Trigger Warning: Most of the advice in this story will not sit well with you. But it is what it is.
In-law relationships are complicated in every culture. This is because you are not bound by blood but by relationship. It is not easy to be liked if you don’t make an effort. But Nigerian in-laws take the cake when it comes to bending till you break.
The In-Laws Never Forget
5 years ago, Kene’s wife engaged in an affair with someone she met at her NYSC Orientation Camp in Nasarawa State. She thought her husband would never find out because she was far away from home. But somehow her husband got to know of the affair through his family members.
They had got married when she was barely 19 years old, and she gave birth to 3 children and went to university from their home.
During those three weeks at the camp, she experienced freedom as an adult and connected with other young people. This freedom also came with some regrettable choices.
In that time she threw caution to the wind and had a somewhat public affair with a 22-year-old fellow Youth Corper, who was 4 years younger than her in age.
Kene has this to say about the outcome of things, “I wish I did not find out about her affair the way I did: through my brother and cousins. Because now they refuse to forgive her. My family thinks I am cowardly because I chose to stay with my wife. They have urged me to dissolve my marriage or punish her severely by embarrassing her publicly. But I love my wife, and we are working on our marriage.”
Like Kene, many people cannot move on from their spouses’ mistakes because their family members keep bringing it up. It’s not their business of course, but familial approval is something that has been ingrained in many people in my culture.
Many people have ended relationships because “mummy doesn’t like the girl or boy”.
Most times mummy cannot even say why she doesn’t approve. But that doesn’t matter. Mummy is the voice of reason: she must be obeyed.
A friend of mine, let’s call Dupe is learning to create boundaries that will help her continue to have a healthy relationship with her family members and still remain married.
Dupe’s husband made some bad investment decisions with the money her father loaned him. Even though he has now paid back the loan and learned from that mistake the in-laws are not letting it go. Her family members keep bring up the matter. “Hope your husband will not sell your house one day and make you homeless, I can see the expensive wristwatch he is wearing” her brother would tease and others in the room will laugh in agreement.
The Power of the In-laws
In many Nigerian marriages, the in-laws wield a lot of influence in the success or failure of a marriage. Unlike western cultures where people do not really depend on their in-law’s approval to move forward in a relationship, in our culture this approval is more enforced.
From the embryonic stages to the relationship, the in-laws play a part in the marriage. They are included in most decisions. Many relationships have suffered a premature death because the prospective in-laws do not approve; for reasons not clear to anyone. Merely harboring a bad feeling is enough to terminate a marriage.
I have had to end a relationship because I foresaw a difficult future with my would-be in-laws. From the relationships around me, I knew that entering into a relationship thinking I would be happy with just my husband alone was foolish. In Nigeria, you don’t marry just the man or woman, you marry their family.
In many cultures in my country, everybody in the family calls a woman“my wife”.
You are everybody’s wife in the family. And in many communities, even to this day, when a man dies his brothers either want to marry his widow or expect her to allow them into her bed.
How to survive as a Nigerian Daughter or Son in-law
Trigger Warning: These pieces of advice may annoy some people.
You don’t have to use the below suggestions. It is not necessarily what you want to hear, but it’s what works for many people.
Well, until sh*t hits the fan! Lol.
1. Always deal with Wisdom
Because of the nuances and the enormous power play involved in the relationships with in-laws, people do not always interact truthfully but with ‘wisdom’.
This wisdom is not the wisdom in the English dictionary. It is about politics, playing to everybody’s wants and desires(or doing nothing helpful but pretending you are. Tact and pretense are also important especially if you are a daughter-in-law.
2. Sometimes just be a wallflower
When they want to discuss private family issues, allow them to be. Do not insist that you are now one of them, because truthfully you aren’t.
3. Suspend Your Reality Till They Leave
Bibi learned the hard way. “My mother-in-law came to visit us some time ago. One day my husband was busy doing dishes as well as loading the washing machine like he normally would.
After some time we heard his mother sobbing softly. She said her son is now emasculated. It was dramatic, but I knew I was in trouble with most of the clan and didn’t let him do any chores till she left”.
Chores are traditionally for the woman, even in cases where she works long hours, she is still expected to do all the house chores.
Anything else is a deviation from the norm and met with a lot of derision. how dare you allow a man to pick up his own knickers. Tueh!
So to get along with your in-laws you have to work like a donkey when they are around.
4. Bite More Than You Can Chew
Kola got married and instantly offered his mother-in-law a monthly salary of 100k. Every month the woman would call him on the phone to pray for him. A few years later, Kola couldn’t keep up with this generous salary and progressively reduced the amount to 70k. He invariably got a stern warning from the mother-in-law that caused a strain in their relationship
5. Make Them Like You, Then Show Your True Colours After You Have Secured the Bag (Marriage)
I learned this when my older cousins or relatives would bring their fiancés to our house to see my parents. The women would be all smiles and bring gifts for the children. The men would play with us and show what seemed like genuine interest. During the wedding, my sisters and I were always little brides and would think we have gained a new relative.
But after the wedding things sometimes take a dramatic turn. Though some of these new uncles or aunts still remained nice, a few would become someone else, hardly recognizable. Not pleasant to be around anymore.
This is probably because of the pressure to perform as prospective in-laws. Meeting the in-laws is after all a serious affair. I remember one of my neighbours brought home a man who finished a large bowl of Eba and Okra soup. Her family didn’t approve of the marriage because they assumed he was not self-aware and would make too many bad decisions because of his gluttony.
He was probably himself and forgot that the in-laws offering food don’t mean you should accept the offer. All these expectations lead many people to put up an act for their Nigerian In-laws, be perfect until you wed.
This doesn’t always end well.
While it is easy to name too many reasons why in-law relationships are so conspicuously arduous to cope with, it really boils down to two principal issues: boundaries and unreasonable expectations.
Couples should set boundaries early on and manage the expectations of their family members.