What’s the first thing you are likely to be concerned about when your relationship with your partner gets serious, or wedding bells are on the horizon? Finances? Sex life? Possibly infidelity? Whether you can keep the love flames burning? Not quite…
While we might assume that third parties aren’t important in our relationships, the influence and meddling of family and friends can ultimately destroy a good relationship.
For many women, getting along with in-laws is quite important. After all, it’s always said to be closer to one’s partner, ensure that his or her loved ones like you too. But sometimes, it’s not as easy.
While not all in-laws are troublesome, the ones who are can leave one feeling dejected and frustrated. In many families, the mother-in-law is often jokingly referred to as the ‘monster-in-law.’ A few weeks ago, an episode of Pelo Kgale showed the horrendous treatment a young married woman suffered at the hands of her mother-in-law and sisters. To add salt to injury, her husband took their side, and perceived her as a troublemaker.
Pulane Pule* advises that when an African woman gets married, she must accept that she’s marrying her in-laws too.
“When my husband and I were still dating, we had an exciting relationship; we were generally carefree and happy. Things however changed after we got married. There were many domestic, traditional and financial expectations of me as Mrs Pule. My mother-in-law moved into our home for three months after we wed and there was pressure to have many children and be a submissive wife.” Although she insists that she tried a lot, her mother-in-law was never happy with her.
Laone Moss* has been married for seven years, and is still trying to salvage what remains of her relationship with her mother-in law. “Since the first day we met I realised I was in trouble,” she says with a sigh. The following years leading to their marriage, was a tough act of treading carefully around her mother-in-law. “We are worlds apart. She is a traditional, old fashioned and conservative, while I am a modern career woman. I sometimes sense a bit of envy or jealousy, more so that I think she lost out on the life she yearned for. Maybe I am a reminder of what she never had: a loving and committed husband, money and a thriving career. Of course I could be wrong, but why does she hate me so much?”
She eventually decided to cut off her mother-in-law.
“When she comes to our house, we only exchange greetings only. I don’t tolerate abuse. I’m not willing to make amends for the sake of my spouse. I can’t fake a relationship that’s not there. I’m at peace with the situation because I know that I haven’t done anything wrong.”
Lorraine Mathews* is in an interracial relationship with a Motswana man, while she is English from Britain. She says that when she was first introduced to her mother-in-law she could sense animosity. “My husband has a first daughter with another woman, and that is the woman that the mother-in-law wanted him to marry. She likes to pass rude comments and make uncalled for remarks, insinuating that I bewitched her son but I ignore her.”
Although the two are not best friends, they try to get along for the sake of her husband, she insists.
“If she had no connection to my husband, I wouldn’t care.
She doesn’t like me, and trust me, the feeling is mutual.”
She however encourages a diplomatic approach to the relationship.
“It is tempting to fight fire with fire, but taking digs or getting into verbal spats is not the best thing to do.”
Tshepiso Olekanye is married to a woman 16 years younger than him, and he recalls that when they started dating she was a 23 year-old university student. “Her father made me feel like a pedophile! I also didn’t have a good job, money and my own house so it was a tall order convincing her father that I could take care of his daughter. My fortunes have now changed, and I take good care of my now wife and three children. The old man has newfound respect for me. I understand that he was tough on me because he wanted the best for his daughter.”
According to Dalrock, a popular blog written by a “happily married father in a post feminist world”, the solution lies in relinquishing the position of head of house to her husband.
“A woman should abandon her tools of manipulation over husband, not ratchet him up. Most men are protective of those they love and lead, and if he’s treated like the head of the house and accorded the respect he deserves, he will be compelled to protect his wife, which the mother-in-law will sense.”
An internationally acclaimed private psychotherapist based in New York, Diane Barth, notes that conflict is natural as long as it doesn’t derail the relationship. “What matters is how you handle the situation. It’s important to treat in-laws with respect and participate in family events. Understand that in-laws are human too and may feel insecure, fearful or threatened, so soften them up although it’s important to set boundaries. Most importantly, never take anything personal.”
*Names changed to protect their identities.