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Conflict in marriage: What role do mothers-in-law play in their sons’ relationships?

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Many women have complained of having a difficult relationship with their mothers-in-law. While this isn’t the case for all mother and daughter-in-law relationships, it’s a common enough situation; so much so that even during courtship, women fear getting entangled with ‘mama’s boys’.

The news that a four-year marriage ended in divorce because the man chose his mother over his wife has brought this issue to the forefront.

In any marriage there is bound to be conflict about many things, the in-laws included. But unlike in many instances when the conflict can’t be foreseen, it is possible to put a handle on any issues that may arise as regards the mother-in-law before they even arise. This can only be done if the man understands the true meaning of marriage.

“As man a man, you leave your father and mother to go and begin your own family,” commented Stephen Kigwa, a relationship expert, during an interview with KTN News.

“Culturally, traditionally, biblically, it should not be so. This is something that men need to know that there is an aspect of leaving. You leave emotionally, you leave psychologically, you leave physically,” Psychologist Moffat Kago added in the same interview.

Without understanding this, young men are bound to make the mistake that was highlighted in the above news story, choosing his mother over his wife.

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Men have a strong bond with their mothers. However, this bond could cross the line and become unhealthy. Kago explained the problem of enmeshed families, that is, families whose lives are so intertwined that boundaries are completely blurred. “They [young men] need to realise that they might have a very difficult life ahead because if somebody cannot disconnect with the parent or with the mother, the woman will feel choked.”

“You actually got this woman to your house to live with you. So why do you want to bring in your mother?” Kigwa asks.

Kago also pointed out that mothers-in-law who cling to their sons are setting them up for disaster. “I think this must be a boy who has been having a problem right from childhood in that they are not allowed to be themselves,” opined Kago. “They are not allowed to get individuated. Unless he addresses this problem, there is no other relationship he will be able to keep or maintain.”

This holds true for the women as well. There has to be a clear separation between the couple and their in-laws. They, man and wife, need to have a clear discussion on the role of their in-laws and to what extent they should be involved in their marriage.

They also need to discuss what will happen in the event that the in-laws are in need of special assistance.

Kigwa emphasizes the importance of communication among couples. “The problem is people are afraid to talk, they are afraid to communicate their true feelings because of fear of being victimised.”

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Unbiased communication will help couples resolve conflict without resentment from either party.

The role of the father in the upbringing of the husband also comes to light. “For example, if somebody comes from a home without a father, chances are if somebody does not walk with them, the man may not know what it means to be a man,” Kago says.

He adds that a couple needs to assess their families’ histories because, “there could be a pattern of not having a father. Then it means there are no resources that would help you behave and do things as a man should do because you haven’t seen it anywhere.”  

In the event that a father-figure is lacking, the help of a therapist needs to be sought to help the man overcome these challenges.

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