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Building In-Laws Relationships

Priya* thought her mother-in-law had all her speed dial buttons programmed to the work, cell, and home numbers for Priya and her husband, because the calls came every day, all the time. It drove Priya crazy and she was starting to think her mother-in-law was crazy. Unfortunately, what seemed very abnormal to her seemed perfectly normal to him. She grew up in the opposite side of the spectrum, besides the occasional visits and holidays, there was no need for calls so frequently to be ‘checked up’ on. When she hit her limit, she made a passive aggressive comment to her mother-in-law which caused a rift between the two of them.

Though Priya was justified in thinking there should be boundaries, the first thing you have to accept about getting along with the in-laws is that they are not “crazy” and they have a perspective. In Priya’s situation, she should have remembered that the son’s transition, from single to married, can be hard for some mothers and should be handled with sensitivity.

DivorceMag reports that in-laws contribute to 86% of separation/divorces. But your relationship does not have to lead down that path. Any in-law relationship can not only be salvaged but can also bloom. There are certain suggestions I make to every new daughter-in-law about getting along with the in-laws.

Identifying the problem is a good first step. According to relationship psychotherapist Paula Hall, the common ‘areas of conflict’ with the in-laws are annoying habits, criticism, keeping in touch, privacy and family occasions. If your issues run so deep, try writing about it to yourself. Vent with pen and paper, and don’t leave it at that. Include how you’ve acted around them and if there are things you could have done differently that may have influenced a better turnout.

Communication is key. The secret that most people can’t see during an upsetting time is that if your in-laws are indeed at fault, your spouse most likely agrees and knows. He/She just won’t admit it, that’s all. It is not necessarily wrong to vent. No one wants to hear bad things being said about their parents, but you don’t want to be fake or dishonest. What you express is what will be perceived, so if you show that you’re not really upset, when it builds up and comes back at a different time your spouse will be utterly confused and not be open to what they believe you are exaggerating on.

Be diplomatic. Have an initial vent session alone. Next, in a diplomatic way address to your spouse what happened that upset you. After you have shared your issues, let your spouse handle it in their own way. They love you and want you to be happy. They will understand that you want to make things better, which will push them to take care of the situation. Be it alone, with his/her parents, or with you.

Take time to grasp their personality. If you are new with your in-laws it can be hard to grasp on to what their personalities and regular behavior is like. As time passes it can help you assess if what was said or done is something you can accept knowing they meant no harm, or if it is more serious. A spouse can be more forgiving and accepting of certain parent traits since they obviously have been around it longer. It is important to realize this and express the same for them to see it from your perspective.

Put yourself in the other person’s shoes – If you don’t try to make it work with your spouse’s family, you give up the right to complain when your spouse doesn’t try with yours. Quoting one of my favorite authors, Dale Carnegie, “When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bustling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity.”

Understand cultural differences. With different cultures and backgrounds in relationships it is important to understand that there will be differences. Not just the regular ones, but additional ones. With me being from India, my non-Indian husband educates himself whenever he gets the opportunity to learn more about my culture and customs. He and his family do their best to know what must be done and not done to be respectful and avoid offending my family accidentally. The same goes for me and my family for my American husband and in-laws.

There isn’t a class taught in school about how to deal with an in-law, so both you are your in-laws are on the same boat. It’s the first thing you share and don’t even realize. There could be unforeseen waves in this journey, but remember that even the biggest waves become small and disappear eventually. So relax, let your guard down and enjoy the ride. Look forward to upcoming family reunions. Dreading them will bring you down, and in turn, bring your spouse down, and you definitely don’t want to be the source of all that unnecessary misery. – Brintha Jayapandian Gardner

Dedicated to Brett, Mike, Sandy, Grandma Cramer, Uncle Paul and Grandpa & Grandma Gardner

*name changed for privacy

701 thoughts on “Building In-Laws Relationships

  1. I love the way this article does not simply stereotype the in-laws, but instead encourages open communication and respect for everyone. Well done!

  2. its really hard for me to see things from my in-laws perspective because they are older and should be wiser – this was good advice

  3. this article was very superficial and it skirted many practical and problematic issues relating to Indian in-laws. The behaviors of a generation of older individuals has a lot to do with how they were raised and this helps understand the basis of (often abnormal) behaviors. Low self esteem is frequent in older Indian women, even educated ones. Please do your readers a favor by providing better researched articles!

  4. I agree, this article came mostly from the writers experience, versus looking at many different experiences….plus, it was really repetitive…I get it..compromise and communication. It is certainly difficult to understand or use an article for such a complex issue. I hope to see more “real” stories and how they got past the issues.

  5. This article is indeed very superficial and does not take into account south asian in-laws. South Asian men are raised to believe it is their sole responsibility to take care of their parents and rarely allow anything to get in the way of that. Disagreeing with their parents, for some of these men, does not happen. And anything the wife says is only misconstrued and not taken as constructive criticism….ah well….I hope Indian men one day learn to make Indian women their equals otherwise, there will be very few willing to put up with them.

  6. From a guys perspective, balancing the relationship between a wife and mom is very delicate, in particular desi cultures. Most guys cling on tight on their parents, and westernized desi girls can’t wait for the guys to devote their utmost attention them. The dilemma. Guys in our culture are usually the care takers for his parents, as the parents are reach their elder years. Often times, this means bearing the responsibility of living them with after marriage or living reasonably close them to offer support and assistance. I don’t think most desi girls realize these specific responsibilities coupled with the dynamics of getting married to girl who also wants her independence.

    In this day and age, strong family and traditional bonds are slipping away, and we all want to become more western. Is that a good thing? Not necessarily.
    I see all the time desi parents living alone, with their kids married living abroad, or other cities. Quite frankly, it seems very sad to me. Yes, there are some in-laws (especially) moms who are too noisy and really cause problems, and guys should be smart enough to understand this, and make sure they parents and couple aren’t under the same roof. And girls when dating a guy should also get an idea of how a guy’s family background is. If they are back-ward thinking, non-educated, and too conservative, chances are it will be a dull-boring marriage. Sorry no offense, it’s the true. Again, find a balance.

    Married girls obviously want their space, freedom, and quality time w/ their husbands. And, I am sure once I get married, I will want the same w/ my wife. Sharing a house with in laws may be bit too much for most girls, but, I would think most desi girls wouldn’t have issues living close to their in-laws, which seems like an acceptable medium.

  7. Before you marry, ensure you have an agreement and clear understanding of what is expecting from each of you and what your expectations are. I made it clear from the offset before getting married in the summer 2008, that I would not be living with nor in the same town as the in-laws or other family members, whether mine or his. It was a well thought out approach and enough for me to warrant a divorce if this did not occur, as I know our marriage will end in divorce if we do live with or close to any family members. We have been incredebily happily married fo rthe last year and a half.

    It’s an arcane and old way to live and disadvantages the girl to move in with your in-laws. As one person has mentioned in the comments here that these are the traditional ways that have ensured close family bonds, clearly isn’t aware of the large number of women throughout history who have wanted to take their lives because they lost their personalities, who they were and were almost slaves to their in-laws.

    A balance needs to be drawn, but I am fully aware of the “guest” syndrome parents palce on their daughters in thier own homes. Their parents expressing that they are their keepers until the parents-in-lawm their ‘real’ parents take over. But when you reach your in-laws, you are not their daughter either. It awful, degrading and you feel sub-human that your own parents cannot take you as their full complete daughter.

    Let’s hope things are on the change, with close family bonds without expectations from the daughter-in-laws.

  8. What you fail to mention is that when the daughter in-law joins the husbands family and she does not financially contribute anything. The parents in law are in fact paying for the daughter in-law and the son to live with them.

    The daughter in-law goes to work and keeps her money. As she is not fincially responsible for anything she has the least interest in making sure that she cleans the house which is paid for by the in-laws. She cooks the food bought by the in-laws.

    People forget that you only look after the things that you own and why look after the things that has been paid for by the in-laws. The vicitims here sometimes are the parents in-law and the younger sister/brother in-law as most of the time the daughter in-law especially from in India are liers. British daughter in-laws can be better and can successfully live with the in-laws.



  9. I got married in jan 2007 and moved to Birmingham to live with my husband, his parents, his sister, his brother and his wife.

    Ive had to leave me famil and friends, my job, my home, and uproot to a new life to fit into someone elses routine.

    It was horrible. Trying to please everyone, trying to do a full time job and then coming home and not stopping. The other daughter in law had a child to whom i became a seconf mother to. I loved the child, but she was not mine. I had no rest, and then ofcourse, the constant permission seeking for everything! going to my parents was a military operation!

    But the thing that annoyed me the most was that my inlaws allowed their children, including my husband, to be modern and western, but the daughter in laws to abide by every cultural tradition that existed. But when it came to shopping and paying bills, i was expected to spend my money on them, this is not traditional.

    My mother in law would change traditional rules when it suited her and even create new ones all by herself!

    My husband bought us a house, we moved in, but only slept there, he’s fallen on hard financial times so i have had to manage all the costs of running the house to which i only ever slept in. My day would begin with popping to the in laws before i went to work, and then straight to thiers after work, after the day was over i was allowed to got to my house, sometimes this could be at midnight on the longer days. I would do my chores at this point, and i would be shattered by the time i closed my eyes.

    My husband never spoke on my behalf because he wasnt traditional and couldnt understand what all the fuss was about, he would tell me to just stop going round thiers.. like it was that easy!

    His parents would leave him out of all matters concerning me and my marriage, they would go straight to my parents if they had any problems with me… its been 3yrs now, and finally i’ve had enough.

    I’ve told my husband that i want nothing more to do with them, i would never stop him from having a relationship with his family, but i no longer wanted any part of it. i havent spoken to them or seen them in 3 wks, i dont know what the futur holds for me… i am afraid of the emptiness of being alone as i have always had family around me.. but i was about to have a nervous breakdown… im sure they will try and make amends at some point.. especially when i start having a family… they love thier own blood more than i have seen any parents do… my husband has never been punished for all the wrongs he has done cus they love him too much to punish..

    My mother in law married and came to the UK without doing her time as a daughter in law.. so i guess they know not what they do…

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