It's no secret that in-laws are the subject of many marital arguments. The rivalry between wives and their mothers-in-law is a major source of tension in many marriages. You may find it interesting that many new brides get along very well with their husband's parents at first; it isn't until later—sometimes years later—that friction develops.
Time-after-time, daughters-in-law in my support group say things like, "My husband's parents welcomed me into their family immediately and treated me as their own daughter." Likewise, "My own in-laws showered me with gifts and included me in everything". It's not uncommon for young women to be very fond of their husband's family, and vice versa... in the beginning.
Later on down the marriage, dealing with in-laws can be an overwhelming challenge—whether you are dealing with an overbearing mother-in-law who believes her opinions are superior to yours—or someone who tries to make you feel guilty whenever your needs conflict with hers. It may be tempting to gossip, hold silent grudges, or cut off all communication with troublesome in-laws - but that often just adds to the problem.
Here are some tips for dealing with difficult in-laws:
- Love your husband more than you dislike his parents. Rather than gossip to your spouse about his awful parents (which will trigger his instinct to defend them), communicate directly with them in a tactful manner. Don't give your in-laws the power to destroy your marriage; focus on being a great wife rather than a vindictive daughter-in-law. Behave in a way that draws your husband's loyalty so you can unite as a couple to deal with difficult in-laws.
- If need be, only turn to the knowledgeable and righteous for advice.
- Change your perspective. You and your mother-in-law are adults, so don't behave as though you are an inferior child. The extent to which she can push your buttons is the extent to which she has power over you. Learn what your buttons are, and brainstorm new constructive and respective Islamic responses with Adab. If maintaining silence is better, than do so.
Abu Musa al-Ashari (ra) is reported to have said, "Respect for Allah includes respect for an old Muslim and respect for one who carries the Qur'aan (in his heart, that is, he who memorised it), who does not exaggerate (while reciting it), and does not keep himself away from it and respect for a just man of high office (all these are included in showing respect to Allah )." (Abu Dawood)
- Communicate assertively. It's usually not necessary to have a big serious confrontation to communicate your needs, but it is important to speak in an assertive manner when the opportunity presents itself, without being rude, egotistic and abrupt. If your husband has the desire and confidence to confront his parents about problem issues, then that’s fantastic.
- Set reasonable boundaries, if need be keep a psychological distance. You can't completely control your mother-in-law's behavior (or anyone else's for that matter), but you can set limits on how her behavior affects you. The purpose of a boundary is to protect yourself and/or your marriage.
- If your mother in law can't be spoken to or advised, and gets upset easily for no apparent reason then don't always blame yourself. Just because she feels hurt or angry doesn't mean you did something wrong. In-laws with healthy behavior will respond appropriately when you communicate your needs and draw reasonable boundaries. However, in-laws with destructive behavior will choose to be offended and try to make you feel guilty for having needs that conflict with theirs. It's important to stand your ground with controlling, manipulative in-laws.
When you decide to get out of the victim role and start behaving in a new way, then you will start to have healthier relationships with your in-laws, and more importantly with all those around you.