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In-Laws Expect Me to Serve Them

19 May, 2024
Q Dear Counselor,

I am currently in a really bad space mentally. I feel powerless and invaluable, having no control over my life and a lot of anxiety. My husband and in-laws want me to live a life of theirs.

First, I am converted and our relationship with my husband didn't start easily. His parents were against us for a long time but finally agreed to the marriage. I developed the habit of denying myself and accepting everything and every situation in order to "prove" that I am not bad and I am worthy. I have developed a feeling that I am only good if my husband to be and his parents are happy with me. Now I know that they made me believe that certain things are "normal" that aren't actually.

I want to say that I in-laws are good people and have faith in Allah. However, they have their own perception of "right" with a very close link to their culture.

Since we married, they started to visit us for extended periods that I feel suffocating and I feel they abuse with their "power" as parents. My husband doesn't say no to them and therefore nothing is changing.

In my culture, parents step back when someone marries and don't visit often or too long the married (young) couple in order to not create problems or not to disturb their private life. In their belief, the parents actually step ahead and require us to welcome them for months and they actually feel that our home is their home as well. However, I can't accept this. I haven't waited 10 years of my (nicest period 20s) of life to get married to finally live a life that I can't accept.

When the date approaching that they come to stay with us, I am anxious weeks before, have anxiety attacks and my mind is always around their stay, how long and horribly suffocating will be. On top of this, my husband leaves for travel and I stay alone with them.

Actually, I would be happy to welcome them for 2-3 weeks, even excited to care for them and share our home but beyond this. I fell that it is abused what they do and actually not happy at all that they come, not ready to do any sacrifice for them and only waiting for them to leave (finally). I talked kindly and carefully with my husband; however, he is ignoring it completely. He threatened me with divorce and that his parents can and will come as much as they want. I feel desperate because I stick to my husband and want to finally (after 10 years of waiting, uncertainty, and fear) live carelessly happy with him. I released that he tries to manipulate me and he said to me that I am not a good wife if I feel like that and he even said to me that I am not making him a good person. So, when he eventually hits me, it is my fault. We are always happy if there is no interference in our life, but his parents with their "strong” presence often cause smaller/ bigger problems.

I feel that I won't be able to bear that three people moving in for months. I don't feel like to care for them, even though I know that it is my obligation as a Muslimah, but I feel that they don’t respect my marriage and our privacy. I feel that I am in a sad and bad place right now and I can't escape it from month again. When they leave, I fell such a huge relief as I can breathe again and I know that this situation is not good for neither of my relationships (husband and in-laws). I explained everything several times to my husband but he is unresponsive and ignoring my feelings. This is not a situation that I can change, feeling and emotions are there and even though I tied to conquer them for years, now I can’t anymore.

Please, get back to me. I am desperate to be able to talk with someone about this and hear his / her opinion, advice. I feel left alone who has to take on her shoulders all the weight of fear (success and happiness of my life and marriage) and tasks (and potential scandal who everyone will hate at the end.


In this counseling answer:

In life, there is a compromise, especially when we are married.

However, compromise should not have an end result of feelings such as yours.

Have a heart to heart talk with your mother-in-law. Take her out for lunch or somewhere quiet but enjoyable.

Talk to her about how you are feeling in regards to her feelings about you.

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Perhaps this will provide an opportunity to clear up misconceptions as well as build a wonderful relationship with her.

Go on with your life when they are there. It may be difficult at first, and it will take some self-confidence and some self-esteem work to get to a point wherein the situation is comfortable, but I am confident you can do it.

If your husband is hitting you need to get help immediately.

As Salam Alaykum dear sister,

I am sorry to hear about what you have been going through in regards to your in-law’s visits.

I am not really clear on what is happening during these lengthy visits, however, it is apparent that you do feel a loss of control/power over your life, a loss of your sense of self as well as feelings of worthlessness.

Loss of Self

First of all, sister, I would like to say that you are not powerless. You are not invaluable and you do have control over your life.

While it may seem that right now you don’t, in sha Allah, you will find that you actually do have control over your life.

In life, there is a compromise, especially when we are married.

However, compromise should not have an end result of feelings such as yours.

I can understand how you may feel powerless and invaluable, especially with what you have been going through.

However, please, do know that you are very valuable, your feelings do matter – you matter.

You stated that as a revert, the relationship with your husband didn’t start easy as his parents were against the marriage.

When they finally agreed, you develop a habit of denying yourself and accepting everything and every situation presented to you in order to prove that you’re not “bad” and that you are worthy.

It appears that in trying to please your husband and his family, you may have compromised your true feelings for a way too long.

You have set up an emotional response that you only feel worthy if your husband and/or his parents are happy with you.

This, however, does not equal personal happiness with yourself.

Possibly, this is where the inner conflict comes in now.

Sister, I don’t know how many years you have been married, or how long this has been going on but it appears that your feelings of loss of control and value are pretty well ingrained into your thinking.

As women, a lot of times we often feel we have to prove our worth, or prove that we’re not a “bad person”, or prove that we are worthy.

This is often in response to century-old forms of oppression, judgment and basically abusive interactions with others who are not healthy.

Reverts, Culture, and Expectations

Sister, you spoke about your being a revert. I am not sure what part this plays in the over-all relationship with your in-laws but being a revert actually is a huge blessing.

You chose through the mercy of Allah to become Muslim.  Those who were born into Islam didn’t make a conscious choice.

Therefore, as a revert, you are cherished for all the things that you gave up, all the tests and trials that you went through, and as well as striving to learn against a lot of odds.

Allah loves those who seek Him and that is what you have done by reverting to Islam.

You mentioned that your in-laws are good people, however “they have their own perception of right and are very closely linked to their culture”.

I guess that can be said about a lot of us, as a culture can be wonderful and beautiful.

It grounds us and defines who were are to a certain extent.

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From what you have written, it appears that you are still having difficulty adjusting to your husband’s culture.

While it is way different than yours, I do ask that insha’Allah, you try to adjust and accommodate your in-laws.

I know this is not what you wanted to hear, but given that your husband will not speak up regarding their length of stay, it may be more advisable to try to develop coping techniques and a sense of self to make the visits easier on you.

You stated that “ I feel that they (his parents) doesn’t respect my marriage and our privacy”. Perhaps, this is really the issue with their lengthy stays.

Perhaps if you knew they loved and respected you, you wouldn’t feel so compromised.

The idea of taking care of ones who we feel do not like or respect us is daunting, to say the least.

Family Structures and Hospitality

You feel your in-laws feel your home is theirs. There was a time in the USA where the parents had a big house and when one of the children got married they would move in with their spouse.

When the next child got married they would move in as well.

This went on until the couples were established and could afford their own place which usually took years.

Additionally, the elderly were also taken into the home to be cared for.

So, that would mean your elderly mom (or your husband) would be in your home and cared for.

In this way, the family structure is intact so that everybody has a place and everybody is cared for.

A lot of people that come from other countries to America will comment in shock about how we throw away our elderly.

Instead of bringing our parents into our homes, many put them in nursing homes. Instead of taking children to grandparents houses or aunties, we put them in daycare.

It’s a very different life than what it was many decades ago.

Sister, what I am trying to illustrate is that this is not a new concept for family units, not even where I live in the USA.

Sister I don’t know how long they stay with you out of the year.

You did state that they come and stay for months which is kind of normal because if they’re coming from another country, it is very expensive to travel and family often tends to try to make the most of their visiting time.

That might explain the extended stays. While I know this is difficult for you sister, please review the following with an open heart:  

The Prophet Mohammad said, “Anybody who believes in Allah and the Last Day should not harm his neighbor, and anybody who believes in Allah and the Last Day should entertain his guest generously and anybody who believes in Allah and the Last Day should talk what is good or keep quiet. (i.e. abstain from all kinds of evil and dirty talk).”(Bukhari) 

“Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, should serve his guest generously. The guest’s reward is: To provide him with a superior type of food for a night and a day and a guest is to be entertained with food for three days, and whatever is offered beyond that is regarded as something given in charity. And it is not lawful for a guest to stay with his host for such a long period so as to put him in a critical position.” (Bukhari)   

Based on these hadiths sister, there are responsibilities on both ends.

Sister, I truly think that these lengthy visits would not be so traumatizing to you if you felt loved, valued and respected by his parents.

I truly believe you would find joy in the visits.  However long ago before you were married,  his parents set up their disdain for you even before you married.

That must have hurt you deeply, a hurt you carry to this day.

Family, Responsibilities and Self Care

You have already discussed this issue with your husband.

He does not seem to be responsive to your needs and has told you your request to shorten visits is cause for divorce (which is not true).

Sister, there may not be a way out of his parents coming and staying for lengthy periods of time.

However, you can change how you react to it. Insha’Allah, the next time they come try to have a happy positive attitude.

In fact, I would kindly suggest that at the next visit, you have a heart to heart talk with your mother-in-law.

Take her out for lunch or somewhere quiet but enjoyable. Talk to her about how you are feeling in regards to her feelings about you.

Perhaps this will provide an opportunity to clear up misconceptions as well as build a wonderful relationship with her.

Sister, self-care is very important. If things become too much for you while they are visiting, you may want to go to the gym more often, go out for tea or lunch with your friends, or immerse yourself in other events that bring you joy. 

Remain respectful and kind to your in-laws and treat them with love but also practice some self-love.

Being part of a family involves sacrifice. This may be one your sacrifices as your husband is unwilling to bend on this issue.

However, this should not affect your self-esteem, your life or your sense of self.

I would encourage you to go on with your life when they are there.

It may be difficult at first, and it will take some self-confidence and some self-esteem work to get to a point wherein the situation is comfortable, but I am confident you can do it. 

By restructuring how you think about the visits, you may find many blessings in it.

May Allah swt bless you sister for all your efforts to please your husband and his parents.

But please, take care of yourself as well and regain your sense of self and value.

If needed, talk to a therapist in your area who can guide you on a regular basis towards healing and healthy self-esteem and expression.

Hitting is NOT Okay

Sister, there is one thing out of this whole question that really bothered me.

You stated that your husband said you are not making him a “good person so when he eventually hits me and not the way the Quran describes it’s my fault”.

Sister, if your husband is hitting you need to get help immediately.

Your husband should not be hitting you. That is not Islam. In fact, abuse is against Islam it’s haram and it is evil.

Do not accept abuse. Please, do seek out counseling for the domestic violence.

I can imagine that all this has escalated as a result of the tension and unhappiness in the home however domestic violence is not an Islamic nor Human response.

Please, do seek help regarding this aspect of your question.

Please, let us know how you are doing.


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.

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About Aisha Mohammad
Aisha has a PhD in psychology, an MS in public health and a PsyD. Aisha worked as a Counselor/Psychologist for 12 years at Geneva B. Scruggs Community Health Care Center in New York. She has worked with clients with mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, panic disorder, trauma, and OCD. She also facilitated support groups and provided specialized services for victims of domestic violence, HIV positive individuals, as well youth/teen issues. Aisha is certified in Mindfulness, Trauma Informed Care, Behavioral Management, Restorative Justice/ Healing Circles, Conflict Resolution, Mediation, and Confidentiality & Security. Aisha is also a Certified Life Coach, and Relationship Workshop facilitator. Aisha has a part-time Life Coaching practice in which she integrates the educational concepts of stress reduction, mindfulness, introspection, empowerment, self love and acceptance and spirituality to create a holistic healing journey for clients. Aisha is also a part of several organizations that advocates for prisoner rights/reentry, social & food justice, as well as advocating for an end to oppression & racism. In her spare time, Aisha enjoys her family, photography, nature, martial arts classes, Islamic studies, volunteering/charity work, as well as working on her book and spoken word projects.