I've been married for nearly three years, and I have found most of it difficult – mainly because of the MIL. I am 7 months pregnant and I'm struggling not to let it get to me. My MIL is quite passive, aggressive in the way that if she is annoyed for some reason, she will take it out on me with silent treatment. She has 3 sons; of which two are married (I'm married to the eldest). I feel it is because she has no daughters, so she does not understand the value of having daughter-in-laws.
It seems like I am there to be what she wants. I have been stopped doing what I want (carrying on with further study, getting a job, going out with my friends), because anytime I mentioned that this is what I want to do, she becomes in a bad mood. Despite my wishes, she wanted me to help in the family business which I did do for 2 years.
There is no any problem with my father-in-law; for some reason, it is only she who has this issue. I can't handle these moods because she tends to turn it around and use some excuse of 'I was having a bad day' etc. Once, she became in a bad mood with me because her younger son didn't get up in time for work! I would say she is in a bad mood for a couple of days every second week. I believe I’m the one to take the anger out on, because I am too nice, but she seems to be fine with everyone else.
When I try to talk to her, she usually doesn’t look at me and gives short blunt answers. Sometimes, the way she looks at me when she is in a bad mood is like she hates me. I would always ask what's wrong so she knows I’m aware that she is in a mood, but she then just says ‘no, I’m fine’. So, I have stopped asking. Like everyone, I have my own problems to deal with, but I never take it out on anyone.
My brother-in-law recently got married and the treatment of this daughter-in-law is quite different from how I am treated. She was encouraged to find a job and she goes out pretty much whenever she wants. I end up being the one stuck at home helping with everything, even though I am pregnant. I am finding myself to become more resentful, because I (like many other girls) have given up a lot in this marriage. I hardly stay over at my parents because MIL doesn't like it. I feel that if I confront her over it, she is just going to turn it around on me or dismiss it as her having a bad day. She doesn't realize how much it affects me.
My own mother is very calm and loving, and I feel that my MIL is the opposite in the way that she will only show love when you do something she wants. She expects me to read her mind and know everything that she wants from me, but her expectations are too high. She even expects me not to go to my mother’s house when the baby is born.
I've honestly tried hard in this marriage to do what they want me to do. I've even invited her to come along with my husband to shop for the baby and she was nice to me that day, took over by making decisions about prams, etc. The next day, she was back to being quiet with me. It's making me more depressed and she doesn't even appreciate anything, so I'm left wondering: is it even worth? I've started to really resent her. I have tried to think of reasons why she does this, such as menopause or other problems, but I believe she has been this way for years, and I’m tired of thinking of excuses for her. I have told my husband about it, but I honestly don’t think the MIL is going to change.
I don’t see her as a mother figure, because she hasn’t done anything to make me feel that way about her. I sometimes feel that I hate her. Please, give advice on how to deal with her behavior.
In this counseling answer:
• Your husband should be the spokesperson for your relationship and your decision-making.
• You could also work to improve the overall situation by being assertive.
Salamu ‘Alaikum Sister,
Thank you for sending us your question. I am sorry to hear about your situation at home with your mother-in-law. I ask Allah (swt) to help both of you overcome whatever differences and fears you hold towards each other and grant you both a more healthy and positive relationship.
Sister, it appears that you feel your mother-in-law has been passive and aggressive with you and that in many cases she has made you feel that you had to compromise many things. I am sorry to hear that. I hope that things eventually get better soon. However, in order for any change to happen, one must be open, honest and willing to assert him/her to what they believe is the right way to go, which may require some uncomfortable situations.
The first question that comes to my mind is whether your husband knows about your feelings towards your mother-in-law. Does he know that you feel resentment that you had to compromise many of your dreams due to your mother-in-law? Does he know that you feel your mother-in-law treats your sister-in-law more favorably than you? If he does know, then what has he done about it?
Usually, we tell the husband or wife to be the spokesperson for their respected families if there is an issue that arises with the in-laws, especially during the start of the marriage. What I mean is that as a married couple, the both of you should make your own decisions and that privacy should be honored by both spouses. If the extended family (from your husband’s side) want to get involved in your decision-making, then your husband (not you) would respectfully communicate your decisions as a couple. The same response would be put on you if your family wanted to interfere with the decision-making.
For example, you mention that you do not want to visit your parents that much because you feel that your mother-in-law doesn’t like you doing so. Even though you should be respectful and considerate to your mother-in-law, she should not dictate your life in such a manner.
Again, keep the decision-making issues between you and your husband. If you want to visit your parents, study a certain subject, work in a certain workplace, then let those conversations be between you and your husband only. Do not involve anyone else. If anyone else from your in-laws has an issue, then let your husband be the one who speaks with them, not you. This way, both of you will establish your own culture and your own independence as a married couple, which is absolutely vital for the health of a relationship.
Please do not get me wrong, however. By no means am I saying that you shouldn’t respect and revere your in-laws? That is not at all what I intended. However, what I mean is that all married couples should have their own privacy and their own separate experiences and decisions apart from their extended families.
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Of course, this first step is going to be difficult and somewhat uncomfortable for both yourself and your husband. That is because it requires a change to happen. Please do not let this discomfort get to either one of you. As long as you show respect and kindness to your respected families, then you are not doing anything Islamically or morally wrong. With time, the extended family will learn to respect your boundaries as a couple, and hopefully, the general atmosphere at home will be a more positive one. But remember, the key word here is “respect.”
In addition to your husband being the spokesperson for your relationship and your decision-making, you could also work to improve the overall situation by being assertive. I can tell that you hold resentment towards your mother-in-law because you changed your actions due to her desires. You do not have to do that next time.
Be open and honest with her. Do what you and your husband agreed on and then explain to her respectfully and kindly that you both came up with this decision because you both believe it is the best for you. Continue to tell her that you wish she would understand and that you do not mean to upset her. Of course, she will be upset in the start, but life must go on and with time, she will understand that the both of you are good people, and you both do not mean any harm towards anyone. Again, this is going to be a difficult first step that might take some time to achieve, but it is worth it in the end.
I ask Allah (swt) to help you and your husband create a peaceful, positive, and successful family.
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