This was very important for me when I was single and searching for a spouse. After only dating African men for some years, I started to notice a pattern: in each relationship, my partner’s family’s values and background played a role in the success (or sometimes, failure) of the relationship. I decided that going forward, I needed to be confident that my potential partner’s values (including their family’s values) were aligned to mine before I commit. This helped me choose and marry a partner whose family background aligned to mine.
For example, I have a client that was in a disagreement with her partner on how long in-laws should be expected to stay when they visit their home. My client grew up understanding that her family could stay with her indefinitely, while her partner was taught family should only visit for two weeks maximum. Things got uncomfortable and the marriage almost ended as the man wanted his wife’s family to leave and the woman said she will leave with them if they are forced to leave.
Did you know that your behaviors in life today are largely determined by how, who raised you? Keeping in mind the impact your family had on your growth, you can expect the same experience with your potential partners. Often, how your spouse treats you, will be a reflection of how their parents treated each other. After all, that’s the first model of a marriage that they’ve known. There could be exceptions.
Also, I’ve learned that in an African Marriage, the extended family will always be a part of the marriage. There is a saying with us that “when you marry, you also marry the family”. Therefore it is important that you are aligned with your potential spouses family.
HERE ARE MY TOP 10 QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF WHEN CONSIDERING YOUR POTENTIAL SPOUSE AND THEIR IN-LAWS BASED ON MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE:
- What are their religious beliefs? If you are not of the same belief, do they insist that you must join their religion to be found worthy?
- Does their morality and ethics align with yours? Especially in areas of money, work & relationships.
- What will be your position as a or daughter or son-inlaw? E.g. Will they respect your individuality, or will they expect you to conform to their family traditions and rules without questions? Do they believe that once a man marries their daughter, the man becomes 100% responsible for the finances of his wife’s parents and siblings? Does the family believe that a woman is a property with no rights that can be discarded at anytime?
- What is their view about married couples in relation to the in-laws? Do they respect the sanctity of the marriage? Or do they think that parents’ in-law are to have the final say in the decisions concerning their married children (in this case your future marriage)? Do they believe that they have more right than the couples in their home? Eg: when the inlaws visit the married couples – do they respect that the home now belongs to the married couple or do they act like the married couple’s opinions and privacy are secondary?
- Is there a subtle power play about who is the most important person in the life of the your potential spouse? Or do they think the potential spouse is now a fully grown independent adult who is getting married and whose spouse is first and important in his/her life? Is your potential spouse able to make decisions on their own without first getting approval from their parents?
- Do they believe that a marriage is only valid when children have been born? Or that a marriage is complete with just two adults that have pledged to live with each other in peace, love and harmony? Do they believe that without a male heir, a marriage is invalid or a woman is incomplete?
- Do they love and accept you wholeheartedly or do you have to keep proving yourself to them to be found worthy? Do they only love you when you give them gifts or do they love you just the way you are? Do they keep making you uncomfortable when you come around or interact with them?
- Are they private or public people?
- How do they relate with their kids generally? Authoritarian, Permissive, Uninvolved, Authoritative etc?
- What is their stance on domestic violence?
Take your time to understand your potential partner’s family background, beliefs and determine if they align with yours. Beliefs or values that do not align with yours will often be a point of conflict in an African marriage. I’ve learned that the extended family will always be a part of the marriage. Yes, when you marry, you also marry the family.
My story may not be the same as yours and there is no perfect answer. The most important thing is that you are on same page as your partner. And when you come to a point that you disagree on, can you find a way to compromise? If not, then the relationship may not be for you.
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