• Format
  • Pages
  • Chapters


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.




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.


Social psychologists like Kurt Lewin (1947) define a close relationship as a relatively long-lasting relationship in which two people interact frequently and engage in a variety of mutual activities and in which the impact of their interactions is strong. There are many different types of close relationships. Closeness may occur in friendships, work relationships and family relationships.

Social exchange theory postulates that interpersonal relationships are governed by perceptions of the rewards and costs exchanged in interactions. According to this theory, interactions between acquaintances, friends, lovers and in-laws are likely to continue as long as the participants feel that the benefits they derive from the relationship are reasonable in comparison to the costs (Kelley & Thibaut, 1978).

Scholars have conceptualized social change in multiple ways. Social science scholars of communication focus on persuasion, including how beliefs, attitudes, and/or behaviours in a society are created, modified, or reinforced (O’Keefe, 1990). To bring change, persuasion scholars have grappled with filling what is called the KAP gap- that is, the gap between an individual’s knowledge, attitudes, and practices (Rogers, Vaughan, Swalehe, Rao, Svenkerud, & Sood 1999).

Reciprocity involves liking those who show that they like us. In general, it does appear that liking breeds liking and loving (Byrne & Murnen, 1988). Studies suggest that we like people more when they give us positive evaluations that match our self-concepts as opposed to positive evaluations that contradict our self-concepts (Berscheid, 1985; Shrauger, 1976).

To George Simmel (1950), reciprocity was the stuff of everyday life. He observed how people give to each other, receive from each other and take from each other. One person acts, the other reacts, and the actions and attitudes of each. Levine et all 1976, says “all human interactions should be viewed as kinds of exchange”. He thus laid the ground work for the sociological approach that has come to be known as exchange theory (Simmel, 1950).

Attribution theory tries to explain human behaviour. Heider  (1958) was the  first  to propose  a  psychological theory  of  attribution, but  Weiner  and  colleagues  (Jones et  al, 1972;  Weiner,  1986) developed a theoretical framework that has become a major  research  paradigm of social  psychology. Heider (1958) discussed what he called ‘naive’ or ‘commonsense’ psychology. In his view, people were like amateur scientists, trying to understand other people’s behaviour by piecing together information until they arrived at a reasonable explanation or cause.

Attribution theory is concerned with how individuals interpret events and how this relates to their thinking and behaviour. Attribution theory assumes that people try to determine why people do what they do. A person seeking to understand why another person did something may attribute one or more causes to that behaviour.

According to Heider (1958) a person can make two attributions:

1.     Internal attribution: the inference that a person is behaving in a certain way because of something about the person, such as attitude, character or personality.

2.     External attribution: the inference that a person is behaving a certain way because of something about the situation he or she is in.

Our attributions are also significantly driven by our emotional and motivational drives. Blaming other people and avoiding personal recrimination are very real self-serving attributions. We will also make attributions to defend what we perceive as attacks.

Attribution theory can be applied to the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationship. The daughter-in-law who already has a stereotyped idea of dealings between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law will be biased in her interaction with her mother-in-law. Any occasion to attribute behaviour to the stereotype will be an opportunity to portray the mother-in-law in a bad light. The mother-in-law is not free from such set ideas about her daughter-in-law. For instance, mothers-in-law believe the wives want to displace them totally out of their son’s life as soon as they are married. If the wife should exhibit any behaviour which threatens the mother-in-law, this will be seen as an affront and attributed to the typical behaviour of wives and no deeper reflection would be entertained to see if there is an unseen reason for that behaviour.

Attitude is a hypothetical construct that represents an individual’s like or dislike for an item (Jung, 1966). Attitudes are positive, negative or neutral views of an ‘attitude object’, that is, a person, behaviour or event. People can also be ‘ambivalent’ towards a target, meaning that they simultaneously possess a positive and a negative bias towards the attitude in question.

Attitudes come from judgements. Attitudes develop on the ABC model (affect, behavioural change and cognition). The affective response is a physiological response that expresses an individual’s preference for an entity. The behavioural intention is a verbal indication of the intention of an individual. The cognitive response is a cognitive evaluation of the entity to form an attitude. Most attitudes in individuals are a result of observational learning from their environment. The link between attitude and behaviour exists but depends on human behaviour, some of which is irrational. For example, a person who is in favour of blood transfusion may not donate blood. This makes sense if the person does not like the sight of blood, which explains this irrationality.

Unlike personality, attitudes are expected to change as a function of experience. Tesser (1993) has argued that hereditary variables may affect attitudes-but believes that they may do so indirectly. For example, if one inherits the disposition to become an extrovert, this may affect one’s attitude to certain styles of music. There are numerous theories of attitude formation and attitude change.

Consistency theory implies that we must be consistent in our beliefs and values. People expect consistency; we have a strong preference for consistency in our lives. We want things to work the same way every time they happen. Thus, we have ‘mental worlds’ of our expectancies about the world, the people in them, and our relationships with the world and other people. The glue that holds all these mental relationships together is consistency. Consistency becomes like a form of human gravity. It helps us to understand the world and our place in it.

The most famous example of Consistency Theory is Dissonance Theory associated with Leon Festinger. Dissonance is as a result of inconsistencies. According to Festinger (1957), as much as we need consistency, there are many occasions where things occur in surprising and unexpected ways. There is an inconsistency between what we expected and what we got. Dissonance is simply a technical term for the cognitive, emotional, physiological and behavioural state that arises when things do not go the way we expected them to.

Dissonance is an unpleasant experience which we want to get rid of when we have it. We want to get back to the state of consistency, back to where things make sense.

We can get rid or reduce dissonance by denying it and pretending like it didn’t happen and swamping the dissonance and acknowledging that things didn’t work out like we expected at this time, but remembering all those other times when it did. The goal here is to overload all that bad dissonance with lots of good memories and thoughts. Also we can change our expectancy and here we try to alter in some real way something that really did happen and lastly we can change our evaluation of the event. Instead of responding with dissonant thoughts, we actually change our evaluation and find the best possible outcome.

Dissonance theory is applicable to mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationship. There are certain expectations of the wife by the mother-in-law. Such attitude as submissiveness, respect, obedience and dedication especially when she is on a visit to the family. The daughter-in-law also has a certain expectations of the mother-in-law. Some of these are being a role model to her, a support within the husband’s family, being there for the grandchildren etc. When these expectations are not being fulfilled by both women, there is a state of dissonance. They would have to deal with these situations by denying that anything is amiss, swamping the dissonance with good memories and thoughts of their mother and daughter, changing their expectancy and sometimes changing the evaluation of events between them to see a brighter side of it.


Attitudes can be changed through persuasion. In Hovland’s (1960) view, we should understand attitude change as a “response to communication”. He and his colleagues did experimental research into the factors that can affect the persuasiveness of a message and enumerated the following:

1.     Target characteristics are characteristics that refer to the person who receives and processes a message. The first is intelligence trait and the result is that more intelligent people are less easily persuaded by one-sided messages. Another variable is self esteem and there is some evidence that the relationship between self-esteem and there is some evidence that the relationship between self-esteem and persuasibility is actually curvilinear, with people of moderate self-esteem being more easily persuaded than both those of high and low self-esteem levels (Rhodes & Woods, 1992).

2.     Source characteristics- the major source characteristics are expertise, trustworthiness and interpersonal attraction/attractiveness. The credibility of a perceived message has been found to be a key variable here (Hovland & Weiss, 1951); if one reads a report on health and believes it comes from a professional medical journal, one may be more easily persuaded than if one believes it is from a popular newspaper.

3.     Message characteristics- here the nature of the message plays a role in persuasion. Sometimes presenting both sides of a story is useful to help change attitudes.

4.     Cognitive routes- A message can appeal to an individual’s cognitive evaluation to help change an attitude. In the central route to persuasion the individual is presented with the data and motivated to evaluate the data and arrive at an attitude changing conclusion. In the peripheral route to attitude change, the individual is encouraged to not look at the content but at the source. This is commonly seen in modern advertisements that feature celebrity/celebrities. In some cases, physician/doctors and experts are used. In other cases film stars are used for their attractiveness.

Attitudes are defined as a mental predisposition to act that is expressed by evaluating a particular entity with some degree of favour or disfavour. Individuals generally have attitudes that focus on objects, people or institutions. Attitudes are also attached to mental categories. Mental orientations towards concepts are generally referred to as values. Attitudes comprise four components:

a.     Cognitions are our beliefs, theories, expectations, cause and effect beliefs and perceptions relative to the focal object.

b.     Affective component refers to our feeling with respect to the focal object such as fear, liking or anger.

c.      Behavioural Intentions are our goals, aspirations and our expected responses to the attitude object.

d.     Evaluations are often considered the central component of attitudes. Evaluations consist of the imputation of some degree of goodness or badness to an attitude object. When we speak positive or negative towards an object, we are referring to the evaluative component. Evaluations are function of cognitive, affective and behavioural intentions of an object. It is most often the evaluation that is stored in memory, often without the corresponding cognitions and affect that were responsible for its formation (Hovland & Weiss, 1951).

Persuasive Communication and Attitude Change

There are several ingredients for persuasive communication with regards to attitude change. First, the source must be credible. Second, it is implied that a message should be repetitive to be effective. Known as the sleeper effect, researchers have found that a persuasive message may have a greater delay impact than initial effect on receiver attitudes (Rajecki, 1999). A persuasive message aimed at attitude change must also be different than the receiver’s opinion. This is a straight forward concept-an attitude cannot be changed if it mimics the message attitude.


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.


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:

i.            Determine the role of effective communication on the attitude of mother-in-laws towards their daughter-in-laws,

ii.         Discuss the consequences of ineffective communication between mother-in-laws and daughter-in-laws in marital stability,

iii.       To recommend ways to improve marital stability.


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

i.            To what extent does communication style influence the attitude of daughter-in-laws towards their mother-in-laws?

ii.         Is there any difference in attitude and communication of daughter-in-laws from different cultural background towards their mother-in-laws?

iii.       Do married women with different educational background differ in their communication and attitude towards their mother-in-laws?

iv.       Is there any difference in the attitude of daughter-in-laws towards their mother-in-laws due to ethnic background?


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.


This study is significant because many people will find it useful. Such as:

This material content is developed to serve as a GUIDE for students to conduct academic research

Find What You Want By Category:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like