Mastering the art of dealing with in-laws

By Harriet James
Tuesday, September 22nd, 2020
Teach relatives to respect your spouse. Photo/PD/Photo Credit
In summary
    • Work with your spouse. Never put your spouse in a situation where he or she has to choose between you and a relative.
    • Set boundaries and limits. Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
    • Put away the stereotypes and adjust your thinking to the reality of the situation.
    • Respect your spouse’s attachments. For instance, if your husband’s daily calls to his dad are important to him, understand this.
    • Be Kind. Even if you have to grit your teeth, try to say something nice. And if you really can’t say anything nice, shut up and smile.
    • Keep communicating. Processing the difficulties in words is one of the most important tools a couple has for dealing with in-law.

Harriet James @harriet86jim

When Florence Wangare got married five years ago, she was excited that finally the man she fell in love with was all hers.

However, three months later, she discovered something uncomfortable. That his loving husband never saw eye to eye with his parents.

“He had a sour relationship with his parents that had lasted for a long time and never told me the events that led to this situation,” says Florence 

Having come from a close-knit family, Florence began to actively try to reconcile her husband to his parents.

This instead brought issues between them because her husband was not pleased with her efforts of bringing the family together. His parents, however, love and cherish her. 

Florence was sharing her experience in a recent webinar organised by ‘Supamamas’ —an organisation that connects, and empowers women through their motherhood journey.

And she was not alone in this. Women from various walks of life gathered to learn and share their experiences on their relationship with their in-laws. 

Conflicting issues

According to research, amongst the many challenges urban families face such as financial constraints, communication breakdown and domestic violence, in-laws and parents also feature in the list.

From controlling in-laws, to rude or unfriendly ones, to ones who are overly involved in their children’s married lives, different couples face different in-law issues.  

“Each of us has a family of origin, which has a unique culture and traits. Conflicts arise as each of the spouse attempts to leave the lives that they have gotten used to when they start their own families,” says Sylvia Moraa, a counsellor present at the webinar.

According to her, one should have a discussion with their spouse to understand the similar traits that can be traced to generations such as polygamy or alcoholism so that they are not caught off-guard by certain behaviour. 

“The two of you come from somewhere, with your own rituals and ways of solving conflicts, and this is where the in-law issues come in.

You have different set of values, how you celebrate birthdays, how you name your children and how many of them you want.

Sometimes in-laws suggest to you when and how many children you should have, and sometimes they visit unannounced, which might result in conflicts,” she explains.

Moraa says couples should set boundaries and learn to say ‘no’ whenever they feel like it’s been breached.

They should also learn which battles to pick when it comes to disagreements.

Couples should talk about critical issues such as how many times and when relatives can visit, the new values in their family such as how to spend Christmas or when they should visit each other families. 

Set boundaries

“In most instances, people come into families thinking that they are the Messiah to change certain characters or habits, but they end up bringing conflict.

One should involve the spouse whenever they feel there is a habit that is wrong and they desire behaviour change,” she says 

She added that couples should each teach their families on how to treat their partners and set boundaries, which they should adhere to together.

Couples should have each other’s back and defend each other whenever one of them is facing a challenge in either side of the family. 

“We need to teach relatives how to respect our spouses. For couples who have intermarried, do you talk in vernacular with your family when your spouse is there?

Do you involve them in conversations and even in family jokes? Do you gossip about your partner to your relations?” poses Moraa. 

Another aspect is family obligation, which has become one of the main sources of conflicts in families.

Some spouses are the bread winners in their families and failing to discuss how the bills would still be taken care of before marriage can result in conflict with in-laws.

Attention to details

“Some will start to think that you are the one who doesn’t want their son to take care of them and they will begin to resent you as the wife and treat you badly.

You need to discuss with your spouse how to create a budget and how to make them understand that he now has a family and also how to make them independent.

Personal boundaries need to be set right from the start and stick to it to the end,” she advices 

Additionally, honouring in-laws is another way of honouring each other. “Paying attention to small details in the house is the first way of honour them do some house chores, get involved in some of their activities, call his parents mum or dad and even opt to call them when you have issues instead of your parents.

Also, learn to take your children to visit their grandparents or relatives to create harmony,” Moraa notes.