From time immemorial, there has been rivalry between wives and their mothers-in-law.
Many wives and their mothers-in-law are at loggerheads and normally struggle to get along.
Some mothers-in-law are always interfering, overbearing and are the type of people who think they are never wrong.
They usually think their daughters-in-law are not good enough for their sons.
Relationship experts view this tug of war between a mother and daughter-in-law as a power struggle.
On the one hand, mothers-in-law feel excluded from their sons’ lives by their wives and on the other hand, wives feel that their mothers-in-law seem to know everything about their husbands and this makes them jealous despite the fact that a mother-in-law can never possibly be a sexual rival.
Many wives are ever in competition with their husband’s mother.
Conflicts always come from each of them criticizing or undermining the other.
In 1954, Dr Terri Apter, a psychologist and senior tutor at Newnham College, Cambridge, carried out a research on mothers-in-law and wives.
The research for her book, “What Do You Want From Me?” revealed that only one in four women liked their mother-in-law.
Dr Apter interviewed more than 200 people, including 49 couples and her conclusion was that,
“It is a tragedy because this impasse divides women. It causes both wives and their mothers-in- law terrible unhappiness and distress.”
She said the rivalry is so deep rooted that it does not matter how nice or lovely the mother-in-law is.
During the research, wives accused their mothers-in-law of showing unreasonably jealous love towards their sons.
Two-thirds of women during the research complained that they had suffered long-term unhappiness and stress because of friction with their husband’s mother.
Dr Apter explained that both the mother and the wife are struggling to achieve the same position in the family of being the primary woman.
Each tries to establish or protect their status and each feels threatened by the other.
She said most problems could be traced back to unspoken but conflicting expectations and assumptions.
Many daughters-in-law assumed that no matter how modern their mothers-in-law were, they would be judged on their cooking, cleaning and child-rearing abilities and this made them defensive.
At the same time, mothers-in-law usually interpreted the decisions of their daughters-in-law to do things differently from them, whether in relation to childcare, career or running the home as a rejection of their own choices.
“It is the disappointment felt by both women that gives these relationships their distinctive negative charge. These tensions don’t just cause friction within families. They can put even the best marriages at risk,” she said.
In other countries like Italy, for example, a wife has the right to a legal separation if her husband does not prevent his mother from “invading” their home.
In-law troubles can also increase stress and even affect health.
A Japanese study published last year found that women living in extended households were two to three times more likely to experience coronary heart disease than women living with just a spouse.
Mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law problems have continued even in modern day Zambia.
One Zambian wife complained that, at her wedding, her mother-in-law asked her to step out of the pictures so that the photographer could take pictures of “her family”.
“I have tried so hard to get on with my mother-in-law, but I find myself confused and hurt after every visit to her. She is not interested in anything to do with me. I buy her lovely presents that she never received before my husband met me and yet she seems to think that these gifts are from her son,” the woman said.
She said she feels exhausted whenever she visits her mother-in-law and she feels as if the mother-in-law disapproves of anything about her.
“This is not your house. It’s our son’s house,” one mother in law is said to have told her daughter- in-law.
Many mothers actually end up driving their sons away through squabbles with their daughters- in-law in a desperate move to get hold of them
“My mother-in-law is a manipulative bully, and blows out normal issues into World War III. She does not know her place within our marriage and tries to overstep the boundaries all the time,” one woman said.
She said she is not jealous of her mother-in-law because she is her husband’s mother.
But she does not like her.
She said sometimes she wishes her mother-in-law could see the hurt she causes her son by making him have to choose between his wife and herself.
“My mother-in-law told me during one of her outbursts that, well done, you’ve got what you wanted, and she looked at her son and said, I love you my son,” one wife said.
Most wives are also desperately trying to prove that their mothers-in-law are no longer the most important woman in the family.
They usually use the powerful weapon of sexual intimacy to win their husbands over their mothers.
The husbands in this case obey their wives because they understand that the happier their wives are, the better the love life is in the home.
The husbands usually struggle to keep both their wives and mothers happy but the continued tension confuses them.
Some women have actually been heard saying they do not want to get married to a man whose mother is still alive because of the many terrible mother-in-law stories they have heard.
It is important to note that some mothers find it difficult to accept the fact that their son or daughter has grown and should be allowed some independence.
The wife feels like she has left her parents, friends, her old life and sometimes country to be a part of her husband and, therefore, has high expectations.
She wants to be the number one woman in the man’s life.
The mother-in-law has her way of doing things, the wife being from a different family also has her own different way and this causes friction between both women who want to have their way.
Usually the wife feels it is her house and she can do as she pleases, while the mother feels it is her son’s house and she also has a right.
Another issue that fuels this tension is that many men choose to protect their mothers against their wives.
During arguments, many men side with their mothers and when wives talk to them about it, they get angry.
Dr Apter said the men see the wife as being stronger, tougher, and, therefore, as the one who should be subdued.
Some mothers-in-law think there is no woman good enough for their son and some husbands allow their mothers to treat their wives badly.
Some mothers-in-law go to the extent of befriending their sons’ girlfriends just to get back at their sons’ wives.
Dr Apter urged mothers-in-law to treat their daughters-in-law with the same love and respect that they have for their sons and be there when and if they need them.
She said mothers-in-law should not try to be more important to their sons than their wives.
The relationships are entirely different and both can coexist perfectly well.
Wives should also love their mothers-in-law as they are the ones that gave birth to their husbands.
The two of them should not try to compete because they have different relationships and there will never be a winner
Mothers-in-law should not feel unwanted by the daughters-in-law.
As already indicated, research shows that 80 per cent of complaints pertaining to in-law problems are complaints against the mother-in-law.
Mothers-in-law should not ask their sons to put them before their wives and they should refrain from mediating their sons’ marital disputes.
Further, mothers-in-law should not rearrange their daughters-in-law’s homes without permission and they should also avoid keeping secrets from their sons and daughters-in-law.
Additionally, mothers-in-law should be careful not to think that their sons are perfect and their daughters-in-law are always wrong.
Mothers-in-law should also avoid criticizing their daughters-in-law’s cooking and compare themselves with her parents.
The Bible in Mark 10:9 calls on a man to leave his parents and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.
This means the two people who make up a couple have a responsibility towards each other but this, however, does not mean a complete break or abandonment of their parents.
Instead, Jesus in Mark 7:10-13 said plainly that children are to honour their parents and, when necessary, even support them financially.
The establishment of a new home does not release these children from this obligation.
Although parents still have a deep love for their children and want to help them, they should realize that the young couple now has a right to be independent and to work out its own problems.
The relationship between parents and the new home should no longer be one of expected obedience, but of warm cooperation in which each respect the independence and ideas of the other.