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Confessions: How do I live in harmony with my domineering mother-in-law?

 I don’t want to get between them but, with each day, my tolerance for this is going down (Photo: Shutterstock)

I have been married for a year and we live with my mother-in-law. The problem is she has taken control and seems to be making all family decisions. She restricts my movement so much so that she doesn’t even allow me to go to church. I am not allowed to have friends visiting me and he tells his mother every little thing we discuss, including our personal secrets. I feel like I am married to mother and son and this is becoming really stressful. I don’t want to get between them but, with each day, my tolerance for this is going down. Please advise me.


What the readers say:

Caroline, your situation is not strange, life with the in-laws around is never easy. But it is not always the case. Early years in marriage are always tough with them around. Now that this involves three of you, you should convene a meeting to discuss the situation. The discussion should be a plenary session where everyone should be allowed to address how they would want things done. Your husband, his mother and you should and must talk. Do not expect peace by having a discussion with him alone, the three of you must attend the plenary. Categorically with respect and love, state your expectations, and general goals. At some point, your mother-in-law should give room for the two of you as well as your man should know that other than his mother, another female is with him that needs his attention more than his mother does; let him also clearly separate what is meant to be secret between the two of you. Not everything you do requires the knowledge of the in-laws. If the three of you talk, then an almost level playing ground will be created. It is not a time to finger anybody; we are all human beings with shortcomings, so accept that you too have flaws and then work towards minimising your weaknesses as you compromise for the sake of love, and harmonious living. Amicably discuss and who knows, the solution is next door.

{Ragumo-Sifuyo }

Sorry for the predicament you are going through but inside your mind you should know that you met them hence you should tolerate. On the other hand, some mother-in-laws are just but nuisance thus you should relocate to your own place with your husband. The more you stay with your mother-in-law, the more she learns about your character and weaknesses. Suggest your husband to build a home for you in a different place and relax there.

{Chepkwony Chepalungu }

The best way to beat your enemy is to learn from her. You are not just about to beat your mother-in-law for the love of her son. Your sons will equally be closer to you than they are to their wives and you will find nothing wrong with this as you will be the beneficiary. There must be this thing that your mother-in-law knows about your husband and which she uses to endear herself to him; and this is what you must learn. Be cunning and very close to your mother-in-law. Win her trust and behave like you would wish to learn the best for her son from her; make her your best friend and be sure her son knows. You will not be paying a fee in any college to learn this but the value of this knowledge will bring down mountains without you breaking any sweat. Go with her to church, share with her your ‘delicacies’ and happy age as you wait for your sons to marry and watch their wives sulk that their husbands are closer to you than they are to her. However, if you continue to have your mother-in-law as your sworn enemy, then you may as well begin to have an advance signature on your divorce papers. 

{Tasma Saka }

You should learn to respect your mother-in-law, she gave birth to your husband. What I do not understand is are you staying with your mother-in-law in a rural or urban set up? Are you staying in the same household? What is wrong with your husband discussing some things with his mother? Maybe he is the only child or she depends on him for her survival? What you should be concerned with is the boundary of the talk, respect and your chance as the wife of the house. Why do you not talk to your husband and discuss your demand, needs and want the three of you for the way forward? There is no problem if all are inclusive in your discussion and let your husband and mother-in-law know your feelings instead of suffering in silence getting ulcers and depression for nothing. 

{Onyango Outha?}

Boke says:

Dear Caroline,

One can only imagine how unappreciated, lost and frustrated you could be feeling. Among the reasons people get married is to get a chance to exercise their independence and individuality, with the expectation of building a family unit that is unique to them. Therefore, external influence is not always appreciated.  

Some level of detachment is necessary when people get married. We are also aware that a strong bond between mother and son exists but that is not an excuse for your mother-in-law to continue interfering with your marriage. It is also not a reason for your husband to still cling on to his mama’s apron.

Although you are the one hurting, you’re not the right person to raise the matter with them. This is because you’re likely to be misunderstood and they will get into a defensive mode.

I suggest that you look for persons who are respectable to mother and son who will talk them out of this.

Start with your husband. Get a friend who will talk to him about the need for him to be independent, before talking to the mother. If your husband can get it, then he can make it easier by gradually and tactfully withdrawing. Then get somebody else to talk to your mother-in-law. 

Remain positive as you exercise patience. The change may not happen overnight. If you insist on instant or immediate change, you are likely to strain all these relationships, resulting in other problems.

Both of you should remain supportive of her so she does not read neglect or abandonment.  

Hilda Boke Mahare has a background in Counselling Psychology

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