I’ve been married for 15 years, and since day one, I haven’t had proper privacy with my husband. As soon as I got married, I started serving my in-laws and cooking for them. I also cleaned and listened and obeyed when I was being called numerous times.
From that very day on, they’ve been deciding where I should go and what I should do around the house. Aren’t married couples supposed to have their own private time after their wedding? My parents-in-law believe I should do as they please because they were still supporting my husband financially.
At the time, my in-laws never liked seeing my husband trying to find a job, take me out, spend enough time with my parents, or even interact with certain people.
All day, I have to cook not only for the household, but also for my relatives who live nearby, wash their dishes afterwards, and clean the house when someone else dirty it intentionally. My father-in-law holds a grudge against me, I could see it in his actions.
There were times when he used ears swabs and disposed them behind a door, tumbled his closet so I tidy it, and called me out of my bedroom numerous times on multiple occasions, especially when my husband and I are together inside.
He would even walk in the kitchen with a smile on his face or a laugh, as if mocking me. I don’t feel comfortable around him. His vibes are negative, and he talks a lot in parables, and makes passive-aggressive and hurtful remarks.
Every single thing I do they’re dissatisfied with, even though I don’t even get to bathe when I want to or keep myself tidy and attractive for my husband. They want me to obey their relatives whom they respect a lot.
I follow everything they want me to do, but they act as though they’re doing me a favor. My mother-in-law wants me to cook like her and instruct me on how to serve my husband. She’s been doing this for 15 years now.
The first couple years, she instructed us not to have kids because my husband won’t be living in his homeland, we will move abroad. Since I was too young and followed everything she said, I didn’t have any kids and waited. Even my husband feels bad to displease her.
Back then I fell into deep depression because of the injustice and knowing I was so happy at my father’s home. Even though we were poor, I was much happier. My husband can’t see this dilemma, because his parents are his priority and are never wrong.
When it was time for me to move abroad, everyone started pushing for me to get pregnant, because they thought I would go back to school, earn, help my father, and become independent, and their laws would be in vain.
My husband only does as his mother wants us to do, and I don’t go out with him unless she is okay with it. I never told my family about this. My family thinks I am happy and at peace, because my husband is financially stable and I have a smile on my face, but they don’t know of the grief I am facing.
Now that I am abroad and went to school, I want to work. However, everyone’s trying to find excuses to get me to stay at home and have kids. I don’t feel close to my husband as we never invested in our relationship, and he always has his attention elsewhere.
He won’t even hold my hand or stand up for me and comfort me when I feel depressed. Whenever I speak up about how I am feeling, he says, “you always have a problem” and sees me as a problem-maker.
Right now, I am at home doing nothing and very scared to have kids. What if my kids are treated the way I can’t tolerate? What if he cheats on me after having kids? I can see that it’s very possible to happen.
I feel like nothing is left in this relationship, since we never had the chance to build it at first, nor is he making any effort. I do love him, that’s why I am still holding on, but in a depressed state. Our marriage was controlled by his family for years, now he sees me as bottom priority.
What should I do? Please help me. Thank you.
In this counseling answer:
• Speak honestly with your husband and make it clear that this will not be ignored any further, but be mindful to. use I-statements and acknowledge his own perceptions.
• Set boundaries with your family and your husband needs to enforce them.
• Speak with your parents honestly and allow them to advocate for you.
• Discuss your career preferences with your husband.
• Wait to have a child until BOTH of you feel ready and want a child, not others want you to.
• Set aside time to date your husband and try to build your connection.
• Consider marriage and family counseling.
Thank you for writing in and trusting us with your concerns. It is my understanding during your 15 years of marriage you obeyed your in-laws in all aspects of your life, even those which would be between you and your husband.
You report having depression and not showing your true feelings to your family, in other words, you have learned how to present a smile when inside you feel the opposite. It is also my understanding you feel pressured to have a child and stay home but you doubt whether this is the best decision.
Dear sister, I want to begin by addressing the core aspect of marriage. Our spouses should be a comfort for us, an ease and protection that we know will always put our best interests first. Our spouses should provide a safe space to be fully vulnerable and open, our other half.
“It is He who created you from one soul and created from it its mate that he might dwell in security with her. And when he covers her, she carries a light burden and continues therein…” [Quran 7:189]
Marriage is all about giving and taking; when one is weak the other is strong, and vice versa. I can deduce you feel that your husband does not stick up for you or try to balance this situation nor is he able to tell them no. This type of family dynamic breeds an unjust environment where oppression will occur.
Sister, it is not easy to stop this, but in shaa’ Allah it can improve. I strongly advise you to sit down with your parents and tell them the truth. They will be your advocates and help you grow stronger in your own voice. This will, in turn, encourage your husband to step up more as your guardian.
You can consider holding a family discussion, but your parents need to be involved in it or else you could be overshadowed. This doesn’t need to be in person, it can be online with everyone calling into skype or however you prefer to facilitate this.
During this conversation, let your in-laws know, in a gentle way, that your home has become strained and caused you depression due to their control. Assure them that both of you can take care of your home and want everyone to be happy.
Your in-laws may not react well to this, but this is where having your own parents in the discussion will help. Your mother can act as a buffer and speak to her; mother to mother. It is important your husband shows support for you during this, as your in-laws are unlikely to change if he doesn’t advocate for you.
Speaking with Husband
Your husband has been turning a blind eye to what his parents are doing. Sit down with him and speak honestly in a calm tone. Let him know how unhappy you are and that he can’t continue to ignore this, or it will escalate and could destroy the marriage.
Try using I-statements when speaking with him so he does not feel confronted. For example, “I feel depressed when someone else runs my home” versus “You make me feel horrible because you won’t stop your parents from controlling my home”. Same sentiment, but one is gentle and the other is aggressive.
Acknowledge his own feelings, part of him might feel like he has no choice with his parents. Allow him to vent if needed, but don’t enable him to brush this off. In shaa’ Allah he is receptive and listens to you.
It is imperative that appropriate boundaries are set in place regarding your in-laws. To put it bluntly, this is your and your husband’s life, not theirs. Parents deserve respect, but they are not dictators of your adult lives.
His mother may not realize she is straining her son’s marriage so much when in her mind, she believes she is protecting her son. If he starts to enforce healthy boundaries and speaks truthfully to his mother, it can help her see that she is hurting his home.
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Some of these boundaries may include them having no say over your private time when you go on dates or take some time to work on your personal life. Cleaning schedules or any schedules within your home are your choice.
Whether you pursue a career or not is between you and your husband, but the final decision is yours. Think about the areas in which they enforce control and write down exactly what you want so that each boundary is discussed with them.
It will go a long way in your own happiness if you are able to connect deeper with your husband. This requires alone time and speaking without distractions. I suggest setting aside time with no phones and focus on one another.
Go somewhere special away from your home and spend quality time enjoying each other’s company. Date and flirt with one another. Quality time can in shaa’ Allah make that bond bloom into something much happier and loving.
Children and Working
You mentioned pressure to have children. I do not advise having children until your family concerns are resolved. A child does not fix things, they complicate it further and add more stress with less sleep. You could tell your in-laws you aren’t ready to consider having a child until the household is balanced and appropriate boundaries are respected.
If you are not happy and feel your household is strained, a child is going to pick up on those feelings. Ensuring a happy and supportive household for a child includes emotional support and happiness, not just financial support.
The choice to have kids is between you and your spouse and that same choice includes if you work or not. If you want to work, then look for a job. If you don’t want to work, then don’t.
As it is sunnah for the husband to help with housework, then Islamically speaking, it should not be an issue for both of you to share those tasks. This is where boundaries need reinforcement because it is obvious your in-laws won’t agree with this, but it is not their home.
You should also consider marriage and family counseling. This can help provide an unbiased mediator to keep discussions peaceful and to show your in-laws that your goal is family happiness and balance, not to disrespect or hurt them in any way.
Counseling does not need to be face to face, you can utilize online counseling from the comfort of your home. If you would like counseling from an Islamic perspective, I suggest Aboutislam’s online counseling service.
Dear sister, you are obviously not happy and struggling with your marriage. Here is a summary of your next steps moving forward.
- Speak honestly with your husband and make it clear that this will not be ignored any further, but be mindful to use I-statements and acknowledge his own perceptions
- Set boundaries with your family and your husband needs to enforce them
- Speak with your parents honestly and allow them to advocate for you
- Discuss your career preferences with your husband
- Wait to have a child until BOTH of you feel ready and want a child, not others want you to
- Set aside time to date your husband and try to build your connection
- Consider marriage and family counseling
May Allah (most honored, most revered) heal you and guide all of you to greater happiness and balance.
Disclaimer: The conceptualization and recommendations stated in this response are very general and purely based on the limited information provided in the question. In no event shall AboutIslam, its counselors or employees be held liable for any damages that may arise from your decision in the use of our services.