I have gone through many trying, heart breaking, life changing and tragic events, like every average human being I suppose. However, the worst thus far have been those I went through in the first 2 years of my marriage. I have been married for 3 and some, so it's been most of it really. Much of the way I poorly handle conflict has also been the reason why I have allowed these issues to affect me harder than they should. I am sensitive and hurt easily, yet I mask this in a façade of bravado, and passive aggression because in reality, I am a crumbling emotional mess.
My mother always told me as I was growing up, that I needed to grow a thicker skin, said skin hasn't shown face 33 years later. However, I have come a long way from the little girl who hid from hanging out with friends, behind Shakespeare and Jane Eyre, while fantasizing about being a lady in a grand castle, waited on by my parlor maid, having high tea in opulently ornamented china teacups with the dashing Mr. Darcy from Derbyshire.
When I got married, I was sure of one thing, it was only a formality of the already existing beautiful love and life I was to share with my husband. I had a whole army of family and in-laws that were happy for me and supporting me, friends that were happy for me – boy was I delusional. As time went by, I soon began to realize that there were very few people that wished me well, family or otherwise.
My mother had encouraged me to be kind to my in-laws just as she had throughout her marriage. I had to play nice to gain their good graces, this was important she said. For all my mother's faults, I have much respect for her on how she handled her in-laws. She has to-date never badmouthed her mother-in-law, nor any of my father’s side of the family. We were raised to respect and love everyone and to especially respect our paternal grandmother for she was the beloved matriarch, and we were here because she was. I was rather surprised years later when my grandmother gave a public apology in front of the family to my mother. She had apparently treated her very badly in her initial years of marriage to my father, I had no idea!
I remember when I got engaged, I announced it to all my friends and whoever else I ran into that day, strangers were not spared. I could not contain my exceeding joy, one of the happiest days of my life to date. One my closest friends who I naturally assumed would be happy for me, called me and gave me a strong talk. She was totally against it and wondered why I could possibly have agreed to marry a man who was not a Christian. We would be unequally yoked and therefore this doomed marriage to be would be devoid of God's blessings. Why ever would I agree to such, you know being the Christian I was and such. I was confused and disturbed. Sadly, this was one of many to follow.
Following my mother’s advice, I used to call my mother-in-law often to keep in her "good graces". Each time we spoke, she always went out of her way to say demeaning things to me. This went on so far as to her gas lighting me to everyone and anyone who had attempted to befriend me, or had kind words for me, including my own mother with whom she had formed a formidable alliance in their shared dialogue displeasure for me. My mother commiserated and promised to bring me to book I presume.
I particularly remember the one time we were alone together at her home. She asked me to walk with her to look at the chickens she was rearing. We ended up at a patio that had a barbecue facility. Here she reminisced of how they used to have Sunday family barbecues and her son (my husband), would invite his then girlfriend. She told me that they all felt and thought that she was the girl he was to marry, because she was right for him. She came from a good family whose esteemed financial standing was at par with my husband’s amongst many strong positives. I don't remember how I responded to this. I may have been too gob smacked to respond.
There are many times she went to on pass zany remarks about how I was clearly not the choice that was pleasing for her or good enough for her son. She and her daughters, my sisters-in-law liked to reminisce and relive my husband's past relationships in my presence, and sometimes denigrate me in "riddle" form. This practice is very common in my culture and I often wonder why people do this, I prefer for people to be upfront if concerns are there, in order to resolve issues.
On occasion she would also repeat how people were going to bewitch our marriage as they had hers, it was only a matter of time, or that I married into a cursed tribe of men who eventually left their husbands for their mothers if not other women.
My sisters-in-law echoed their mother's sentiments and beyond. They would never be overtly cruel in my husband’s presence, but as I soon learnt, they would wait to strike the moment he wasn't around. I suppose this was really clever strategy, how else would he ever admit that his sweet female members of the family would say anything unkind to me. I would look like the liar, which I did when I attempted to tell him – huge mistake!
I spent a great deal of time dealing with this in a very unhealthy manner. I had really angry outbursts because I felt my husband took no effort in doing anything about how I felt. I even had suicidal thoughts, I felt as if this was the end.
I believed it was all his fault, I was married to him and that is why I was going through this. I don't know what I expected him to do. After all, his mother had assured me that her son would never do anything to her even if I told him, he was her only son she said. I remain the subject of this abuse or whatever it is called, yet I completely refuse to be a victim. I have decided to completely distance myself from them, it has worked tremendously for me.
There have been many incidences that turned very ugly because of what I have apparently done/said yet I now have chosen to turn a blind eye to the nonsense. I have spent way too much time and sadness devoted to people who are waiting to celebrate the demise of my marriage as per their firm predictions.
This experience has made me want to strive for better, to undo the nasty stereotypes of mother-in-law abuse and drama. I strive to be a better sister-in-law to my brother's wives. A respectful and kind mother-in-law to my son's future partner if that is the path he chooses, my daughter's too.
I wish to be the mother who does not target someone's daughter and abuse her on the basis of her marrying my son. It is cruel and inexcusable. All too often I hear stories that are similar to what I have related, notwithstanding minor differences in circumstance, the underlying issue resonates. I may never be the perfect suitor for my in-laws, and I have since accepted that it's okay. I am beginning to appreciate myself as the doting mother, loving sister and wonderful woman who is enough just for me. I am learning to love and appreciate myself all over again. Whether or not I live to see the end of this chapter of my life, I am confident of this – I am enough.