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November 22, 2012

Monster mother-in-law


Dear Asad,

I am a 23 years old young, educated woman living in Pakistan. I got married six months. My husband is a distant relative of mine whom I used to get to see on special occasions such as weddings when all the relatives got together. A year ago, right after I finished my MBA, his family approached my parents for my hand in marriage for him. My parents were quite happy with this proposal and accepted it. They did ask me about it and I agreed too. He seemed like a decent and caring chap and I was sure that I would be happy spending my life with him.

But alas this was not to be so. He is a decent and caring guy who loves me a lot but is under the thumb of his mother. My mother-in-law is a widow and as my husband is the only son, he does whatever his mother says. His mother is like a typical mother-in-law who seems to believe that a daughter-in-law’s main aim in life is to snatch her son away. She does everything in her power to try to influence my husband as much as she can, even in matters that do not relate to her. She literally rules over his life. She even chooses his clothes.

Last week was his birthday. I got him a sharp looking suit to wear to his office as he works in a prestigious multinational company. But my jealous mother-in-law ruined everything. She was quite critical of the suit that I had bought him. She came up with the silly excuse that it doesn’t go with his complexion and hair colour. Needless to say I was hurt and told her that I believed it would look very nice on him. That is all I said and she started accusing me of being rude and talking back to her. She started crying and my husband started consoling her. This resulted in my husband and I having our first major spat. He believes that I was rude to his mother and even if she did say something, I shouldn’t have reacted.

I was very hurt and disappointed by his reaction. I felt as if I had no importance in his life, that it was only his mother that he cared about, not me. I told him this later but he claims that he loves me and wants us to be happy together as a family including his mother. But it all seems just words to me especially since he didn’t side with me in my argument with his mum. Tell me honestly. Was I wrong? Was I being rude? What should I do? I want my husband and me to spend quality time together, develop a deep and meaningful relationship but my mother-in-law is not letting that happen.

Hurt Wife

Dear Hurt Wife,

What you are feeling is absolutely natural and to a great degree completely justified. The relationship between a mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law at best is usually always a tricky and tumultuous one, especially so in the part of the world where you come from where couples don’t always live alone and some member(s) of the family, a parent or a sibling or even more people, live together.

Living in a setup like that requires tact, patience and understanding because things always don’t happen as you want them to. A lot of adjustments have to be made.

There can be many reasons why your mother-in-law is being difficult towards you. She may be feeling less important to her child (or still see them as a child rather than someone’s spouse). She might be having difficulty standing behind someone else in their child’s life.
She might be feeling insecure and less valued. Before you married her son, she was the only woman in his life. Now she has to share him with you. This might be making her feel as if she has lost the importance in her son’s life. And because she also happens to be a widow and the fact that she just has one son, she might be thinking that if she loses him to you, she won’t have anyone left in this world to call her own. Justified or not, this is a very real fear that she must be going through. Therefore, you need to understand this and try to cut her some slack wherever possible without losing your dignity and self-respect.
You will have to be patient and accommodating with her and try to talk things out with her. Try to convince her that you don’t mean to snatch her son away from her, that you love him a lot too and want to take care of him too as she does. She might not warm up to the idea immediately but you will have to be persistent and firm on this matter. Hopefully, when she sees that you too want the best for him without her losing him to you, she might start accepting this.

Another reason could simply be that she may be a completely different person from you.  She might be petty and vindictive by nature and someone who loves making trouble. I hope this is not the case. If it is, then you seriously need to consider whether you want to stay with her under the same roof or not.

You will also need to talk to your husband and make him understand that as a wife you love him and want to be part of his life in every way, including picking out gifts for him. Tell him that his taking his mother’s side unconditionally everytime is bound to have a negative effect on your marriage. Try to make him understand that you don’t mean or want to be rude to his mother and that his mother also needs to show you some respect. Tell him gently that it could become very difficult to carry on with a relationship if episodes like this keep on happening on a regular basis. Try to convince him that you are not trying to take him away from his mother or being disrespectful to his mother.
If he is a man of reason then hopefully he would understand. But if he is the sort of man who lets his judgement get clouded because of his sense of duty and love towards his mother, he might find your point of view quite difficult to grasp. Unless your spouse is willing to take charge, outline clear boundaries over which the mother must not step, and be willing to follow up these statements with action and definitive consequences, you will have to face the fact that you will not be able to ever change this relationship. In that scenario, you need to consider if you would like to stay on this relationship if it keeps on carrying like this.

Lastly, don’t expect miracles instantly. It will take time for things to work out, if they do work out. So be patient and try to work towards making things better.


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