Domestic Intelligence and the Monsters-In-Law
The name “monster in-law” is an ingenious depiction of the harm in-laws, or some of them, cause marriages. Many people also know this joke: “Take my in-law, please!” But “Domestic Intelligence” is an amazing coinage for understanding and managing the intrusion of in-laws in the marriages of their children, credit to Dr. Terri Apter.
The subject becomes more interesting for its analogy to the actual meaning of Domestic Intelligence. According to the Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms of the US Department of Defense, it is Intelligence relating to activities or conditions within the United States that threaten internal security and that might require the employment of troops; and intelligence relating to activities of individuals or agencies potentially or actually dangerous to the security of the Department of Defense.
In contemporary Nigeria, we should be talking about the activities and conditions that threaten internal security and efforts of security operatives such as the DSS to save us from the evil ones. By extension, some spouses are quick to add that they even have the Boko Haram experience.
Many marriages are constantly under attack of in-laws, leaving homes in a state of, to say the least, confusion. One marriage I know is under serious threat of dissolution because of the mother-in-law’s meddling in the affairs of her daughter’s marriage. She exerts so much control over her daughter’s decisions in running the home are made by Mama. The man had thought initially that Mama was trying to be nice and helpful, only to realize later that he was indeed married to two women – mother and daughter. Daughter physically present at home, but remotely controlled from elsewhere.
To the horror of the husband, his in-law’s control, which could rightly have resulted from the single mother’s intense love for the livewire, joy and breadwinner of the family, had also been remotely secured spiritually. The effect of her losing her daughter to the marriage has made Mama to go to any length to keep the link alive. Now the marriage is suffering but the man still loves his wife, and he is also going the extra mile to get her eyes unveiled to see the reality of her situation. In fact, he thinks the wife is in some kind of bondage.
Domestic Intelligence! We all need it to keep our marriages because the menace of in-laws never stops. As observes Diane Barth, a US-based psychotherapist, teacher, and author, unfortunately everyone suffers in these situations. In most cases there are at least three, and often more, sides to any in-law problem, but for a variety of reasons it is hard for any of the participants to step outside of their own point of view and try to understand what might be going on for any of the other participants.
The above example is only one of the many cases marriage counselors have to deal with. In another interesting example by Diane, Mama loved her daughter-in-law, but ended up hating her, and becoming their Boko Haram. “..….There was Shirley, who adored her son’s girlfriend and was thrilled that they were getting married. “I thought of her as a second daughter,” she said. “So I was really hurt when she wouldn’t let me participate in any of the wedding plans. Everything changed after that.” Shirley was not only hurt that her daughter-in-law had excluded her from the preparations, but also that her son had not stood up for her. But when we discussed the possibility that there were other perspectives, she could not imagine any. Only her hurt feelings were accessible to her. At the moment, she felt like an innocent victim.”
These examples are not meant to over-generalise the issue. There are very decent in-laws, always eager to support the marriage of their kids and tolerant enough to allow them to learn the ropes. But most surveys show the preponderance of in-law interference.
Surprisingly, the issue is very simple in domestic intelligence. As Apter explains it, “When two people decide to marry, each makes a pledge that the other will be the most important person in their life.”You’re the one” and “You come first” are common phrases that seal this promise. And so we expect that our partner will be on our side when the going gets rough.
“Couples may fight between themselves, over big things and small, but we expect a partner to stick up for us when someone else threatens us, criticizes us, makes us feel bad.”
That is two becoming one, as they describe the marriage fusion. Problem is that, it doesn’t seem to be the case. But as they say, “If you plan on sticking with your spouse, then you’re also stuck with your in-laws.”
We will look at the reasons in-laws intrude in marriages in the continuation of this discussion, but you may keep this reason in your left hand: When children go into marriage to start lives of their own, it is often a time of deep sorrow for parents, especially mothers. Their role immediately changes from that of being active protector, guardian and mentor to a detached onlooker, sought only when needed. It could be painful!
Recommended reading: Marriage Issues vs. Mother-in-Law Issues: Tips on How to Know the Difference by Deanna Brann, Ph.D. on the Huffington Post.