In the knowledge that he’d be well fed all his life. And he is. To this day.

    Where I do disagree with the author of the article is that a wife should be “his first priority”. Yes, should. But isn’t. Until his mother is six foot under. As the psychologist says, and this has nothing to do with Freud: There is no stronger bond in the world than that between son and mother. As any woman (who has a son) and any man will confirm.

    Ursula recently posted..Too little too much

    1. I concur with your conclusion. The problem is in teaching the women that the daughter in law is someone who brings happiness to her son, not someone who will take her away from her. I am of course talking about those insecure women who manipulate.

    2. Ursula : I just picked up on one point – are you too the first born in your family ? There is a saying here ( old wives tales if you wish ) that first born’s should not marry each other . I am sure Ramana has heard this old Tamil saying . My wife and I are first borns – not that we wished to test the hypothesis ! We argue a lot but have stayed together 37 years …and counting !

      1. Nandu, indeed I am Number One. By a long shot (six, nine and eleven years respectively). Which, technically and essentially, qualifies me as an ‘Only”, The only who shares so many traits with an eldest. Compound an only with the responsibility of, eventually, looking after, and out, for my beloved siblings and you’ve got me.

        And yes, both my husbands were eldest children too. Nothing to do with why we didn’t last. Virtually all my friends, male or female, strong minded (and that’s putting it politely) are either onlies or firsts.

        Know what you mean though: My youngest sister a good case study: She blames all of us, the whole family, for the burden of being the youngest. Fine. Whatever. Throw a tantrum if you must. She is so head strong she nearly cracked my father. And my brother. Neither of whom have it in them to be cracked. First she married, as befits a youngest sibling, another younger sibling (four years her junior). Don’t ask. They had three children. Then she had another (child) by a man who chose not to feature in either my sister’s or his son’s life. Now she is married to a man seventeen (in numbers: 17) years her senior who I believe has adopted the lot. You know what, Nandu: Life pans out in most unexpected puddles.

        Congratulations on your and your wife’s enduring endurance. Must be quite wonderful – if your lifelong partner is also, most and foremost, your friend.

        Before I burst into tears,
        Ursula recently posted..Too little too much

        1. This is to both you and Nandu. This raises another interesting question. Do relationships between two last borns go through upheavals too? After all they go through similar problems growing up.

        1. If a couple has just 1 child it is both first and last born , so the same rule applies ! I suspect that the “problem” is absent with children other than the first born . The “reason” could be that the #1 is used to “mothering” or “fathering” the siblings ie basically being listened to & obeyed unquestioningly , hence a bit strong willed and a leader of sorts .and if questioned feels that they are being threatened . But I am guessing here ..

  4. My mother-in-law never interfered, but she loved her children and grandchildren and wanted the daughters-in-law to be as invisible as possible when we went to visit. It could have been a lot worse.
    Cheerful Monk recently posted..Throwing Paint

  5. Well, I never had a problem with my husband’s mother (I never referred to her as “mother-in-law” because she disliked that moniker). And I can’t recall that my mother interfered with my husband’s life or with ours. Although she certainly lived and still lives in my troubled mind and so perhaps that is the triangle.
    Actually, I don’t believe this triangle is a given here. It pops up in the advice columns, though, so I know that it exists.
    Talk to Me…I’m Your Mother recently posted..Birthdays and Memorials

Comments are closed.