YOUR LIFE How to deal with difficult in-laws
There is a way to cope with tension between yourself and your partner’s family
RELATIONS between women and their partners’ siblings are often a minefield – one filled with tensions, fights and gossip against each other. This can be a hot potato for a married woman or girlfriend to deal with. It is a well-known phenomenon that it is usually very difficult for a makoti to get along with her mother-in-law and the man’s siblings. The tension may even spill over to relatives and stepchildren.
But it is important to deal with these tensions as a matter of urgency, especially if you hope to build a lifetime relationship with your partner.
ACCEPT THAT THEY ARE NOT YOUR FAMILY
Noxolo Speelman, a life coach and the director of Gqama Community Services, is an expert on these issues. She does not only give out advice – but as a married woman, she also takes the medicine she gives to others.
“The first thing, and the most important, is that the woman must know that the husband’s siblings are her partner’s relatives and not hers,” says Noxolo.
“When we enter into a relationship and get introduced to our partners’ siblings and family we tend to think that they will become our family, of which they are not. And they will never be.” Noxolo says it is important for the woman to establish a personal relationship with her partner’s siblings rather than rely on her partner to be a link between them. She says this helps the woman and the siblings understand each other in order to resolve any problem that may arise.
“You need to ensure that you have a personal relationship with your partner’s siblings,” she says. “This is your own relationship which has nothing to do with your partner – it’s between you and his siblings. This helps a lot when there is a conflict between you and your sister-in-law or brother-in-law, if you are married, you can have a cordial conversation and resolve it.”
ESTABLISH YOURSELF AND BE YOURSELF. YOU SHOULD NOT PRETEND TO BE SOMEONE YOU ARE NOT
TRY NOT TO INVOLVE YOUR PARTNER
Noxolo warns against a tendency of escalating conflicts to one’s partner.
“If you report the conflict to your partner, it could be interpreted as if you want him to take your side. You should not put him in that situation, it’s a painful situation,” she says.
“He may choose to defend one of you, but he will always go back to his blood. This will leave you out in the cold, hence people must establish their own relationships, more so if they marry into the family.”
She says a woman needs to cultivate the relationship with her partner’s siblings to a point that they are able to discuss things openly.
“You have to make them understand you and your values,” Noxolo says.
Many people often feel pressured to change themselves, their behaviour or beliefs in order to impress their in-laws, but this is a strategy that will lead to more crisis than good.
Noxolo says that it is important to be true to yourself because you cannot maintain a fake or pretentious personality for the rest of your life.
“Establish yourself and be yourself. You should not pretend to be someone you are not,” she says.
“If your partner’s sibling is angry with you, take him or her out or even go for a walk and talk about it. Allow them to understand you and over time you will find that your relationship grows and they also begin to be more receptive and even open to you.”
EMBRACE HEALTHY CONFLICT
Ironically, Noxolo advises women not to shy away from conflict.
She says it is part of every relationship – and people should deal with it head-on rather than leave matters unresolved.
“Conflict is healthy for any relationship. Our weakness is we shy away from it. We were raised to avoid conflict but it is one of the things that strengthen a relationship, if properly dealt with, because people get to understand each other and avoid the things that hurt the next person,” she says.
“Learning to resolve personal conflicts without throwing toys out of the cot is a strong character trait.
“Some people think because I work with relationships, I don’t get hurt. I deal with these things like any other woman: I cry, I fight and sit down and face them. Marriage brings both beauty and strife.”