Italy is experiencing an unprecedented rise in marriage break-ups, according to a new report, with interfering mothers-in-law bearing a high proportion of the blame.
A new poll by research institute Eures reveals a divorce happens every four minutes in a country once regarded as a bastion of marriage.
In 2002, Italy recorded 50,828 divorces -- a 45 percent increase from 2000. Three out of 10 marriages fail because of the unusually close attachment of Italian men to their mothers.
Living in the same house or nearby, the mother may put strains on a couple's relationship by meddling in their affairs, finding fault with her daughter-in-law and treating her grown-up son as a child.
"In Italy there still exists a sort of mother love that is excessive," said psychologist Annamaria Cassanese, who says she sees many disillusioned daughters-in-law at her practice in Milan. "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 to two types of extreme Italian mother-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 for life.
Among the wiles of the latter type of mother-in-law is offering to do chores such as cooking, ironing and babysitting.
The fact that many Italian parents help their children financially can also lead them to expect something in return, Cassanese said. She said many couples still obey invitations to eat with their parents three or four times a week.
The concept of mammoni -- sons who cling to apron strings -- is well known in Italy and it is not uncommon for men in their 30s and 40s to live with their parents.
The reasons are partly economic but also come about because boys are indulged well into adulthood in a way that would not be acceptable in other countries. Italian men who remain close to their mothers are emotionally immature, according to Cassanese.
"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," she said.
She has counseled women who complain their husbands phone their mothers too often, discuss marital difficulties with them and make them feel marginalized.
She said that struggling Italian couples should try to seek professional help in order to get their marriages back on track again before the damage to their relationships becomes irreversible.