Part 1: Understanding the Mother-in-Law, Daughter-in-Law Dynamic
(Based on Terry Apter’s book “What do you want from me: learning to get along with in-laws”).
The mother-in-law (MIL), daughter-in-law (DIL) dynamic has been cited as one of the most challenging of issues that couples have to deal with, particularly in Asian culture where it is common for the daughter in law to live with her husband and his family for the first year/two after marriage (and for some indefinitely).
The DIL and MIL dynamic is certainly a complex one, and the way that it plays out varies greatly from family to family. Experiences range from a harmonious relationship in which both women work hard on themselves and the relationship to ensure that their own and each other’s needs are met. These women and are able to appreciate and celebrate openly what one another brings to the household.
On the other end of the spectrum, the DIL and MIL experience a great deal of conflict. This often results in psychological/emotional problems for all involved, and either leads the husband and DIL to completely shut the MIL out of their lives, or leads the husband, unable to manage the competing loyalties, to “choose” his MIL over his wife, typically resulting in a resentful unhappy wife, or a breakdown of the marriage.
This series of posts will look at how we can better understand this difficult dynamic and the factors that may influence it. The focus will be on Asian/Indian families broadly speaking, however, much of this content can apply to other cultures too.
This series of posts starts with a case study to illustrate the issues that commonly occur between DIL and MIL (part 1), followed by hypotheses about why these may be occurring (part 2). The final post (part 3) will identify with some suggestions for how to manage the dynamics.
Meet the family
Gurpreet and her husband Jasdeep have been married for just under two years. They have had a rocky start to their marriage, the primary reason being; difficulty in dealing with issues between Gurpreet and Jasdeep’s mother (Sharanjeet).
Prior to getting married Gurpreet met with her mother-in-law (MIL) Sharanjeet a fair few times and quite liked her. She admired how independent and positive she was, in spite of losing her own husband a few years ago. She could imagine herself living in their family home, and was looking forward to being part of a close-knit family that was welcoming, open and involved in each other’s lives.
However, what ensued after marriage was very different from Gurpreet’s expectations. She felt that after marriage, her MIL changed. She felt hostility from her MIL and didn’t feel appreciated for what she brought to the family home. She did not experience the love that she had been expecting, and this led her to feel hurt and angry. She found her MIL intrusive, demanding of her husband, and critical towards her.
Gurpreet felt close to her husband, however, they often got into conflict over his mother. Gurpreet knew deep down that Jasdeep loved her but felt insecure and often found herself wondering whether she was his priority. She also felt betrayed and resentful when he would ask her “to make more of an effort” with her MIL as if she was to blame for the issues.
The issues escalated and there seemed to be conflict in the family home on a daily basis. The relationship between Gurpreet and her MIL deteriorated to the point that they would rarely be in the same room together, and there was little to no communication between them. Jasdeep became quite down and felt at a loss as to how to improve the situation. The issues led Gurpreet to question whether she could continue with the marriage.
See part 2 for some hypotheses about how this situation developed.