The psychology of in-law relations sure sounds like a very important course probably in a past graduate class or an appropriate topic for a PhD thesis. Lol!
Attempting to dissect the topic may give the impression of a complicated process. I urge you to relax. This psychology matter is definitely not rocket science. Rather, it is a practical breakdown or simplification of a process that has become so notorious chiefly due to the many heartaches and destruction a lack of understanding of this very important concept has wrecked.
Psychology is simply put, the mental characteristics or attitude of a person or group. In this instance therefore, it will be the mental characteristics or attitudes of in-laws.
These characteristics and mental attitudes are many and they vary according to tribe, families, backgrounds, experience, education and exposure to mention a few. There are therefore many attitudes to x-ray, analyse and attempt to understand.
I however as a matter of personal policy prefer to turn the searchlight inwards first rather than outward. We shall therefore be discussing the psychology of in-law relations from the preferred viewpoint of YOU, the wife. After all you also have the appellation in-law attached to your title. You are also referred to as a daughter in-law, a sister in -law, cousin in -law etc. and eventually by God’s grace, you will end up as the high and mighty mother-in-law someday. Ha ha ha ha! What goes round surely comes round.
I love telling stories as you must have noticed if you pay regular visits to this blog and I will tell you how my psychology was altered in the early years of my marriage. A permanent alteration that has left me better off and has augured well for all around me.
So there I was, about three or four years married. We were living in a two-bedroom apartment in a very densely populated part of Lagos. At that point in time, I doubt if I had the opportunity to see any of my siblings since after our wedding. Not a single one of them live in Lagos where my husband and I reside.
It was therefore very exciting for me when my immediate younger brother who then was an undergraduate in one of the Federal universities called to say his faculty was embarking on a field trip to Lagos and that he would be dropping by and would most likely spend the night.
I was over the moon! My only baby brother will be visiting and honestly he was and still is a much loved brother of mine!
You can imagine that I left no stone unturned. I made a nice meal, made sure I got cold drinks ready and I awaited his arrival with bated breath!
Finally, he bounced up the staircase to the upper flat we resided in with an overnight bag casually flung across his shoulders. He was all grown and I had him in a bear hug in no time… and then I noticed… we had company. A slim guy about his age stood smiling, taking in all the affectionate display, his eyes begging to be introduced. My brother finally extricated himself and off handedly explained he decided to come along with a friend and course mate and yes… both of them intend spending the night! I was caught off guard but within a spit second, I had adjusted. I gave the guy a wide grin, shook his hands and asked them both in.
A thought ran through my mind. My brother ought to have sought and obtained permission before asking his friend who is unknown to both my husband and I to spend the night with us! It appeared a bit rude… A two-bedroom apartment meant we did not even have a functioning guest room – I quickly put the thought aside. Surely he meant no harm and thinking this way may add some cold winds to the well-deserved warm welcome he was being given, the very vibes I do not want to pass on to my much loved younger brother!
In no time the table was set, luckily there was enough for the extra guest. My brother’s feeble attempt to pack the plates was swiftly rebuffed. I swiftly took over. He is a guest and must be treated specially.
When it was time for dinner, I asked for his food preference. He made his choice and off to the kitchen I gladly went! He and his friend were obviously having the time of their lives and when it was time to retire for the night, I informed him I had converted the mini flat at the back of the house to a guest chalet and that in order for them to be comfortable, they will be spending the night there. Because our emergency guest chalet had no television set, I decided to get them board games to while away time with just in case they do not retire immediately and so that they don’t get bored. I also got them snacks to nibble on and of course cold drinks to pass the night with. We exchanged hugs and off to the guest chalet they went. I was still fussing about whether the insecticide used will keep the mosquitoes away from their room when I heard that characteristic still small voice with its tenderness booming across my heart. I have come to recognize that voice as an inner witness… The channel through which God speaks to me. I may sound spooky to some of you, but I do hear God!
He started out by petting me and congratulating me on a good hosting (probably on the same scale as the scale as the UN General Assembly going by the seriousness with which I tackled the hosting of my younger brother lol!) And just when I was blushing at being made to feel like a pretty good girl, the next words hit me like thunderbolts. “Would you have done as much and gone this length if it was your brother in -law visiting?” “Would you have excused the fact that you were unaware an additional, previously unknown individual would accompany him to spend the night?”
I sat down and the lawyer in me rose to the fore! I became defensive and a little argumentative. I tried to rationalise the fact that it was not exactly the same thing. All excuses sounded lame even to my ears. They were not convincing even to me. Then I blurted out, “But you know I love my younger brother”, and I was gently told, “The same way your husband must love his own siblings”. At this point, I surrendered! I thought deeply about it… if I love my brother this much and if I am willing to overlook his indiscretions and even make excuses for him, convincing myself that his intentions were good, then surely, my husband not being from a different planet and having siblings too, must love them too, and will definitely expect that they are treated with the same degree of warmth and acceptance!
I then made a quiet pledge that I will love my husband’s siblings and family and treat them the way I would treat mine and maybe even better because I reckoned that I will have to adjust this principle in the instances when I would have been hard on my own siblings since with my in-laws, love is yet to be proved and firmly established.
My solemn pledge would have remained just a pledge, but for the events that came in full force, threatening to make me change my resolve…
It so happened that my husband has a younger brother who then had just graduated from the university and had decided soon after the above narrative to take up residence in the mini apartment right behind ours and within the same premises. The moment I realized he would be moving in, I became apprehensive, wondering if my solemn pledge needed some slight amendments. After all, this isn’t a once in a while visit. We are becoming almost next door neighbours! Living in different apartments yet within the same premises. I made the decision to live up to my pledge and thereafter sat down at a Conference with myself, asked myself some hard questions and took the following steps:
- If my younger brother was living next door to me, will I expect him to do his cooking by himself, personally, for me? The answer was No! So I told my brother-in-law not to bother getting cooking utensils into his apartment., he was welcome to eat his meals with us at our place.
- If my brother was living next door, will I expect him to be free enough to disclose he is not in the mood for a particular type of meal and to indicate his preference? The answer was Yes! Even though my brother-in-law never out rightly rejected a meal, whenever I noticed a reluctance to eat, I was quick to let him realize there were options, even if it meant making a new meal. Mercifully, I had a domestic assistant and it was easy to delegate in such instances.
- If my brother was living next door and had no alternative source of power generation and there was an outage, do I expect him to stay in the darkness? I therefore suggested to my husband that his apartment be linked to ours in such a way that whenever our generator was on, his apartment also got powered
The funny thing is that the more I treated him like a younger brother, the more of a younger brother he actually became to me, the happier my husband also became! And the closer and chummier we got.
I therefore concluded that in the Psychology of in-law Relations, the first principle is to put yourself in your husband’s shoes and treat his family the way you would treat yours. There are however exceptions to this general rule. It must not be applied in all instances. A few of such are:
- If you are from a dysfunctional set up and you really don’t give a damn about your own siblings or if sibling rivalry is rife in your background, then don’t rely on this principle
- If your marriage is a cross cultural one. You may need to study your husband’s culture vis-a-vis your own and understand the points of similarities and differences. If for example you do not curtsy to greet an elder or an older sibling or even parent in your culture, your husband’s culture may expect that and even more.
- If for reasons that cannot be outlined here your husband demands that his people be kept at arm’s length or loved from afar, you may need to make some adjustments.
- If by nature you are a disciplinarian and in your family, you are the “big bad wolf” you will definitely need to make a conscious decision not to ” terrify” your in-laws just because you do that to your family.
Just remember the simple formula: Treat them as if they were your family and they will soon realize you are a priceless asset.
I promise you we will discuss additional principles soon. How about sharing this with your friends and family? It also won’t be a bad idea to share your own perspectives, ask your questions and get the blog buzzing! Just go to the ‘comments’ section below this article and let the discussion begin…