Many people especially in Africa do have problems with their in-laws when they get married but there are solutions to the quagmire.
The place of in-laws in a marriage, especially in the African setting, cannot be underplayed or overemphasised. In-laws are deemed as being an integral part of every new family formed.
In-laws are the persons someone becomes related to because of marriage; especially the father, mother or siblings of the husband or wife one is married to.
A sociologist, Dr. Franca Attoh, said it is important for persons planning to marry to know that in the African setting, families, and not just individuals, get married. Thus, the family members (in-laws) would always want to be a part of what goes on in the home.
“The European’s concept of family, which is purely nuclear, comprising a man, his wife and their children, cannot work in Africa, because that is the nature of our society,” she added.
In some instances, this new alliance, brought about by marriage, makes the union of some couples very colourful and exciting, given their cooperation, understanding, assistance and willingness to let the couple make their choices and do things their own way, perhaps with subtle and controlled guidance.
But, in some instances, some in-laws can be overbearing, possessive, authoritative and excessively nosy, usually with the motive of protecting the interest and well-being of their relative in the marriage. In such instances, the matrimonial home could become matrimonial hell for the partner on the receiving side of the overbearing attitude of the in-law(s).
This explains why marriage counsellors and psychologists advise in-laws, especially parents, to respect the independence and privacy of their children so as not to frustrate the happiness of the couple.
But, given that some in-laws remain domineering and somewhat difficult, which poses a huge discomfort in their relative’s matrimonial home; here are tips on how people could manage such a situation:
Maintain good relationship with them: This is perhaps the best way to cope with in-laws that are seemingly difficult to live with. However, owing to frustration or excessive interference, it is not uncommon to hear some women wish that they would be happier if they didn’t have mother-in-law.
But, according to a psychologist, Dr. Eze John Eze, couples should always remember that they can’t live in isolation inasmuch as their spouse didn’t drop from the sky. Thus, he advised that people should maintain good relationship with their in-laws, as it is an easier way to be at peace with them. He said, “As human beings, we can’t do without relationships, and so people should learn to build a good relationship with their in-laws.”
Let your partner know when you’re in discomfort: According to Eze, there are times people have difficulties in coping with their in-laws and they naturally assume that their partner must be aware. But, in such cases, he said people should voice out to their partner and not assume that the partner is aware and is deliberately shying away from addressing it. He said, “When you are not comfortable with what your in-laws are doing, you should mention it to your partner and not assume that he or she knows. Be gentle in your approach so it doesn’t seem like you don’t like his or her family members. But don’t confront those family members on your own. Always go through the spouse, constructively.” When asked what to do if the partner is not assertive enough to confront the family members, he said people could consult a counsellor. “I once handled such a case and we had to invite the husband,” he added. Also, Attoh said if the husband’s family is overbearing, the wife should talk to him and he would find a way of dealing with the situation. She added, “But if he fights them, it would only escalate the issues and that is when they would start to think he had been bewitched. So, he needs to be subtle, vice versa. The person on the side from which the tension and conflicts are coming from should find a way to resolve the issues to avoid undue conflict.”
Advise your spouse on what to expect: For people who have difficulty in confronting their family members with their partner’s complaints, experts say such persons could also advise their spouse on how to avoid issues with such family members. For example, if as a man you know that your mother is stubborn and won’t let issues pass, you can advise your wife to minimise exposure to her or avoid dragging things with her, to reduce confrontations or conflict. Or if you have a brother who steals and you can’t send him away for some reasons, tell your partner to keep their things safe.
Set boundaries from the outset: One other way couples can avoid troubles with their in-laws is for them to let their in-laws know what they would not tolerate as a couple, and this should be agreed upon by the couple. For example, a couple can agree that in-laws are not allowed into their bedroom; that no one is allowed to come and stay without both of them agreeing to it; that abusive words or disrespect should never be condoned and that there could only be one guest at a time, etc. Findings show that married persons sometimes have conflict with their in-laws when they suddenly change their disposition to issues that were previously not matters of concern.
When in-laws come and don’t want to go back: This is one of the issues that often cause issues between couples and in-laws. Attoh said such in-laws might not want to go back because where they are is more comfortable than where they came from, thus the couple might need to intervene. She stated, “The couple could make a bit of sacrifice by making, say the parents’ place, more comfortable so they could go back. If against your wish, they want to bring in relatives for schooling, reach a compromise that you would be sending them money for the person’s fees. But, most times, those things don’t last forever; there would be a time they would leave.”
Be calm with meddlesome parents: There are instances where some mothers-in-law insist on cooking for their children, which could unsettle a wife. But, according to Attoh, the wife should try and let them be. She said, “I tell you that a wise wife would allow her and the moment the mother sees that you are not contending with her, she would let down her guard. Asked if it won’t get worse, she said, “From experience, I can tell you it won’t.” If your mother-in-law comes into the house and wants to take over the kitchen, all well and good; allow her and you would have time for other things. In no time, she would get tired. If you want to contend with her, that is when she would come up with different antics. If she wants to have a conversation with her son, leave them. Same way some mothers-in-law want to sit in front of the car, why not just go to the back and sit. You would get to your destination at the same time. It takes a bit of maturity and you need a large heart. Else, there would be contestation and there would be conflict.
Your partner has a role to play: In checking the excesses of overbearing or troublesome in-laws, a psychologist, Prof. Oni Fagboungbe, said the understanding between the husband and wife is important, noting that there tends to be clash between tradition and reality. “If as a wife or husband you have won the heart of your spouse, he or she would work with you if in-laws want to be troublesome. But you see instances where the spouse would even connive with their family members than their partner, which would only aggravate the conflict.”
Given that the issues often stem from the husband’s angle, Fagboungbe stressed that husbands should learn to be in charge so their homes do not become war zone. He said, “Even though the issue could come from either side, men are supposed to be at the forefront of ensuring peace. He should put his people where they rightly belong and let his wife be in a position where she would be respected, and if from the other side, he should find ways to maintain peace and avoid unnecessary interference.”
He also advised that it is better for people to put aside the fears attached to preparing a will and prepare one so that things would be under control if death comes.