“If I had known her family members were like this and that I would be responsible for her siblings, in the name of marriage, I probably wouldn’t have married this woman,” said Isaac (surname withheld) as he emptied the third bottle of beer in front of him at a joint that Saturday evening.
One could tell the extent of his frustration, just four years into marriage with a woman he once cherished.
From his lamentation, Isaac’s predicament stems from what he called incessant demands from his wife’s siblings who rely on him to pay their school fees, give them money for their upkeep in school and house them during holidays. He said they never hesitated to call him if they needed to buy even toothpaste.
He said, “It all started shortly after our wedding. The two of them came one after the other to live with us and I thought it was for a short period of time. When I saw that their stay was becoming prolonged, I had to ask my wife if they had come to stay, but her answer made me feel like a stranger in my own house. My wife is a housewife, so you could understand my position.
“My wife told me that if they were my siblings, would I send them away. When I reminded her that we were told during pre-nuptial counselling not to allow family members to come between us, she asked me if her siblings should start living on the street because she was now married.
“They call me if they need money for anything and sometimes they go through their sister. All these are independent of sending money to their parents every month. It is choking me already and I’m tired of it all.”
One could say that marital happiness is partly hinged upon the cooperation and positive disposition of the two families involved.
While Isaac is on the receiving end in this case, there are instances where the wife would be on the receiving end of such a torrent of requests from in-laws, especially if she’s the one with good income. And it is common in homes where either or both the partners come from low-income families.
Meanwhile, this sort of experience is not strange, especially in this part of the world.
According to an Associate Professor of Sociology, Mrs Franca Attoh, the concept of marriage in the African setting encompasses more than the two lovebirds that are directly involved; the two families are also significantly involved.
She said, “In Africa, the concept of marriage is different from the white man’s marriage. In Africa, individuals don’t get married; families do and the implication is that if you marry someone, you are marrying the family.
“In sociology, we say the kinship network becomes enlarged. So, by virtue of marriage, you are a member of the other family and so they become your own brothers and sisters. That kinship network has become enlarged and you are expected to play your role as a member of that network.”
Nevertheless, it has been observed that one of the issues that could frustrate marital happiness is overbearing attitude of in-laws or excessive demands from them.
Attoh added, “If you also look at the level of poverty in our own context, you would understand the reason why some of these things are happening. Oftentimes, you find that these things happen when people are from low-class families, not even middle-class or upper-class families.
“You would find that there are usually instances whereby the family of the person has struggled to send a member to the university, with the hope that when that member comes out, that member would also help to pull other people up.
“If you get married to a person like that and you now want to change the rule of the game by believing that this relationship is for you and your partner alone, it won’t work. That is where problems come in.”
The following are ways couples can handle demands from in-laws or their relatives:
Let your partner know you have responsibilities: This is perhaps one of the crucial points to note, because there are instances where married persons only find out the enormous responsibilities on the shoulders of their partners after their wedding, at which time it might be too late to withdraw if it’s something they can’t cope with.
Attoh advised that people should not hide things from their partners before marriage if they have such responsibilities.
She said, “One of the things I advise young people to do is that before they get married, they should lay their cards on the table. Tell your fiancé that you have siblings who are looking up to you for them to be able to go to school. That partner would then be able to decide ab initio whether they would be able to cope or not. If the person cannot cope, they would move on and marry someone else. That way, everybody is happy.”
Look on the brighter side: While many people look at such demands as a burden, Attoh is of the view that such intervention in the lives of people could be rewarding. She said, “At times, it works out well and at times it doesn’t. When it works out well, you find out that those people you help would hold you in high esteem and it’s like the family becomes enlarged. Besides, you would have more people who went to school and it brings enlightenment to the family. Today, we have instances where it was such sacrifices that enabled some people to become people of importance and I tell you that it’s exciting.
“On the long run, each person is doing well and it makes it easier for that family. A man that is running away from that is cutting off his nose to spite his face. The one way you can begin to quarrel is if the partner did not tell you ab initio that she has some expected responsibilities to carry out in her family. But if she told you, then you could buy into it because it can be very rewarding. No doubt, there are people you help that don’t even show appreciation, but God rewards and then there are people who show appreciation.”
You can share responsibilities: One other way to deal with this is for the couple to look at how to accommodate the demands within the confines of their income, Attoh said. She added, “One thing you can also do is that if the partner, let’s say the woman, whose relatives are making the demands, is also working, the man, for instance, could say he might not be able to contribute but that the woman should take care of the siblings from her earnings while he takes care of the home. And if he can’t do that alone, they could agree on the role the woman could be playing in the home in addition to taking care of her siblings. Even though in Africa, there is a tendency for people to abuse it, if the person you are married to is a reasonable person and both of you have the same mindset, you should be able to work things out.”
Attoh equally pointed out that people tend to see helping others as a burden because of selfishness. She added, “The problem is that we become very selfish because we have gone to school. Some of these demands people are complaining about don’t come up every month. I tell my daughter that one thing this generation has succeeded in doing is becoming extremely selfish and it’s not necessary. In Africa, we should be our brother’s keeper.”
Be firm: It is not uncommon for people to take advantage of people helping them, such that they make unnecessary demands from such persons. This, Attoh said, should be checked by the benefactors without wasting time. She said, “There are instances where people would want to abuse that opportunity, but don’t hesitate to decline categorically when they migrate from essential needs to asking for things to satisfy their wants.
“In the spirit of being considerate, people should be very firm. There are people that I’m paying their fees in the university and they are not even related to me at all. Some of them are not even from my state, but I picked them up because I know their parents are indigent. I can pay for their tuition and books, but not expensive phones. If you are not able to put your foot down, then you are not an adult.”
Show a solid front with your partner: According to a professor of psychology, Toba Elegbeleye, another solution to the issue is for the couple to work together in love and agree on a decision. He said, “It depends on the level of love and cohesiveness between the husband and the wife but it’s a matter that the two of them need to put minds together and decide on. So, the solution is for the couple to put up a united front. Anything outside of that can cause problems for that marriage.”