Toxic in-laws

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Getting married is an exciting and life-changing event. However, for some women, the excitement of starting a new life with their spouse can be overshadowed by the challenges they face with their in-laws. In many cultures, women are expected to leave their families and move in with their husband’s family after marriage, especially in the subcontinent. Moving to a new house after marriage can be a daunting experience for any bride. It’s even more challenging when she has to leave her family and friends behind and move to a completely different environment, culture, and way of living. This can lead to a whole host of challenges, particularly for women. This transition can be overwhelming, especially if the bride is not prepared for the challenges that she might face. Living with in-laws can be a complex and emotionally charged topic for many working women.

From a religious perspective, renowned Islamic scholar Engineer Muhammad Ali emphasizes that there is no evidence in the Quran or Hadiths that suggests that a daughter-in-law is obligated to take care of her husband’s parents. However, if she chooses to do so, it is an act of great kindness that should be acknowledged and appreciated. He strongly condemns husbands who compel their wives to serve their in-laws, as this runs contrary to Islamic teachings and basic moral values. He believes in the importance of educating both spouses on their rights and responsibilities towards each other and their respective families. In conclusion, Engineer Muhammad Ali stresses that coercing daughters-in-law to care for in-laws is not only antithetical to Islamic principles but also dishonors human dignity and ethics.

There are two categories of women when it comes to living arrangements after marriage. One type includes women who are willing to live with their in-laws and serve them, while the other consists of those who prefer to live separately with their spouses. It is important to acknowledge that there are also women who enter marriages with the intention of not living with in-laws and may try to poison the relationship between their husbands and their family. Women hold the belief that they will not cohabit with their in-laws under any circumstances and employ methods to breed discord in their husband’s relationships with their families. However, this is not representative of all women. Today, I will not be discussing the latter category. Instead, I want to explore the challenges faced by women who happily accept their in-laws, yet still encounter difficulties and unpleasant situations in their lives.

I tried to explore the challenges that women face after getting married and moving in with their in-laws. To elucidate this intricate subject, I conducted interviews with several women who have been living with their in-laws for more than five to ten years. These women do not belong to the group who intentionally try to cut off their husbands from their family relationships. Therefore, I shall delve into the challenges that these women have encountered. I am discussing the cases of the educated high middle class. In lower classes, the cases are worst where the daughter-in-law can be physically tortured on petty issues. Based on these interviews, I have compiled a list of challenges and insights that these women have faced while living with their in-laws. It is important to note that not all women will have the same experiences and that these findings do not apply to everyone.

When a new bride moves to her in-laws’ house, she may face harassment and teasing from her mother-in-law and sisters-in-law. This is especially true in patriarchal societies, where daughters-in-law are expected to be submissive and obedient to their husbands and their husbands’ families. Here are some of the challenges that a new bride can face when she moves to her in-laws’ house:

  1. Lack of Privacy: The bride may find it difficult to adjust to living in a joint family, where there is little or no privacy. She may be constantly monitored and judged by her new family members. During the interview, one individual confided that she was required to always leave her room door open due to her mother-in-law’s discomfort with it being closed. She expressed her discomfort with this, as she felt unable to enjoy private moments alone. The constant feeling of being observed by others who were critiquing and ridiculing her was overwhelming. Another woman reported to me that her sister-in-law interferes in her household by suggesting that, to avoid high electricity bills due to the excessive heat, everyone should sleep together in one room with their mother-in-law. The sister-in-law’s rationale for this suggestion is that she had similar issues at her own in-laws’ home. My question is, why is this woman imposing the same uncomfortable situation on my acquaintance, even though she was unhappy with that decision?
  2. Relationship Issues: The new bride may face difficulties in building relationships with her new family members, especially her mother-in-law and sisters-in-law. They may have preconceived notions about her and may not be willing to accept her as part of the family. My suggestion is I If you are not prepared to accept a young lady as your son’s partner and cannot tolerate her smiling with him or becoming his wife, then it is advisable to refrain from arranging a marriage for your son. It is important to understand that every individual has a unique personality, and if you are not ready to embrace the presence of another person with their individuality, it may not be the right time to proceed with the marriage.
  3. Maintaining boundaries: It can be difficult for women to establish and maintain boundaries with their in-laws, especially when it comes to parenting or decision-making within the household. In-laws may have strong opinions on these matters, which can lead to disagreements and tension.
  4. Criticizing Her Cooking: The mother-in-law and sisters-in-law may criticize the bride’s cooking and compare it to their own. They may make her feel inadequate and incompetent in the kitchen.
  5. Comparing Her to Other Brides: The bride may be compared to other brides in the family, especially those who are considered to be more beautiful, intelligent, or successful. This can make her feel inferior and insecure.
  6. Criticizing Her Appearance: The mother-in-law and sisters-in-law may criticize the bride’s appearance, including her clothes, makeup, and hairstyle. They may compare her to other women in the family and make her feel insecure about her looks.
  7. Excluding Her from Family Gatherings: The mother-in-law and sisters-in-law may exclude the bride from family gatherings and events. They may not invite her to parties or functions, or they may make her feel unwelcome when she does attend.
  8. Criticizing Her Behaviour: The mother-in-law and sisters-in-law may criticize the bride’s behaviour, including her speech, mannerisms, and habits. They may make her feel like she doesn’t fit in with the family or the community.
  9. Controlling Her Movements: The mother-in-law and sisters-in-law may try to control the bride’s movements, including when she can leave the house and where she can go. They may restrict her freedom and make her feel like she is living under surveillance. One of the individuals began crying as she shared her experience, stating that it feels as though others have control over her every breath. She lamented that she is prohibited from donning certain articles of clothing, embracing particular colours, and even preparing her favourite foods. The suffocating nature of it all is so overwhelming that she feels unable to breathe without adhering to their wishes.
  10. Undermining Her Authority: The mother-in-law and sisters-in-law may undermine the bride’s authority as a wife and mother. They may interfere with her decisions and make her feel like she is not in control of her own life. The bride in this situation may also experience a great deal of pain and suffering. She may feel like she is constantly being judged or criticized by her mother-in-law and may feel like her husband is not doing enough to support her. She may also feel like she is constantly walking on eggshells, trying to avoid conflicts and keep the peace.
  11. Spreading Rumours: The mother-in-law and sisters-in-law may spread rumours about the bride, including false accusations of infidelity or misconduct. This can damage her reputation and make her feel ashamed and isolated. In certain families, such as that of my friend who has six sisters-in-law, there may be situations where one may attempt to maintain the happiness of each sister-in-law. However, despite her best efforts to accommodate their needs, in some instances, if any of them have a problem, they convey it to the others, which results in all of them ceasing communication with her. This compromising scenario can cause her significant mental distress and create difficulties in her relationship with her partner. Is it fair to expect her to behave the same way with everyone when each person has a unique personality?

Toxic in-laws can have a significant impact on a person’s mental health. They can cause stress, anxiety, depression, and even physical health problems. Toxic in-laws can also have a significant impact on a person’s relationship with their spouse. When in-laws become toxic, it can put a strain on the relationship between their son or daughter-in-law and their spouse. It can lead to conflict, resentment, and even divorce.

It is difficult to say who is the most suffering person in a conflict between a mother-in-law, husband, and wife, as each person involved may have their own unique challenges and experiences. However, it is safe to say that conflicts between these individuals can be very emotionally charged, and can lead to a great deal of stress and pain for everyone involved. For the husband, this can be an incredibly stressful and emotionally draining situation. He may feel like he is being pulled in different directions and may struggle to find a way to resolve the conflict without causing further damage to his relationships with both his wife and his mother. The harassment and teasing that a new bride may face from her mother-in-law and sisters-in-law can be emotionally and psychologically damaging. It can make her feel like she is not accepted or valued by her new family, and it can lead to feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety. Families and communities need to recognize and address this kind of behaviour. However, a positive attitude and some effort can play a crucial role. Maintaining a harmonious relationship with a daughter-in-law can be challenging for a mother-in-law. It is vital to take proactive measures to avoid conflict and build trust with each other. My actionable tips for the mother-in-law to welcome her daughter-in-law into her family are: Every family has a different approach to how they interact and communicate. The mother-in-law should avoid getting too involved and respect the boundaries of her daughter-in-law. Appreciation is the key to any relationship. The mother-in-law should acknowledge her daughter-in-law’s efforts towards the family, including cooking meals, taking care of children, etc. Communication is critical in any relationship. The mother-in-law should be open to discussing any issues with her daughter-in-law and listen to her viewpoint. These small efforts can bring peace to the whole family and will help everyone to live a productive life.

The writer is educationist, analyst, senior journalist and social media influencer. The author is doctor of philosophy. With a wealth of knowledge and years of experience in education and media, Farrah is dedicated to sharing her insights on a variety of social issues that impact our communities. She can be reached at