Building Relationships We Can All Be Proud Of

Sunday, 11 August 2013

A GREENHORN'S GUIDE TO DEALING WITH IN-LAWS

We sometimes deceive ourselves into thinking we marry an individual not a family. I say it is not what we think, it is the various interactions that we all face and how they tell on our marriages that tell whether we married just a family member of the entire family. 

If we accept that for as long as we stay married, our in-laws will be a part of us and we must learn to live with them and properly integrate them into our lives, it will make it easy for us to move on in peace with them. This article picks on a few issues every marriage is likely to face and I attempt to offer some form of leeway around them so we can all enjoy some peace at home and keep our families intact. 

Let's start by saying he loves his mother and sisters.  He may or may not have told you, and if he has, it may have been through a hint or in plain terms. Whatever you do, do not take your relationship with his mother and sisters for granted.  There may be exceptions, but your average man is who I am talking about. He will fight with and disrespect his mother and sisters; do not join him. Anything you say against them, may sometime in the future, be used against you by the same man. He will stand with his family against you in a later confrontation with his family. 

He may not say it or he may have said it once or twice, but he secretly wants you to call his mother and siblings every now and then to check up on them; he wants you to visit them, remember their special moments and make your presence count even when he forgets. For your own good, DO NOT MAKE EXCUSES. When a man expects you to be there for his family, an excuse for not doing it is like putting a can of flammable liquid and lighter next to a year old child; it is just a matter of time before an explosion goes off.  Make the effort and let him see it; make it on time, make it relevant and make it count.

I am not teaching you what your western feministic mind accepts, I am teaching you what will keep your marriage from caving in without warning.

Young woman, if your mother in-law or sister in-law is your friend, power to you. However, I want you to think as though they are not your friends; the same way your boss is not your friend. Yet for the sake of keeping the cash tap dripping, you lick their boots. For the sake of keeping your marriage intact, keep your in-laws at bay and minimising the wahala from those quarters, learn to play your politics well.

I totally agree some men are unreasonable and are not up to the task of being fair when it comes to mother-wife refereeing; but trust me most family problems just do not start between his wife and his mother. There is that comment you made about his mother [deliberately or innocently] which did not go down well with him; he simply kept his peace, but that said a lot about you and raised some antennas. That thing you were supposed to do, but for one reason or the other, did not do; procrastinating it and creating the impression it was not that important to you. The way you nag about his mother; you forget that at 62 years old and effectively Men-O-Paused she is just a ricocheting talkative, you forget that he is her oldest child who was the family breadbasket until you showed up, you forget he was her only companion at home, the baby-last, until you showed up and took him away, you forget her other daughters are not as lucky as you are with their men and you forget she herself treated her husband so badly she sees only a ghost of her past haunting her. But well, you do not know that; all you see is her nagging and talking and snooping around, so all you do is nag complain and end up disrespecting her to your husband. He does not like that. He does not speak with and about your mother like that.

Unless he can put his finger on something and land the fault at his mother’s feet, he will stand by the woman he has known all his life than stand by the one he has known for just under 10 years; 10 years of misunderstanding, personal issues, aggressive rivalry and most likely personal limitations. 10 years of everything his mum never was to him. Sometimes we must face the truth that the bond of blood is thicker than the bond of words hastily spoken in the presence of a priest, the law and a cheering crowd. A man will always love his mother no matter his love for his wife.

When you AGREED to marry him, you were to be his helpmate and by implied unwritten convention, the helpmate of his entire family. So get ready. His sisters will come and eat in your marital home and the silly ones will not lift a finger to help with the preparation of the food or cleaning of the kitchen thereafter; find a nice way of drawing his attention to it. If he does not act on it, bring it up the next time it happens again... nicely. If again he does not act on it, do not talk about it again in the near future. He will not forget; one day you will be surprised how he will descend on them for how they treat you. If you complain and he makes a comment to the effect that there is nothing wrong with you serving his mother and siblings, then you are in for the long haul; row on sister. God be with you. The question really is, how often do they come to your place to eat and leave a mess in their trail? Take them as visitors and sort it out. Yes, I know this is madness, but this is what kept your grandparents married for life. (I don’t know about your parents though)

Young people, when you marry into any family with a family feud, do not take sides. Your in-laws may bring the fight to your turf by virtue of your marital ties to a party to the feud; refuse to play. When your partner forces you to join in on their side, decline. Sometimes it's better to hang your boots than prove you can play. In the end, you might be the villain and take the fall for it, and not those who have fought that battle for ages. 



To the mothers I say, treat that woman like your own child knowing your daughter will also be an in-law to someone if not one already. In love, admonish, correct and guide her for the ultimate good of your son. Do not see her as a competitor over your son. How many years have you to live in this life that you want to ruin the life and joy of a young woman because of your own inability to socially adjust to and accept his moving on? Some mothers have wrecked their sons' marriages and their lives by thinking they were rather helping them. Do not let this be the story they will tell about you.




You allowed him to do whatever he wanted to do while growing up; chilling, fooling around and said he was old enough to make his own choices. What has changed that he has suddenly become a boy to you to control and intrude in his personal life now that he is married and starting his own life?

Young couples, be willing to listen to your in-laws when they advise you on diverse issues. If an in-law gives you a clue on how to treat your spouse be happy; most people don't know how to treat their spouses in a personal off-the-book style anyway. I have seen marriages where the first three or so years was a period partners were trying to discover new things about each other for themselves. Such discoveries are critical and the couples themselves best do it. However, you cannot discount the advice of your mother in-law or sister in-law on something they have known about him all their lives. You cannot play down the advice of her big brother on how to relate with her at certain times. Why try to invent the wheels? Do you know how long it took them and what they went through to get that information? So now, they have given it to you; just look in that direction and see if it works. Don’t learn about your partner in the hard way; know them in a smart way.

Men have a problem when their wives' fathers or their more successful big brothers intervene; they see it as a case of intrusion and a statement that they are not in control of their homes. That is a legitimate feeling and most men don’t sit well with it. They may not openly disrespect the intervening in-law; they will simply listen and still do what they want to do or worse, avoid that in-law. 

Let us look at Moses from the Bible. He used to administer the whole of Israel singlehanded, because he believed it was God's responsibility for him. Then one day his visiting father in-law, Jethro, saw the tedious job his aging son in-law was doing and he thought that was ridiculous. He sat him down and told him to decentralise and appoint tribal and clan judges to sit on petty matters and only take care of things that were of greater import. Moses listened and acted on it and he saw the tremendous benefit of it. Your in-laws may have experiences you need to succeed; talk to them. If they also willingly come to you to offer it, think about it with an open mind and see how best you can work with it. You do not know it all and your parents might not have given it all to you. They are your in laws; you are all one big family, there is no shame in depending on them for advice if you need one. Men I am talking to you.

Some of you women do not know jack when it comes to home making abilities and it may not be your fault; your mum always did it for you, you were surrounded by house helps, you never had a strong close-knit family. Whatever it is, you are married to a man from the opposite world; a man surrounded by women who know how to make a home feel like heaven in terms of cleanliness, food, order, bonding, name it. You are a big fool to think that because he is married to you, he must learn to live with you, cut his ties with his family, and take the little you have to offer. Wake up; he is a hu-man not a switch on a wall. If he came from your background and you his, then the argument will hold, because you would be giving him something better. However, what you are now giving him is something worse; people do not accept worse, when they can get it better. Yes, he married you; but he did not marry you just because of your home making abilities, no.  Your score in that department is an abysmal 2 over 10. Sorry baby, but what it means is that you get only 1 in 5 stuff you do at home right… ouch. [Don’t cry Bath-sheba was worse…. Where did I get that? Anyway as long as it put a smile on your face]. He married you for other reasons, so in this area where you are deficient, let someone help you. 

For 30+ years, he had enjoyed this beauty of a home and you think he will suddenly take yours and clap for you? Go to a conflict zone, drink their kind of well water, and see if you will not have a tummy upset. That is what happens when you move from good to bad; your system rejects it. So if his mother and sisters show up and in the kitchen they attempt to intervene by making a comment or two about how things should go, swallow your big pride which is clearly not taking you anywhere and learn. This is not your PhD in Law that is being attacked, it is your High school certificate in the Kitchen you are struggling to get; do not confuse the two and fight them. ‘Fa wo too known ne w’akata ne ahantan no sore ho and Keep Calm and be taught.’ 

Mostly it is a wife’s inability to stand this that spark animosity between herself and his mother. 

My advice, however, to all of you in-laws, whose help no one needs, but out of presumed love and genuine concern, you decide to offer, please when you are done offering the help, do not go and stand on the tallest buildings in the city and shout it; do not make it a topic at your family gatherings! You do not prove anything but your immaturity and ill motives. And when your daughter in-law or son in-law give you that respect and let your into their home and accept the help you are offering, know your limit and do not use it as a launch pad to launch rockets into their homes with your long and snoopy noses! Respect your boundaries and do not let them regret allowing you into their homes. 

My final thoughts on in-laws  is on brothers and sisters of the couples. Your brother's wife is not your slave, remember that. She is married to your brother, who cannot even call her his slave; treat her with respect. May be she is not the kind of woman you wanted for your brother, maybe you have your own prehistoric, previous-life bone to pick for which reason she cannot stand you; there could be many reasons why you are not cool with her, but they are not married to you. Keep your distance and be courteous the few moments you both are together at a place. She does not live with you, she lives with your brother, do yourself a favour and get a man to make a home for you or get a woman and make a home for her. Stop being in her hair. We are not interested in what relationship you have with your brother; his marital status has changed, deal with it and move on. In this current dispensation, you are the stranger in the equation. In his house you will behave. Maybe he tolerates your ill manners, but that is not a green light for you to continue doing it. Be reasonable. [Ok George calm down….Lawdharmercy]

We do not want to know what you suspect she has done to your brother, for him to turn his back on his own family....Hold on, which family? His OWN family now is what he has with his wife, not you and your mother and father and siblings; his new family is the one he is starting. Start working your own things out. It is not for you to have a coup d’état in your brother's home if he is satisfied with the government. Only pray he will come to his senses if you feel the same is impaired. That is just about it. Nevertheless, I know how it feels like being abandoned by a brother who meant the world to you because of his wife.

And you young men who think you can get into any skirt you want, if you have no respect, do not take it on your brother's wife; you have no idea the kind of family hell you will raise if your brother should hear of it, whether you failed or succeeded in sleeping with his wife.  

Young women, do not be too available in your sister's home. Some men cannot stand your young body, compared to the fast degenerating one his wife has after years of giving birth and lack of personal maintenance regime. Do not be too nice to him. He is your sister's husband, not one of the many men who are falling under your enthrallment. Watch your dressing at home and let the word privacy have a meaning. 

Young man, learn to respect your sister's husband. When you offend him, he may not confront you for fear of sparking a family war, he will take it on your sister. For your sister's sake behave. Most women bear the rage of their husbands for the sins of their relatives. 

Whereas women mostly fight their in-laws for their sins, men fight their wives for the sins of their [women’s] relatives. Most women fight the sisters or mothers of their husbands, when they cannot take their intrusions, but rather report to their husbands the problems they are facing with their [husbands’] brothers. Men on the other hand, most often play their politics well, keep good faces, tend to say little to their wives' relatives when they have issues with them, and rather take it on their wives, expecting them to act. When a man sees his wife acting, he is satisfied. Men's ability to stay aloft is generally because they are not into the day-to-day intrigues of the family and can thus avoid many of the things that spark these fights. When a man is not happy at home either because of his wife or the actions of her relatives, there is simply no limit to the extent he can go while staying away from home. 

Women, learn to keep your siblings leashed when it comes to your marital home. But I admit men have a lot more leashing to do, and shorter leash at that, when it comes to their family members. 

The family is a beautiful thing, when we learn to play the family politics well, everything runs in its place and everyone is happy. The family with the prospect of growth behaves in some ways like the military; if you do what is expected of you without fuse and unnecessary questions you will be safe, but if you start thinking about everything and arguing it out, always trying to make your point, you risk unpleasant consequences. The Problem is that we always equate the family system to our corporate world; what we fail to see is that, when it comes to family any pronounced change which is too off and inconsistent with the original intend of the family is bound to derail the coherent nature of the system. I may be wrong, but I think families of old may have had their own problems but it was ‘their own problems’ not a social problem. Most great leaders, thinkers, inventors, authors and the like came from these families of old. Our modern family outlook, which is supposed to remedy the ills of the families of old, has met serious family problems, which are not just family problems, but are now major social problems. Talk of broken homes and single parents, talk of indiscipline among children, talk of infidelity...look at all these and how they now affect our society and tell me which era you would rather to be in; the current family dispensation or the old dispensation? 


Let us not treat the family as we treat other areas of our culture, as something trivial and light of consequence to be tampered with in the shivers of our modern eccentricities; the family is sacred, ordained by God himself. Let us all play our roles well. Where there is the need for role modification, let us do it with love and respect, bringing on board all those these modifications will affect and let us move together in unity. Let us not impose anything on anyone because we feel we are in the position to do it. 

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PG Sebastian 
Copyright 2013