The Mother-in-law: The Bane of Many Ailing Marriages
There is a general pre-conceived notion by many wives across the world that mothers-in-law are mean, wicked and wish them dead. Therefore the mother-in-law is a person that many wives wish they never had anything to do with. Many spinsters dread the thought of having a mother-in-law when they marry and very few wives have ever had anything good to say about their mothers-in-law.
The causes of the breakdown in many marriages have been traced to the overbearing attitude of mothers-in-law and it is fast becoming a well-known fact that the mother-in-law is the bane of many ailing marriages. It is in this regard that mothers-in-law are often seen and regarded by many as troublesome, poke nosing persons, antagonistic and the greatest enemy and rival of her daughter Ėin-law.
The question to ask is: Are mothers-in-law truly mean and wicked and why is it so?
The question is necessary in light of the fact that the mother-in-law was previously a daughter-in-law.
To be able to provide answers to these questions, it will be necessary to critically analyze and examine the roles played by the three parties to the conflict Ė the son, the wife and the mother-in-law. Through the analysis, the causes of the conflict will be determined and solutions proffered.
The Causes of the Conflict
The wifeís role
On account of the pre-conceived notions about mothers-in-laws that many wives had while they were spinsters, many of them came into their marriage prepared for the battle that must be fought to put their mother-in-law in the right place. So if these wives have naturally loving and caring mothers-in-law, they would misconstrue everything done and said by their mothers-in-law. In this regard, the wives have placed themselves on the offensive.
Another cause of the problem is the illusion that many wives have that their husbands must dissociate from his parents and cling to them. These wives are quick to quote the Bible verse that says that a Ďman shall leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife.í However, the wife seems to fail to realize that the same Bible says that Ďa man shall honor his parentsí (Genesis 2:24) (Exodus 20:12).
Further questions that will be addressed here are: Within the context of marriage, how is a husband expected to honor his parents? How does a man cleave unto his wife without straining the relationship with his parents?
It is ironic that the same wife, who wants her husband to dissociate from her his parents in the name of clinging to her, would have her own mother in her home at every excuse. Unfortunately, some husbands who did not realize the manipulative politics of their wives aimed at creating a bad impression about their mothers, have on account of the mischievous reports given them by the wives, spoken harshly to their mothers and have alienated them.
The Mother-in-lawís role
A motherís relationship with her son is one of the most intimate but non-sexual relationships. A close bond develops between mother and son through breastfeeding him as a baby and the bond continues throughout life even into her sonís adult and marital life. It is a bond that makes many a mother to be very passionate about her son. Many mothers naturally see their sons as little husbands.
Many mothers,especially African mothers, have suffered lots of emotional attacks in their lifetime especially those who got married to difficult, impossible, unloving and abusive husbands who made life uneasy for them.
They were there for their sons while young at his most vulnerable periods and bore the burden of his upbringing when he was growing up, learning to take his first steps, during sickness or struggling. Such mothers would look to their sons for solace and want to be accepted and loved by him and his wife.
When the wife appears on the scene to marry her son, who will have to shift his attention from his mother to his wife, the mother feels oppressed and may become heartbroken especially where there is no cordiality in the relations between her and her sonís family.
These mothers fail to realize that they must take the backseat while the wife occupies the front seat in his heart. Therefore, another cause of the raging conflict between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law is a battle for who gets the attention of the son/husband. Plainly, it is a battle for control of the attention of the son/husband.
However, there are some touchy mothers-in-law who are difficult to please no matter how a wife strives. Some mothers have genuine intentions and a sincere concern for the welfare of her son but the way her good intention will be received by her daughter-in-law will depend on her diplomacy.
Where a mother-in-law had a rough and an unhappy marriage with her husband, and now sees her daughter-in-law in a cordial and happy marriage with her son, she may become envious and will do anything to trouble her daughter-in-law's peace, to upset the marriage. She refuses to accept that her daughter-in-law now owns her son. So, the crisis is also borne out of envy.
The Sonís role
The son/husband is always at the center of the conflict which is a battle for his attention. Many sons have consciously and unconsciously fueled the crisis by their mishandling of the situation.
Despite being married to their wives, many sons are still emotionally attached to their mothers or tied to her apron strings and would run to their mothers for succor at every turn.
Such sons contribute to the conflict by granting their mothers the power to meddle or to interfere in their marital affairs, by their immaturity to face their responsibilities as men. A son who allows his parents to interfere in his marital affairs has set the stage for conflict which must occur if his wife resents such interference.
It is the emotional attachment that an overbearing mother exploits to trouble her sonís wife. Some sons blindly take sides with their mothers against their wives which worsen the situation and hasten the breakdown of the marriage. These sons fail to realize that there is a world of a difference between respect for oneís parents and servitude to them.
Obedience to the biblical command to honor oneís parents does not permit a son to allow parental interference in his marital affairs but the son is bound to relate with them and to provide for them. Also a son who has complied with the biblical command to leave his parents and cleave to his wife will not allow third party interference in his marital affairs.
The wife must realize that her relationship with her in-laws is a sensitive one that must not be ruptured. The wife should know that when she marries, she marries her husband along with his family and that her husbandís parents are also her parents. The wife is also required to honor her parents and the biblical command to honor oneís parents also includes honoring oneís parent figures such as in-laws (Exodus 20:12).
A wife is expected to humble herself before her in-laws, be accommodating, tolerate and love them. Love is the foundation and the bedrock of every marriage but this love should be extended not only to the husband but also to the in-laws even if the wife thinks that they do not like her. She cannot obliterate her in-laws and should check herself to see if there are any issues within her which caused the friction. She must not be on the offensive through pre-conceived notions that mothers-in-law are evil.
She must realize that her in-laws can do unacceptable things just like her own parents and instead of reacting negatively to stir up trouble, she should learn to overlook some errors. She should realize that what she sows in her relationship with her mother-in-law, she will reap in the future when she becomes a mother-in-law (Galatians 6:7).
The Son has a major role to play to ensure cordial relations between his wife and her in-laws. His marriage to his wife must not be strained just as his wifeís relationship with her in-laws must not be allowed to rupture. The son should as the head of the home, lead every conflict resolution between his wife and her in-laws and not allow the misunderstandings to degenerate.
The Son must stand by his wife and protect her from his relations because marriage is leaving and cleaving to each other. Husband and wife are one flesh in marriage and are expected to be totally committed to each otherís happiness. Marriage is a bond and a covenant which must not be broken. It is not a marriage of convenience but a lifelong commitment to each other. They should not allow the parental bond which existed before the marriage to destabilize the marriage. In this wise, husband and wife must stand together to protect the marriage against external attacks.
The son should not take any steps that will create an occasion for third parties to come poke nosing into the affairs of his family. This is the point where many sons have gone wrong.
For the son to maintain a balanced relationship between his nuclear family and the extended family on one hand and to maintain a cordial relationship between himself and his wife requires careful handling, tact, wisdom and maturity. In every marriage, in-law misunderstandings may frequently occur but such issues must not be allowed to degenerate to destroy oneís marriage.
From the above, it has been established that the solution to the conflict lies in the hands of the husband and wife to maintain cordial relations with in-laws while ensuring that their own marriage is not strained.
The ball is in the court of the couple to stand as a united front to protect their union from external attacks and this is realizable when they can recognize that persons such as mothers-in-law are external parties to the marriage. The son/husband has a major role to play to avoid the conflict.