Why Worry: ‘I’m a different person around my in-laws’

Reader finds it difficult to be herself when faced with disapproving in-laws.

Dear doctor,

I’m from an Indian family married into an Indian family. Have been married for 12 years and we get along great. However, I don’t get along with my husband’s parents so much. They come every year and stay for about six months at a time and while they are here I feel repressed. They are very judgmental and disapprove of a lot of things including me working. I can’t say anything to them because I don’t want to create rifts at home – so I’m always on edge, snapping at my kids, scared of what the parents will say, and so on. I use work sometimes as an excuse to keep me away. It’s been so many years but each year is the same. My husband understands me and stands up for me, but I keep a lot of how I feel to myself. Now it’s that time of year again – they are coming next month. How can I keep the peace and deal with it better?

A reader who wishes to stay anonymous asks

Answered by Sneha John, Clinical Psychologist, Camali Clinic, Child & Adult Mental Health

Dear Reader,

Thank you for sharing this concern. I appreciate your vulnerability and transparency in wanting to seek help with safeguarding your emotional health as extended family visit. Here are few tips that could help with this change:

It’s not about you
Personalising comments may put us at a greater risk of feeling dejected, upset and angry. First things first, it is not about you. Detaching yourself from comments and remarks would help you to avoid over-analysing or taking decisions emotionally. Safeguard your morale and emotional health, hold on to your convictions without giving space to over-think and ruminate. Catch yourself overthinking and challenge the unhelpful thought.

Pick your battles
While dealing with others, it is especially important that we pick our battles by understanding that we cannot solve them all. Choose to let go of things that would be unhelpful to ponder on for the sake of your health and family.

Know your limits
Letting your in-laws know that you want a loving relationship with them would be helpful. Remember to set boundaries. Keep your relationship with your spouse first. Along with this, take the time to cool off when you feel upset or frustrated so that the kids are not affected. You may tell your kids, “Mommy needs 5 mins and she will be back.”

Communicate directly
Whenever possible, avoid communicating through a third party. Don’t ask your spouse to talk to his mother about something she did that hurt your feelings. Talk to her directly. If something bothers you, address it as soon as possible. Sometimes it’s a genuine problem; other times, it might be a misunderstanding. While communicating, ensure that you describe clearly, express how you feel briefly, assert what you would like to see in the future, be mindful to keep aside insulting each other or prolonging the conversation, and keep it simple.

Stand with your spouse

Supporting our spouse and managing your family in a way that consistently conveys this fact is important. You may both present a united front to your families, making it clear from the beginning that your spouse comes first. You may not like your in-laws very much, but you certainly can love them and stay close to them.

Positive self talk
Tell yourself that the effort to accommodate your partner’s family is one of the greatest gifts you can offer in your marriage. You may not be able to avoid conflict over your in-laws’ disapproval of your marriage, job, lifestyle, or parenting approach. You can make it a rule to take unnecessary political debates off the table.

Negotiate without arguing
Couples’ conversations about their families too often turn into arguments when both spouses gripe about what they’ve had to put up with. Rather than taking shots at one another’s relatives, it is more helpful for couples to talk seriously about how to endure or even enjoy time with them. Think of this as a means of practicing the type of compromise upon which most long-lasting marriages are built.

Separate in-law issues from marital issues
If you are having trouble with your spouse understanding the issue with your in-laws, take a step back. Your spouse might feel stuck in the middle. Try not to allow these issues to be a reason to state everything you are frustrated about in your relationship.

Establish mutual respect
Maintaining mutual respect will keep things going well. Showing mutual respect will help you in your relations with your mother-in-law. For example, active listening goes a long way in fostering good communication. It includes making eye contact with the in-laws when they are speaking, and every once in a while, asking a question to show you are listening. Name-calling or yelling would not do any good. Also showing that you agree on certain points may strengthen the relationship.

Assume and acknowledge good intentions
If your in-laws have advice about everything, assume it’s only because they care, but that they might not be able to express it in a constructive way. They might not even realise that you feel like they do not trust or respect you. Ask your mother-in-law for her support. “I know you are familiar with how challenging life can be. I’m trying to find my own way of being a good spouse and parent. Would you please let me find my own way for a little while, and I’ll ask you for your expertise if I need it?”

Stay hopeful
As long as both sides are still talking, even if the conversation is tense, you can still work out your differences. Withholding your judgment and keeping an attitude of forgiving acceptance will enable you to keep things healthy with your in-laws and move past their attitudes. If they make a mistake, discuss it without anger, and accept that you might have two different opinions but still be willing to move on from there.

Source: Gulf News

If you have questions that you would like answered by a mental health professional in the UAE, please write in to readers@gulfnews.com. Also, please let us know if you’d rather stay anonymous.

Disclaimer: This blog is a conversation and is not an alternative for treatment. The recommendations and suggestions offered by our panel of doctors are their own and Gulf News will not take any responsibility for the advice they provide.