Adeoye, a restaurateur in Lagos, has a busy weekly schedule. Most days of the week, she oversees the preparation of food at the eatery to ensure that her clients are satisfied with her services.

However, on the home front, there is a negative vibe that hangs around the air and casts a shroud over her marriage, which used to be a happy one until recently.

“It all began when my mother-in-law moved in with us,” she told her friend. “She (mother-in-law) came to stay with us when I had my baby and she stayed with us for four months. Later she extended her stay to eight months, but now she is not even talking about returning to her place.

“Ever since she has been living with us, my husband now talks with her more than he does with me. He discloses personal things about me to her and she influences major decisions in the house. We are not even free to talk privately or make love because he sleeps in the sitting room, while I sleep in her room. I have told him that his mummy has to leave by January 2024.”

For Remi Omoruyi, a social media vendor and mother of two based in Ogun State, her experience with an overbearing mother-in-law was quite similar.

She stated,  “It started when my husband and I were dating. My mother-in-law was opposed to the relationship because of our ethnic differences, which was not a problem between us. My husband is the only male among four female siblings and with his mother, he had to go against the wishes of five women to sustain our relationship. It was a tough one.

“Whenever my husband wanted to make a decision, these ladies were always there to think and talk to him. At one point, the relationship failed due to the whims of my mother-in-law and sisters-in-law, and I didn’t want to marry a ‘mummy’s boy.’ But my husband knew what he wanted and his love for me was true so we started afresh.

“What he did was to establish a separate identity as the man of the family; so, he moved out of the family house and rented an apartment. That reduced the domineering influence of his mother. He stopped tolerating any disrespect from them towards me and always spoke well about me to them.

“We brought in pastors and elders from my mother-in-law’s church and eventually, we got married. Today, I have a cordial relationship with my mother-in-law and sisters-in-law.”

Having toxic in-laws is a very common social dynamic, particularly in African settings, where families are often close-knit. Most people who marry into families encounter negativity from family members who may disapprove of their relationship in one form or another.

Relationship experts have identified wielding control as one of the characteristics of toxic in-laws.

A Lagos-based civil servant, Nnaemeka Okeke, told our correspondent that his former marriage collapsed because of the domineering influence of his sister-in-law.

Okeke stated, “Our marriage was barely a year old when it started having problems. My wife had a miscarriage and she later began accusing me of having an extramarital affair. The case was taken to our families and they tried to settle the dispute, but the main person who caused our marriage to crash was my sister-in-law.

“This woman, herself a single mother, had a level of control over my ex-wife. She kept poisoning her mind against me and instigating her against the reconciliation efforts. She is the eldest and the richest in the family so her word was law. I tried to get my ex to return to me and even move to a different place and start all over again, but eventually, things didn’t work.”

A controlling in-law is often driven by a desire for power and control. For several people who are in a relationship, it may be difficult to live up to their in-laws’ standards because they could think that only the in-law is capable of doing things perfectly.

“Most toxic in-laws have a difficult time relinquishing control,” wrote Rachael Pace on the marriage.com website. “For this reason, they will do their best to make decisions that affect your life. They may book vacations for you that they expect you to go on, or they might tell you what to do with your money or how you should raise your children. You don’t have to take their advice. They may talk down to you or become incensed when you don’t do what they say.

“When dealing with in-laws, you may also note that they try to control every aspect of your relationship with your spouse. They may tell you what you should do, where you should live, how you should dress, and much more.

“This can also include them trying to play you and your mate against each other. They might tell your partner that you said something about them or that you were rude, and they may believe them since it could seem unfathomable that their parents would lie about something like that.”

Narrating her marital experience to our correspondent, an ordained Christian minister, Mrs Tomi Ogundeji, pointed out that couples must iron out the extent of their in-laws’ influence in the home before they tie the knot.

She said, “A few years after I married my husband, he travelled out of the country, and since we lived in the family house, my in-laws controlled almost everything except that I had a job with a meagre salary. Those days, there were no personal avenues for receiving money from people in foreign countries; I had to depend on his family to receive the money he sent from the United States.

“Back then, there were no mobile phones with which you could talk to your loved ones, so whenever my husband called on the telephone, I’d go to his family house. There was often no privacy for us to talk as couples because each member of his family would sit there waiting for their turn to speak to him. It was when he returned to Nigeria that we began to iron out these issues.

“Today, the world has more communication tools unlike our time, but young people need to be keen and transparent when they are in a relationship. You should know the extent of influence your in-laws wield on your intending spouse and discuss this before marriage. Otherwise, there will be serious problems in that relationship.”

Toxic in-laws often ignore family boundaries, becoming interlopers in private family discussions, making unexpected visits, and extending these visits to interfere in their children’s family decisions.

Silent treatment – a deliberate refusal to respond to calls or text messages or speak to you when they see you is another sign of toxic in-laws. Communication experts have identified silent treatment as a form of emotional abuse.

A psychologist, Edith Omoike, in a telephone interview with our correspondent, advised that couples being given the silent treatment by an angry in-law should not let it affect them.

She stated, “Silent treatment is a tactic of passive aggression by people who tend to avoid confrontation. It can also be described as a means of inflicting emotional abuse on someone. Couples who experience such in-laws should not let it affect them. Maintain cordiality; don’t resort to name-calling or vindictiveness.

“You need to carry your spouse along and when you feel safe enough, openly talk about the issue with the in-law. Speak kindly and truthfully, in a low tone, and don’t raise your voice or become sarcastic when discussing the offence. A third party may be present if you feel the in-law is someone who gives skewed narrations or interpretations.”

A relationship coach, Emmanuel Uzor, advised people to exercise caution and evaluation before they marry into families where they were not accepted.

Uzor stated, “There are good in-laws who embrace their sons-, daughters-, brothers- and sisters-in-law as their children or siblings. These are the role models that we should celebrate and look up to. I have known families like this.

“At the same time, there are toxic in-laws, abusive in-laws, and bully in-laws. You start noticing these things from the start. They find petty reasons to reject you; they use veiled insults or outright mockery targeted at your person; they could be accusatory or condemnatory or they have reservations about your ethnic or religious identity.

“When you start seeing these signs, you have to openly discuss it with your intended spouse and seek professional counselling. You need to carry your family along in your decisions as well. Sometimes, the toxicity you think is tolerable rears its head years into the marriage when these in-laws come to visit for some time or there is a family calamity like an accident, death or financial crisis.

“The first five years of a marriage are critical because it’s just moving from the ‘honeymoon phase’ to the ‘reality phase,’ so if the couples don’t properly agree on the role of in-laws in the marriage and the extent of financial support that will be given to them, it can lead to problems. These issues must be properly addressed and if you are not accepted in a family, I would advise that you exercise caution before marrying into it.”