Marriage: When your mother-in-law becomes a nightmare

When Penina Uwamahoro met her boyfriend four years ago, in him she saw everything that she had hoped for in a man. Two years after they met, the two were ready to take the relationship to another level.

When Penina Uwamahoro met her boyfriend four years ago, in him she saw everything that she had hoped for in a man. Two years after they met, the two were ready to take the relationship to another level. He proposed and she said yes. Everything was falling into place; after all, top on her list, she dreamt of a man who would welcome her child from a previous relationship with open arms; and her man had. So, they got married. 

What Uwamahoro didn’t anticipate was the reception she would get from the mother-in-law. What Uwamahoro found was the epitome of a cruel and intolerant mother-in-law.

“It started with small but stinging comments. It progressed to open contempt but every time I would get angry to a point of hitting back, I would remind myself that she is the mother of my husband,” she says.

Looking back, Uwamahoro says that her mother-in-law did not like her right from the beginning.

With no child, two years after marriage, she has been labeled all names by her mother-in-law.

“She is always lamenting to her son that he made a poor choice to have me as a wife. The fact that I have delayed to get pregnant has made the situation worse, every time she visits, she demands for a grandchild. She has even gone as far as suggesting to my husband to marry another woman who will be able to bear him children,” Uwamahoro says.

Uwamahoro’s experience with her in-laws is not unique to only her.

One may wonder why many mothers-in-law are usually at logger heads with their daughters-in-law.


Mary Kamanzi is in charge of Marriage for Family Ministry at Christian Life Assembly. She says that conflicts amongst in-laws mostly stem from the emotions that arise from families losing attachment. This is especially common with a mother who resents her daughter-in-law because she feels less needed; and this in turn raises feelings of jealousy and competition.

Once someone gets married they get to leave their parent’s home, this emotionally affects the parents, especially the mothers who are so attached to their children.

In this case the mother gets to feel like some other woman is competing for her son’s love.

“Sometimes mothers have expectations of their sons. When he gets married, even if he is not capable to for example, fulfill a financial obligation, the mother might think that it’s the wife causing all that,” she says.

Trouble tends to double when the mother- in-law stays with the family. She says that having two women who have a very strong relationship with the same man can be tough as they are bound to have differences.

Kamanzi advises those involved to exercise love and patience.

“Wives should have a very clear understanding of who they are, not only to their husbands but also to the relatives of the man. A daughter-in-law should try her best to engage her in-laws so that they don’t feel left out, the man’s family will appreciate such gestures and this in turn will serve to help have a good relationship,” she adds.

Pastor Andrew Mukinisha, of Christian Life Assembly, says that some of the conflicts amongst in-laws might arise from factors such as cultural orientation.

Some cultures have practices that demand submission of the wife to the in-laws and in that case she has to do whatever she is told. This can bring disagreements, especially if the wife has a different culture with different beliefs.

He also sides with the fact that the most common problem has to do with the sense of ownership and attachment. 
“If the mother has and son are close, she kind of feels a loss when he gets married which creates conflict between the mother and the wife,” she says.

Another cause is the difference in personality, whether it’s the sister-in-law or the mother-in-law, they could be at logger heads with the wife in the home just because their characters and interests are different.

“Such differences can affect the marriage, unless the husband is wise enough to make informed decisions. If the man sides with his family, this can definitely affect the marriage. Such a situation calls for good counsel to get wisdom and be able to resolve whatever issues they have amicably. Discuss openly and avoid anger as this may prevent you from resolving anything,” Pastor Mukinisha advises.


What men say

According to Mark Kalema, a married father of two says it’s the man’s responsibility to avoid such situations from happening.

“When in-laws start meddling into your family’s business, it is bound to affect the man’s relationship with his wife,” he says.

He advises couples especially men to keep their relatives at arm’s length on matters to do with their marriages.

Laban Bizimungu a 30-year-old has a fiancée, he says that his family hasn’t yet accepted his wife to be.

“Men sometimes are the root cause for all these differences, they share with their families whatever difference they have with their wives and in turn the family loses respect or even trust for the wife,” Bizimungu says.

He adds that when a man gets married he is bound to his wife and no one is entitled to meddle into their life unless they are given permission to, otherwise in-laws should also be careful with their actions so as not to dig a pit for their son’s marriage.

Every couple must set boundaries and make sure in-laws have a line they shouldn’t cross. Men should be bold enough to draw the line and confront their relatives when they think that the borderline is being crossed, often, in-laws will pry only if they are given a chance to.


Tips for handling a ‘difficult’ mother-in-law

If your future mother-in-law (MIL) is driving you crazy, here are five tips on how to de-escalate the drama that you can use now and hence-forth after.

Remember that your gain can feel like her loss. Try and practice empathy with your future MIL. While you are excited about the beginning of this new phase of life with her child, for your MIL, this new phase can serve as a reminder that their “baby” is no longer a baby and all of the complicated feelings that go along with that. It may stir up resentments, feelings of aging, anxiety about their relevancy in their child’s life, fear of you shutting them out, a feeling of being “replaced”... even if these things are irrational. So, when you feel that your MIL is attempting to assert herself in ways that push your buttons, take a moment to remember that it is likely less personal to you than it is to her.

When discussing your MIL grievances with your dear spouse, stick to behaviours not character assessments.

MILs have the ability to bring out the most girl-fighting instincts in us women! Countless girlfriends describe their MILs with the sweeping character assessments one sees only in a Novella - She’s so manipulative! She tries to control everything! I think she wants us to break up! While your girlfriends may listen and even agree with these assessments, they are harder for your partner -- her child -- to hear. A new layer of frustration can build when you feel that your partner “refuses to see” who their mother really is. Don’t introduce your issues with “As usual, your manipulative mother is trying to have her dream wedding.” Instead, tackle the behaviour at hand: “I found out today that your mother went behind our back and asked the florist to change the colours of the flowers. I found that behaviour unacceptable, since it not only isn’t her choice, but she did it secretly. How should we address this?” (These are all real problems, by the way!).

Don’t pick fights, but stand up for yourself. You are a grown woman- after all you are grown enough to be married, right? It’s normal and natural to have your own way of doing things -- from little things like laundry to big things like celebrating a religious holiday. You are entitled to and should stick up for yourself and your way of doing things should you feel it diminished verbally or bullied behaviourally. It’s important to feel comfortable with how you want to raise your kids or if you want to go to church on Easter (in example) because then you will be able to verbalise your way of doing things and not “fold” under questioning.

When frustrated, rest in gratitude. Even at its most vexing, you can always know that you and your MIL share one thing in common -- a love for the person you married. It’s hardly likely that’s the only thing you share, but in those moments it seems like it is, rest in gratitude that this woman birthed the person you LOVE! And then remember that the person you love would be crushed if you and his/her mother had an all-our fight.Remember, your relationship with your mother-in-law is one that is going to last a long, long time. The more you can do to make it blossom, the better!



I say: How can one deal with a resentful mother-in-law?

Christine Mutesi, business woman

Christine Mutesi

No matter how hard it is to cope with a mother-in-law, it is still not as bad as being against her. In my opinion, all you need is patience and respect; this eventually builds trust and friendship, and will lead to a healthy relationship with your mother in-law.

Aliany Musabyimana, shop attendant

Aliany Musabyimana

Having a positive attitude will help the situation. I’m aware that dealing with a resentful mother-in-law can be stressful but if you choose to look at the situation with a negative mindset, it becomes even more overwhelming and will create a poor relationship between both parties. For a person dealing with such an in-law, you need to look at your situation with positively and strive to build a favourable relationship no matter how difficult it is.

Louise Hategeka, educationalist

Louise Hategeka

To have a healthy relationship with a resentful mother-in-law requires tolerance; you have to ignore all the blame and pressure put on you and look at the constructive side of that person. In my opinion, that is a promising way to deal with such a person. Everyone has a bad and good side, and it is up to someone to choose which side to embrace for the sake of a healthy relationship.

Joyce Nyirabagande, vegetable vendor

Joyce Nyirabagande

A person seeking a good relationship with a mother-in-law should be flexible to change and put in place a clear and favourable communication platform for the relationship to thrive. Effective communication will build confidence and trust, and will lay foundation for a strong friendship.

Compiled by Dennis Agaba


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