Managing your in-laws

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By Chioma Gabriel

In Nigeria, a man’s in-laws are major part of the family. In some cultures, a man’s in laws are perceived as his gods.  When you are in a long-term committed relationship, it is inevitable that you and your lover interact with each other’s families. Some men, though, never leave the influence of their families – especially their mothers, the tension of this tends to create problems that bubble just beneath the surface, exploding when other situations in the relationship are tense.

The easiest way to avoid in-law problems is to establish friendly but strict boundaries. But for these boundaries to work, you and your man both have to enforce them. If that were easy to do and he could be relied on, there would not be the tension that exists. Add to this mess, fundamental personality conflicts, and you have the basis for something that could destroy your relationship. There are many common in-law problems that a wife or girlfriend has to deal with, and there are some solutions that can at least make these bad situations less destructive to a love partnership.

Sometimes, mothers-in-law show up and try to take charge.  What do you do if your mother-in-law shows up with ideas different form yours on how to run the house? What if she insists some household products are not necessary, and you realise that they are necessary for you to  keep house ?  Or that she thinks her son is spending too much money on running the house or taking care of you?

While you have to interact with his family, distance can help. If you treat her with respect and deference when on neutral territory, you can assert control over your own domain. Also, having other engagements that force you to leave as she is arriving (real or imagined engagements) might make her feel unwelcome without having to take it to a confrontation. When it comes to visiting his mother, he is in charge. Relinquish any responsibility for making time for the visit and planning the trip to her place. Cooperate of course, and even encourage him to get there early. This will make leaving on time all the more easy.

If he complains that you do not cook like his mother or clean like his mother, it might be time to think back to some conversations you have had with him. He might have griped about his mother in the past. This is the perfect time to bring up the things he has said he dislikes about his family. You are his partner, not his mother  and he needs to be firmly reminded of this in as direct terms as possible.

While the two of you are a couple, there are things of yours that he is not entitled to lend. If you two have a joint bank account, he has no right lending money from that to a relative. If he lends a relative his own money and then is unable to pay bills or contribute to the relationship as before, this situation needs to be addressed. He needs to be the one to take charge in asking for the loan to be repaid or valuable property be returned.

One secret to make mooching relatives go away is to be careful in sharing the successes you have in life. If you brag about your new promotion or show off your wealth in any way, those less well off than you might be envious. And some of your husband or boyfriend’s relations might be so bold as to ask for some of what you have earned. Consider it the admission price to bragging rights.

As much or more, tension can occur when you are on the borrowing side of an in-law money-lending situation. When your in-laws loan you money, they may have the feeling that they can tell you what to do with your lives. Often, with an employment situation that involves working for your in-laws, your job doesn’t end once you leave the shop or office. Suddenly, you are expected to fulfill all sorts of domestic demands from your new business .

The only way out of this is to pay off what you owe and get away from relationships that have a suffocating effect on you. Or better yet, just never borrow money from an in-law. Pressure to have children is the number one source of tension between in-laws and the woman who marries their son. In Nigeria and the entire Africa,  marriage fundamentally means that a couple will be procreating.

This subject needs to be thoroughly discussed and agreed upon before you two even announce your engagement. If you have two or three children and an in-law is pressuring you to have more against your will, you have to either ignore this pressure or insist that your spouse address it along with you to the person who wants to direct your reproductive activity.

Expectations are one of the most important reasons to meet and mingle with his parents before you go too far in a relationship commitment. If they have expectations that you will be adhering to specific cultural norms that differ greatly from yours, this needs to be confronted, examined and understood by everyone, most importantly your spouse.

Even after marriage, a mother-in-law might insist that you live up to certain religious or ethnic ideals in your dress, diet or habit. Understand that many people use these moral codes as a way to butt in to your private life. Once you let her butt in, she will never butt out. Do not challenge your in-laws on this most sensitive subject, but do not let them oppress you with their cultural ideals.

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