10 ways to form a healthy bond with your in-laws

Ankita Chalke, 32, a Bangalore-based teacher, admits the only problem she currently has in her life is dealing with her mother-in-law. Though Chalke doesn’t live with her, she says the disruption is constant, albeit remote. “She won’t let me shop for my husband … and she wants us to dress a certain way at family gatherings,” says Chalke. “She’s going to come over and change everything cooking, kitchen, etc. She constantly comments on my looks and how I need to lose weight. It’s exhausting and angry.”

Another account is that of Jaideep Saha, 33, a Delhi-based marketer who is frustrated at how his father-in-law has been interfering in his life since his daughter was born. “I keep getting lectures about parenting, fatherhood and being told how I should spend more time with my daughter,” says Saha. My father-in-law (always) wants to come and spend time with my child every weekend – how will I spend time with the child? I’m sick of being told I’m not good enough.”

These narratives will resonate with many married couples, most of whom find it difficult to deal with their in-laws — for some, this rift is beginning to cause psychological issues like stress or anxiety. In-laws are stereotypically known for being difficult to handle and causing classic marital troubles and discord. As generations and times change, so does the magnitude and nature of the discord. We take a closer look at understanding this equation and its challenges, and get expert tips on how to deal with it.

The challenge

Ruchika Jain, a Chattisgarh-based psychologist and founder of psychiatric service Well Prism, says that after being part of a family for over 20 years, it can be challenging for women to adjust overnight to new values ​​and beliefs. And the same goes for the in-laws. “Both parties have very different opinions and views on life and also very different expectations,” she adds.

The lifestyles of the couple and in-laws are also usually very different, which can lead to arguments, says Jain. “The couple may be more open-minded and non-traditional, which may be difficult for the in-laws to understand. Small aspects of daily life like social outings or managing household finances can become a problem,” she says, adding that “a couple in a traditional setup is expected to listen to the elders and fulfill all family responsibilities and responsibilities before they can think for themselves.”

Zarana Mithani, a counseling psychologist from Mumbai, agrees with Jain when she says marriage is a big change and both parties get used to it in the immediate post-marriage period. Sometimes the in-laws focus on protecting themselves and protecting the family system rather than welcoming a new person into the family. According to Mithani, in-laws tend to be rigid with their points of view and may not be open to considering how their behavior affects others. “It makes it difficult to set boundaries, argue with them, and have a healthy relationship.”

The cultural context

Learning to get along with your mother-in-law or father-in-law is important for well-being and mental health — not just for your own but also for your spouse and children, says Tanya Nagpal, a social psychologist and integrative consultant based in Mumbai.

To do this, it is important to understand the cultural context. “There are certain cultural factors that contribute not only to the idea that in-laws are supposed to be difficult, but also to the actual attitude some parents have towards their child’s spouse,” she says. “Tune in to any popular Indian soap opera and you will find the reference(s).”

According to Nagpal, in a culture like ours, parents have traditionally exercised an extreme degree of control over their children’s lives, and unfortunately this tends to continue into adulthood. When the child marries, it is assumed that this control continues and can now also be exercised over the new daughter-in-law or son-in-law.

According to Nagpal, another major source of conflict between a person and their in-laws (who may or may not be rooted in the culture) is parenting. “The parenting styles of your in-laws (whom they raised your spouse with) will most likely differ from the way you were raised, and if your in-laws take on the role of ‘parent’ to you, they will continue to be parents on theirs.” (own) way,” she says. This may be normal for your spouse, but is probably unfamiliar to you. Any expectation to “adjust to the ways your in-laws live, think, and behave can be frustrating and can lead to a build-up of great emotions that can lead to conflict not only between a person and their in-laws, but also with their spouse.” , she explains.

Tips for a healthy relationship

Prioritize your marriage. Once you are married, your spouse and children must remain your number one priority – stand by your spouse.

Create and enforce healthy boundaries. Setting boundaries can be a difficult and uncomfortable task, but it’s most effective when done from the start.

Try to go in with no expectations. The fewer demands and expectations we have of both ourselves and our in-laws, the less likely we are to be disappointed.

Look for similarities. At the end of the day, your in-laws are your spouse’s parents and your children’s grandparents, so developing at least a working, if not thriving, relationship with them is imperative.

Don’t always try to be right. Just try to be flexible while protecting your needs.

Be objective. Seeing your in-laws objectively doesn’t mean betraying or disrespecting them. And it can surely help you. Observation and emotional distancing are tools that can give the couple or an individual a place to stand outside of the family system. When people observe neutrally, they cannot be hurt or emotionally affected by other people’s behavior.

Understand the limitations. Work on understanding the emotional framework, boundaries, and level of empathy—both yours and theirs—and also assessing their ability to reflect on themselves.

Be honest and realistic. Focus on what is possible in this relationship, not what you want or how it should be. Give up role-playing games and stay true to yourself.

Mutual Participation. Decide how much of their participation in your life is practical for you and your partner. This will make it easier to set boundaries and enforce them.

Don’t look for validation. Always remember that you cannot always please them and win them over. Set realistic standards and you can and will be okay, even if they don’t validate you.

Divya Naik is a Mumbai-based psychotherapist

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