Attitude Of Mother-In-Law Towards Daughter-In-Law As A Determinant Factor In Marital Stability In Some Selected Families

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Attitude Of Mother-In-Law Towards Daughter-In-Law As A Determinant Factor In Marital Stability In Some Selected Families


This study investigated the influence of communication on attitude towards mother-in-law among female married adults in Lagos Metropolis.

In carrying out the study, four null hypotheses were postulated to provide direction. The study consisted of one hundred randomly selected samples. The instrument used for data collection was a self-designed questionnaire by the researcher of a 4 point Likert format. Both one-way Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) and Independent t-test Statistical Techniques were used for data analysis. The results of the analysis showed that:

  1. Communication style does not have a significant influence on the attitude of daughter-in-law towards their mother-in-law.
  2. Cultural background does not have a significant influence on the attitude of daughter-in-law towards their mother-in-law.
  3. Educational background does not have a significant influence on the attitude of daughter-in-law towards their mother-in-law.
  4. Ethnic background has a significant influence on the attitude of daughter-in-law towards their mother-in-law.

Table Of Content

Preliminary Page(s)

  • Title page
  • Certification page
  • Dedication
  • Acknowledgement
  • Abstract
  • Table of content

Chapter One


  • 1.1 Background to the Study
  • 1.2 Statement of the Problem
  • 1.3 Purpose of the Study
  • 1.4 Research Questions
  • 1.5 Research Hypotheses
  • 1.6 Significance of the Study

Chapter Two

Literature Review

  • 2.1 Conceptual Review
  • 2.2 Conflicts and Marriage Relationship
  • 2.3 The Concept of Marriage and Family
  • 2.4 In-Laws’ Role in Marriage
  • 2.5 Theoretical Background
  • 2.6 Factors That Affect Attitude Change
  • 2.7 Persuasive Communication and Attitude Change
  • 2.8 Empirical Studies

Chapter Three


  • 3.1 Research Design
  • 3.2 Area of Study
  • 3.3 Sample
  • 3.4 Instrument for Data Collection and Administration
  • 3.5 Data Analysis

Chapter Four

Results And Discussion

Chapter Five

Conclusion And Recommendations

  • 5.1 Conclusion
  • 5.2 Recommendations
  • References

Chapter One


1.1 Background To The Study

Marriage is a choice. That may not be a definition of marriage, but that is nevertheless a fact of marriage (Warren, 1990). “You don’t marry a person, you marry a family”. So goes the conventional folk wisdom neatly summing up a fact of life. The institutions of marriage and family are inevitably intertwined. When two people choose to get married, they are also choosing the integration of two families (Lau, 2005). Sociologically, that is what a marriage is about: the integration of twp families. After marriage, her family and his family will likely come to be considered jointly as “our folks”. That is the intended meaning of marriage. In practical terms, a brother-in-law is treated as a brother, a sister-in-law is treated as a sister, and a mother-in-law is treated as one’s own mother (Byng-Hall, 1980).

The US Bureau of the Census (1986:116) defines the term family as “a group of two persons or more (one of whom is the householder) related by birth, marriage, or adoption, and residing together. Most of us live out a large share of our lives in some form of family or another. We can easily see that family cannot be ignored if we want to understand the societal patterns and processes all around us. This is because the social relationships called family is such an important part of the society. In fact no society has existed without some sort of social arrangements that may be labelled kinship or family.

Family relationships are never fixed; they change as the self and the significance of other family members grow older, and as the changing society influences their respective lives (Riley, 1983). Family experts report that in reality the most difficult relationship is the one between the mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law. Conflicts between wives and their mothers-in-law do not just happen. They need an arena, just as germs and viruses need an environment to breed (Lau, 2005). There must first be a common area in which both the wife and her mother-in-law are in constant contact. If the wife and her mother-in-law do not meet each other at all and each of them just lives her own life, there would, in theory, be no problem at all between them, because there is no contact. No contact, no conflict. It’s as simple as that. It is like saying if there were no marriages, there would be no divorces (Philips, 1995).

When you play badminton or tennis, there is hardly any chance of you crashing into your opponent unless you are playing like a chimpanzee. This is because each of you has your own court. When you play a game like squash, however, you have to be very careful not to crash into your opponent, or smash his head with your racquet (Lau, 2005). The interaction between the wife and her mother-in-law is like the game of squash, where there are lots of opportunities for both players to be in contact with and crash into each other (Silverstein, 1992).

Interpersonal communication is an integral part of human experience. Moreover, our interpersonal skills are highly relevant to adjustment, because they can be critical to our happiness and success in life. There is a need to be aware that communication can be effective or ineffective depending on what transpires between the speaker and the hearer and care should be taken not be an ineffective communication (Byng-Hall, 1980).

Communication can be defined as the process of sending and receiving messages that have meaning. Berlo (1960) has divided the interpersonal communication process into four basic components: the source of the message, the message itself, the channel in which the message is sent and the receiver of the message.

The source is the person who initiates, or sends the message. The message is the information or meaning that is transmitted from one person to another. The channel refers to the medium through which the message reaches the receiver and the receiver is the person to whom the message is targeted.

Communication is more effective and less problematic when people have similar frames of reference (Clark, 1985). Communication with others- friends, lovers, parents, spouses, children, employers, in-laws- is such an essential and common place aspect of our lives that it’s hard to overstate the importance of being able to communicate effectively. Moreover, many of life’s satisfactions and frustrations and heartaches as well hinge on our ability to communicate effectively with others. For examples, research has shown that married couples who perceive themselves as effective communicators are more likely to be happily, rather than unhappily married (Yelsma, 1984). Conversely, poor communication is reported to be the most common problem among couples who seek marriage counselling (Beck & Jones, 1973).

Communication is effective when the message we intend to convey is the message that is actually received. Therefore, it entails both the accurate transmission of a message and the accurate reception of a message (Hahn, 2000).

A communication barrier is anything in the communication process that inhibits or blocks the accurate transmission and reception of messages. Barriers to effective communication can reside in the source, the receiver or sometimes in both. Common barriers to effective communication include defensiveness, carelessness, self-preoccupation, collusion and instigation of unnecessary conflict.

The most basic barrier to effective communication is defensiveness-an excessive concern with protecting oneself from being hurt. We are prone to react defensively when we feel threatened (Gibb, 1961). When a person consistently instigates unnecessary conflict with others, this contentiousness sets up barriers to effective communication. Such behaviours come in a variety of forms (Nye, 1973). Some people tend to deliberately annoy and provoke others to get a “rise” out of them.

When intergenerational conflicts occur, it typically involves the wife and her mother-in-law. In fact, in-law trouble has been characterized as a “female problem”, perhaps because women have traditionally shouldered the responsibility for maintaining kinship ties (Marotz-Baden & Cowan, 1987). Fischer (1983) found that wives tend to turn to their own mothers for help after giving birth. Yet they may regard their mother-in-law’s concern over her new grandchild as “interference”.

The mother-in-law/daughter-in-law impasse is a tragedy, dividing women who have much in common, and who could benefit from one another’s friendship. It causes great unhappiness to mother-in-law, who feels her overtures of friendship are rebuffed, and who fear their connection with their son and grandchildren may be threatened by the daughter’s-in-law hostility. It causes distress to the daughter-in-law, who feels judged and pressured, particularly on matters involving her role as a woman in the family (Apter, 1991).

Simmel (1955) made another important point by stressing that both conflict and cooperation are ways human beings relate to each other. When there is conflict between the wife and the mother-in-law, this should not create a rift if there is effective communication between the two. If information is shared between the two women at all times as necessary, there will be an understanding of self which will create a positive attitude by the wife towards the mother-in-law.

Communication is the key to any friendship especially with the one woman in the world who loves your husband as much as you do. After investing 18 years or more of her life in this man, she’s unprepared for him to “disappear” into the world you two create. Beginning the habit of communication with your mother-in-law can be as easy as responding to her efforts hence the study.

1.2 Statement Of The Problem

The modern couple sees marriage solely as an integration of two individuals-just the husband and the wife. That seems to be the modern perception of a marriage. When the modern couple gets married, they often forget that it is not just a relationship between the two of them that has begun, but the relationship between the husband’s family, no matter how large, and the wife’s family, no matter how large. Problems somehow arise from this modern but much distorted perception of a marriage, because based on it; in-laws do not play important roles. Thus, brothers-in-law are not treated as brothers, sisters-in-law are not treated as sisters and mother-in-law is not treated as mother. When this happens, the relationship has begun on a wrong footing (Duval, 1954).

This is why in some societies, marital partners are chosen based on parental arrangements and there is a restriction on the range of acceptable partners along religious and class lines (Bumiller, 1989)

The issue of mother-in-law has often times generated serious conflict especially among female married adults. Most married women tend to believe that their mother-in-law intrude into their family by ‘babying’ the son or presenting herself as weak and therefore be ‘mothered’ by the son (Apter, 1990).

Also some mothers-in-law are perceived to be overbearing, getting involved with the childcare of their grandchildren and housework in their son’s home. Some wanted to be in charge and expected to be treated as the head of the family even in their son’s home. The wife is treated not as a daughter but as an outsider whilst the son and all he represents is given a preference over and above what the wife might desire.

A question to be raised is why daughters-in-law are so sensitive to what they perceive as lapses in a mother’s-in-law recognition of them. The answer may lie in the high demands they put on the response of a mother figure. Indeed, the touchiness or sensitivity often displayed by daughters-in-law to a mother’s-in-law behaviour is close to that of an adolescent’s to her mother (Apter, 1990). Many tensions, too, take place in the broader context of the work/family dilemma that is etched into so many of these women’s lives. They want to resist certain roles, but to protect others. So both a mother-in-law deference within the home (through offers to help) and her presumption of control within the home (playing hostess at a family meal, commenting on and controlling young children’s behaviour) are resented. However, a woman naturally have vested interests in the well-being of her son and grandchildren; and when the daughter-in-law perceives her remarks and behaviour within the home as attempt to manipulate the daughter-in-law into her ‘proper place’, the daughter-in-law perceptions may be accurate.

1.3 Purpose of the Study

The primary purpose of this study is to investigate the attitudes of mother-in-laws towards daughter-in-laws as a determinant factor in marital stability in some selected families in Lagos State. But specifically, the study will among other things seek to:

  1. Determine the role of effective communication on the attitude of mother-in-laws towards their daughter-in-laws,
  2. Discuss the consequences of ineffective communication between mother-in-laws and daughter-in-laws in marital stability,
  3. To recommend ways to improve marital stability.

1.4 Research Questions

In order to provide direction for this study, the following questions are asked:

  1. To what extent does communication style influence the attitude of daughter-in-laws towards their mother-in-laws?
  2. Is there any difference in attitude and communication of daughter-in-laws from different cultural background towards their mother-in-laws?
  3. Do married women with different educational background differ in their communication and attitude towards their mother-in-laws?
  4. Is there any difference in the attitude of daughter-in-laws towards their mother-in-laws due to ethnic background?

1.5 Research Hypotheses

From the research questions, the following hypotheses are formulated to guide the study.

  1. There is no significant influence of communication styles on attitude of daughter-in-laws towards their mother-in-laws.
  2. The communication pattern of married women from different cultural background does not significantly influence their attitude towards their mother-in-laws.
  3. There is no significant difference in the communication and attitude of married women with different educational background towards their mother-in-laws.
  4. There is no significant difference in the attitude towards daughter-in-laws due to ethnic background from mother-in-laws.

1.6 Significance of the Study

This study is significant because many people will find it useful. Such as the families, couples, the academic body and the society at large.

Chapter Five

Conclusion And Recommendations

5.1 Conclusion

Marriage is the basis of good family living, which introduces a healthy society. However, a difference in the family structure reflects the societal adjustment to situations probably due to the variations in socialization techniques existing in family settings. Parental and inter-family harmony is quite important for the inculcation of required and acceptable behaviour of the individual child as a virtue of convivial living. Experts in marriage counselling are asked to unravel the flaws in couples relationship for a cordial interpersonal relationship in the family set up. Since marriage propagates the way a society functions, it was recommended that efforts should be geared towards explaining clearly what marriage entails during pre-marriage courses and re-emphases management skills during the marriage encounter in order to enhance success in marriage by both young and old couples. Since there is a lot of disparity in family upbringing couples should be given tutorials on marriage composition, likely hitches or conflicts and how cordiality could be achieved in a marriage relationship. If these are not done, the challenges these people face as they run along with themselves may dampen their opportunities to do well as couples in the marriage set up. A cheerful heart is good medicine but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

Finally, for an appropriate level of literacy the secondary education offers basic expertise on managing conflict amongst inlaws in a marriage. This deduction is drawn from the result, which shows that there is no significant difference amongst couples irrespective of their educational attainment.

5.2 Recommendations

Based on the findings and the discussions that followed, the under-listed suggestions and recommendations are made:

  1. Parents should enforce positive attitudes that supersede the environmental influences on their wards that are of married.
  2. Seminars/workshops should be organized regularly on family life education with particular emphasis on managing conflicts and employing effective communication in the family.
  3. Counsellors should adopt behavioural modification in effecting changes in distress in numerous couples and families.
  4. The counselling Association of Nigeria should organise enlightenment campaigns on the need for couples to use marriage counselling services provided by counsellors since most couples see marital issues as trivial at the moment

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