Part 3: What can be done to start to shift this dynamic?

Terri Apter in her book suggests that it requires “high-level skills” to manage this dynamic and one of the first steps is to see how OUR OWN behaviour should change, only then will the other’s behaviour be modified. Both MIL, DIL and husband need to ask themselves “what role am I playing here”, “what do I need to change?”

Mother-in-Law

  • An important development for Sharanjeet will be to accept that her son is now a man and a husband and that she no longer has the same authority over him. In order to enable him and his new relationship to flourish she will need to allow the new couple the space to build a close bond. If this is not allowed to happen, she may be edged out of the couples life or have to live with a resentful DIL and son. 
  • Sharanjeet can start to recognise and show appreciation for what Gurpreet offers her son, which in turn will lead Gurpreet to be more willing to respect and appreciate her.
  • Sharanjeet can reflect on her own experiences of being a DIL and reflect on how she would like to have been treated. Increasing her awareness of her conditioning and the different cultural values will also help her to better understand her DIL, and not personalise her behaviour.

Daughter-in-Law

  • Reviewing her expectation that her MIL should care about her as a daughter, may help Gurpreet to feel less hurt when this doesn’t happen. It takes time to form relationships, and Gurpreet and Sharanjeet do not have the benefit of shared histories and being blood relatives as a mother and daughter do.   
  • By being vocal about demands that she does not want to give in to (e.g. attending certain family events or sacrificing couple time to do tasks around the house etc.), whilst at the same time assuring her MIL that she wants her to feel included (e.g. by inviting her out to dinner), Gurpreet would ensure that she is not always sacrificing her needs at the expense of her MIL, and would reassure her MIL of the family connection to her
  • Gurpreet could show appreciation for her MIL and respect for her knowledge base by asking her to teach her how to cook an Indian dish. She could also show her willingness to be part of the family by aligning with her sister in law/ others in the family.
  • Gurpreet could gently encourage her husband to offer his support by persisting in telling him how she feels without blaming/criticizing. Further, communicating to him that she appreciates the importance of maintaining a close relationship with his mother may help Jasdeep to feel more able to listen to his wife’s  feelings (and not feel he is betraying his mother in the process)

Son/Husband

  • Jasdeep is faced with a difficult task and at times thinks that by not actively dealing with the issues they may somehow resolve themselves over time. This is unlikely and there are things he can do to help shift things.
  • Jasdeep can ensure that his wife’s needs for connection and understanding are met by validating her feelings. Feeling understood will enable her to feel better able to consider others’ perspectives (his and his MIL’s) and will strengthen the couple bond.
  • Jasdeep could help his mother to see that a strong relationship with both her and Gurpreet can exist alongside each other. He could do this by 1) assuring his mother that he continues to respect and value her, and 2) praising his wife in his mother’s presence, to show that he appreciates them both.
  • Learning to set boundaries ( for example telling his mother that being critical of Gurpreet behind her back is not acceptable to him or setting aside regular protected couple time) would help his mother to respect his commitment to his wife. And it would be important for him to recognise that doing this does not mean that he is being disloyal to his mother.

As mentioned above, the dynamics between MIL and DIL’s are highly complex and vary greatly across families. The above suggestions may work to a lesser or greater extent depending on a number of different factors, particularly the willingness of each person to accept their role in the dynamic and to take action to improve it. 

Please comment below with any additional thoughts/suggestions you have on this topic, I would love to read them and incorporate them into future posts.

3 thoughts on “Part 3: What can be done to start to shift this dynamic?”

  1. Enjoyed reading this series on this complex relationship and love the new points that are made in light of the 3 people involved in it – the daughter, the MIL and the son. Thank you for illuminating this difficult to navigate space. More often than not, brides are expected to be empty vases coming into their new families and they’re sauray expect her to immediately adopt their way of life as if her entire life before did not exist. We must challenge these beliefs and traditions. Ultimately, I hope the practice of doli and women moving into their husband’s homes is eradicated from our spaces. IMO it is not a Sikh practice and undermines women for generations, and upholds the idea that women are worth less than men, which is another reason why boys are preferred than girls in Punjabi culture and other Eastern cultures, which just perpetuates the cycle of mysogyny and solidifies the patriarchy which is inherently against Sikh beliefs.

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    1. This is so spot on. Women are expected to be blank slates (apparently this is why the tradition of the DIL moving into her husbands house started—physically removing herself from her ‘old way of life’ would allow her to abandon old ways and accept her new family as hers). Some cultures take this further and send their daughter to live with her future husband and family at a young age. Shocking that in this day and age the older generations hold these notions, as what a complete contrast to the newer generation-women now (school, uni) are taught to become independent thinkers, reflect on their ideologies and choose which fits for them. Recipe for disaster.

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