Italy has been experiencing an unprecedented rise in marriage break-ups. The main cause bearing a high proportion of the blame? Mamma’s boys and interfering mothers-in-law.
A new poll by research institute Eures reveals that divorce happens every four minutes(!) in the country once regarded as a bastion of marriage. In 2002, Italy recorded 50,828 divorces - a 45 percent increase from 2000. While some reasons for divorce seem to be marrying too young, squabbling over money and meeting new partners, a shocking three out of 10 marriages fail because of the unusually close attachment of Italian men to their mothers.
A real life “Everybody Loves Raymond”, mothers-in-law who live in the same house or nearby, are putting strains on couple’s relationship by meddling in their affairs, finding fault with her daughter-in-law and of course, treating her grown-up son as a child.
Psychologist Dr. Annamaria Cassanese says she sees many disillusioned daughters-in-law at her practice in Milan. “In Italy there still exists a sort of mother love that is excessive,” said Cassanes. “It is a very Latin thing, deeply embedded in our social structure. For example, you will see mothers crying at the weddings of their sons, but they are not crying for joy, they are crying because they feel devastated. Their son has chosen another woman and it arouses very complex feelings, including jealousy.”
Cassanese points out two different types of extreme Italian mothers-in-law. One refuses to give in to ageing and sees her daughter-in-law as a rival; the other has dedicated her life to her family and expects payback, well, for life. The latter type of mother-in-law starts creeping in by offering to do chores such as cooking, ironing and babysitting. “This can often be the beginning of an invasion, in which the mother-in-law slowly takes over and undermines the woman in her own home,” she says. “What starts out being portrayed as something that is helpful degenerates into outright intrusion such as going into drawers and pulling out shirts that are not ironed ‘her way’ or monopolizing the kitchen. Wives feel like strangers in their own homes because the mother-in-law is always there.”
The fact that many Italian parents help out their children financially by buying them apartments or cars doesn’t help either, adds Dr. Cassanese. The so-called generosity causes the mother-in-law to expect something in return. Cassanese claims that many couples still obey invitations to eat with their parents three or four times a week.
According to Dr. Cassanese, the concept of mammoni - sons who cling to apron strings - is well known in Italy and it is not uncommon for men in their 30’s and 40’s to live with their parents. The reasons are partly economic but also come about because boys are indulged well into adulthood causing Italian men who remain close to their mothers to become emotionally immature. “The husband is used to being adored and when he doesn’t get that unconditional love from his wife, he goes running back to his mother.”