Ask The Therapist: “I’ve always tried to maintain good relations with my in-laws, but my husband has been having problems with them…”

In 2016, the number of people estimated to be suffering from mental health issues like depression and anxiety amounted to roughly 1.1 billion. Since then, numbers have likely continued to rise. Moreover, studies have also shown women especially on average are a) more likely to suffer from mental health issues, and b) less likely to talk about them. The taboo in Pakistan surrounding depression and anxiety disorders only serve to aggravate the individuals suffering even more. For the women who cannot seek out full time therapy, we’ve enlisted the help of a trained therapist. You sent us in your questions – here are the answers!

“I live in a joint family system with my in-laws. I’ve always tried to maintain good relations with them, but recently it’s become more and more difficult. My husband has been having arguments with his family; as his wife, it feels like my duty to support him, but I also don’t want to upset my in-laws and ruin my relationship with them. How can I stay neutral in such a situation?”

Shahrukh’s Response:

Dear Anon,

Navigating through the relationship of your spouse and in-laws is tricky. Each household will have its own set of dynamics, and it’s important to gauge the situation and see what the best course of action might be. Let’s dive further into this and see what can be done.

In-Laws: A Long And Winding Road

Family dynamics are complicated enough, but when it comes to in-laws, it’s even more complex. These are people who might bear the title of family, but there might still be a certain level of formality and lack of comfort. As someone who has married into this new dynamic, and now finding your place within that system, it’s important to recognize what might be happening around you. In the beginning stages, especially, you might not fully understand what your role is in the family, and that’s okay. Take your time and see what feels comfortable for you – your husband would be able to help you through this transitional time. 

Once you have a better idea of where you stand, and what your role in the family unit is, now would also be the time to understand where you stand in terms of conflict that arises, especially if it’s between your husband and your in-laws. 

While playing the middle-man or mediator might seem like a good option, it could more often than not make you a target for the frustrations that both parties might be facing. In this case, it would be better to be present for your partner and be there to hold space for him, and as a partner, your role is to just listen, hold space, and if asked for: being his counsel and being honest about what you think about the situation. Essentially, being a partner and standing by your husband. 

That all being said, I know it’s difficult to think about the idea of upsetting your in-laws, as it might make it a little more challenging for you to be in that house. The best course of action in this situation would be to stay out of direct conflict with the family, and still being a support to your husband. This minimises your involvement in the conflict itself – but I will say that it is important to stand by your husband. You might disagree with him, and that’s alright – you are allowed to voice that out to him, yet in the context of relationships, it’s better to present a united front with your in-laws. Otherwise, it may lead to your husband feeling alienated or that you might not be on his side. If you feel like there might be a need for a mediator, perhaps reach out to another family member or a close friend of the family who could help mediate – either speaking to both parties together or separately.

Recognising The Importance Of Your Limits And Boundaries

Sometimes the family might try to come to you and “talk some sense” into your husband, or pull you into the conflict, and it can be easy to give into that and get involved, but it’s important to recognise your limits and boundaries. Simply hearing them out and not giving them much information is one way to handle it, or even saying that you would prefer not to get involved in the conflict between them and your husband. By establishing this boundary from the get go, you make it clear that you are not a direct part of what’s happening. 

It’s Okay To Stay Neutral

Anon, depending on what you’d like for yourself, it’s okay to stay neutral and minimize involvement, if that’s what helps you feel safest. That being said, there might be times where you might choose to take your husband’s side, and that’s okay as well. What’s important at the end of the day is your own personal safety, and what’s better for you in the long-run. It helps to ask: “What’s the best decision in terms of the bigger picture?” – be honest with yourself and see what comes up for you.

Anon, as stated before, navigating through the dynamics between your husband and your in-laws can be challenging, and staying neutral might not always be the easiest thing, and that’s okay – you will find your way. What is important is looking internally and seeing what’s best for you. Communicate as openly as you can with your partner and operate as a team. I hope that this article was helpful for you. I wish you all the best on your journey! Take care and stay in your power!

The above article is written by Shahrukh Shahbaz Malik who is trained in humanistic integrative counselling at CPDD in the UK and currently has her own private practice in Karachi. The views expressed in this article are those of one expert. They do not necessarily represent the views of Mashion, nor do they represent the complete picture of the topic at hand. This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical diagnosis, treatment or therapy.

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