By Maria Endah Hulupi
JAKARTA (JP): Lydia and Agnes have something in common: both are married and each has a child. The difference is that Agnes is happily married, while Lydia is in the process of having a divorce.
Lydia's relationship with her mother-in-law is problematic. After she married Mardi six years ago, she agreed to his request to move in to his mother's house because the latter was old and lonely. Lydia tried to adjust herself to her mother-in-law's standards and rules and respect her, the way Mardi does.
But as the years went by, Lydia started to feel that she was no longer wanted in the family as Mardi would only listen to what his mother said, including advice on how to raise their son. She tried to convince Mardi to move out. He refused, and as usual, asked her to understand his mother's dominant character.
Six months ago, when her own mother was sick, Lydia, the youngest and the only daughter in the family, decided to move to her house so that she could take care of her. Her husband later decided to divorce her because he thought Lydia had left him.
A marriage consultant and psychologist Ieda Poernomo Sigit Sidi said that husband and wife problems would not emerge if the couple succeeded in creating openness and making their marriage their priority. This would make the couple stick together in order to do things together, especially in defining their goals and setting clear plans and targets for their own happiness.
""That way their marriage would not be easily interfered with by other family members which would jeopardize their marriage,"" she said at her clinic in Cempaka Putih area, Central Jakarta.
A daughter-in-law might not get along well with the mother-in -law, but there are others who don't have any problem with their in-laws.
Ieda said that the seeds of a problematic relationship between mother and daughter-in-laws is deeply rooted in a society with a prevailing perception that the two would have difficulties in establishing a smooth relationship.
""Based on that negative perception, many mothers adopt a biased assessment of her daughter in-law and vice versa,"" she said.
She pointed out that such a problem is rarely found in father and son-in-law relationships as a father would have different concerns or expectations of his son-in-law.
""A father is usually protective towards his daughter and he would not have problems in entrusting his daughter to his son-in -law if he could take good care of her and make her happy.""
The psychologist said the core problem in tense relationships is the feeling of insecurity, which lead to a sort of hidden competition between mother and daughter-in-law to win the affection of her son or husband.
""It is a pity if this situation further develops as both women love the same man in a different way and they could be happy together. But sadly, many people don't understand this.
""Both women do not communicate with each other. They only express jealousy if they think that the man they deeply care about, favors one of them,"" she said.
They do not realize that they have placed their husband or son in a difficult position as he has to choose. This prolonged competition could make many marriages end in divorce even though the couple still love each other.
Ieda underlined that a mother who fails to mentally prepare herself to cope with her son's growing phases, is likely to have such a feeling of insecurity.
""Being a mother, a woman should understand that her job is to foster and educate her son, to give him wisdom and prepare him to be a good leader for his future family. While she prepares herself to face the fact that her beloved son will someday 'leave' her to build his own family with the woman he loves.""
A mothers' over-protective attitude, especially after their son has grown up, will, in turn, become a nuisance and could be interpreted as an interference.
""Such an attitude will not help her son in his struggle to become independent,"" she said.
Many issues could emerge and worsen the relationship between these two competing women, from the color of the kitchen walls and from financial matters to good parental standards. The birth of a grandchild, is also one of these issues.
Parents and grand parents adopt different approaches in fostering and educating a child, because parents greet their new-born child with mixed feelings of happiness and the anticipation of the daunting new responsibility, while grandparents greet a grand child with the excitement of a new ""living toy"" to play with.
However, efforts to improve their relationship could be started by adopting an empathetic attitude, in which the two women portray themselves in each other's position to better understand each others feelings.
Meanwhile, the father in-law and the husband should have the wisdom to draw the line between their beloved wives to ease the tense relationship.
""A father should tell his wife that she should no longer interfere with their son's marriage or tell him what to do. Her role in fostering their son is over and she should let their daughter-in-law take care of him like she took care of him,"" she said.
The son needs to express his love and respect to his mother and become a warm loving husband to his wife. He needs to introduce his mother's character to his wife and his wife's to his mother. The role can only be performed with love, tact and wisdom, she added.
What make things worse is if the husband idolizes his mother and makes his wife imitate his mother or sets his mother's standards to his wife.
""It's not fair. Nobody could stand such a treatment as everybody wants to grow up being themselves,"" Ieda said.
That's why, she added, the couple need to know each other well and that a daughter-in-law has to prepare herself mentally and understand her new role to fit her husband's position in his family, such as an heir to his family's business or as financial support, among other things.
""It is necessary as her husband was brought up to fulfill those expectations,"" she added.
When it concerns the interest of other members of family, Ieda stressed that establishing good communication is imperative to create oneness so the couple could understand their thoughts, hopes, feelings and expectations.
""This is a precious value that has been missing from society and in TV programs, like sinetron (local soaps) that have been exploiting miserable relationships between mothers and daughter-in-laws and yet failed to disperse any meaningful educative values,"" she said.