Why do women have such a strong need for approval from their in-laws?
As I listen to upset women about how their in-laws did not like this or that and read emails from women talking about issues with their in-laws, I really wonder why none of these women talk about their husbands or their parents in the same manner.
“My dad was not happy because I don’t do puja every day”.
“My mom does not approve and made remarks that I do not wake up at 5 AM daily.”
“My husband is not happy that I wore a dress today”.
No. I never hear those words from married women. It is almost always my mother in law (MIL)/ father in law (FIL)/ Sister in law (SIL) did not like that.
Why are women socially conditioned into pleasing their in-laws? Do they really care more about their in-laws than their parents or husbands? We are not children dependent on our parents approval. Isn’t love from the husband, friends and family enough? Why do we have to be in the good books of our MILs and FILs as well? There is this strong unwritten social contract that the DIL shouldn’t rock the boat and a lot of women play by that. Add to that, a lot of husbands tend to keep quiet and not support their wives because they do not wish to rock the boat either
and because they are not suffering as much because filial piety but this is a story for another day.
Let’s look at this way – if your best friend was dating a guy who was constantly critical and never approved of anything she did, would the most natural reaction be to tell her to try harder or to break up? Why do we ditch logic when it comes to this situation? Admitted, a lot of the older generation (especially Asians) are traditional and do not believe in praising and prefer criticism by virtue of being elder but is it even logical to start relationships like that? With criticism and disapproval? The older folks also need to think about that.
From my observations, even if it is an arranged marriage, many in-laws do not approve of their daughter in laws (DILs) and are extremely critical of them, no matter what they do. A DIL may do whatever they tell her to do but they would still find fault with her. The very fact that she is the DIL (aka lowest in the social order of family) is reason enough. If it is so obvious that your in-laws are never going to approve of you, why even bother seeking their approval? Why not just live the way it suits you because they are always going to find something to nitpick on? If it a love marriage, many parents feel that the DIL should bend backwards because they were benevolent enough to let their son marry her. Many DILs feel guilty because of all the drama and hurt that led to the love marriage and are willing to do a lot to be accepted by their in-laws and to ensure that there is no further cause for complaint. Often, so many DILs dislike their MIL but most play along in order to avoid confrontation or due to lack of support.
My opinion is that getting along with the in-laws is the icing on the cake. The cake is your marriage. If you look around you would realise that it is quite difficult to have a great marriage as it is, so why add additional people to the equation and complicate your life? It is great if you can get along fantastically with your in-laws but if you can’t, I think it is no big deal. Women would never let their friends/relatives/colleagues walk all over them, the way many DILs let their in-laws do. I do understand that many people do not like confrontations but sometimes, we have to fight it out, set boundaries and cut out toxic relationships if need be. On an average, we form a relationship with our in-laws well into our adulthood. It is not like we invested the last 30 years of our life nurturing the relationship and have difficulties letting go. It is enough if we can be civil and sit through a dinner without yelling or scratching each others eyes out.
“They are my husband’s parents, how can I stop talking to them?”
Yes, you can. You don’t have to engage in long conversations beyond civil greetings and polite meals. That does not mean that your husband should stop talking to his parents or your guilt trip him every time he talks to them. He can talk and visit all he wants.
“I live in the same house as my in-laws.”
Please move out. In my opinion, moving out is one of the best things one can do for their marriage, especially if it is an arranged one where the woman doesn’t know her spouse well. I blogged about it here. Besides, we can’t get along with everyone in our class or in office. What do we do? Fight every time? No, we just be polite and avoid unnecessary interactions. Same in this case.
Involvement Interference from family and levels allowed is something a couple needs to discuss before marriage, especially if one or both partners is from a traditional or patriarchal culture. I am surprised at how DILS are caught by surprise when their husbands keep quiet or by how much his aunty has a say in your life. Most people avoid discussing these things but they need to be talked about. How much is the acceptable level of interference and how will your spouse protect you (from them)?
Is it okay if your mom dictates my clothes? Will you tell her not to bother me or keep quiet? Do they get to tell me to do puja daily? Can I refuse and answer back if I don’t agree with them? Can I refuse to cook if I am tired? Does my family have equal access to us like your parents? Do I get to argue the way I do with my parents?
Of course, we have to be nice and kind like we treat all guests and people we meet for the first time. I am not asking you to start your relationship with your in-laws on the warpath. That doesn’t mean you let them walk all over you. It is way easier if you set your boundaries the first time something bothers you than wait for it to happen 20 times before you voice it out because people are conditioned to you obeying. Yes, voicing it out gives you the title of an arrogant/difficult DIL where the norm is obedient but it is a choice you have to make – get the good DIL badge of honor (which is never gonna come) or make choices that make you happy.
I really feel DILs should let go of the need for approval and acceptance from their in-laws. That is really one of the most liberating things we can do. There is no badge for the perfect DIL but not giving a shit about people who don’t approve does improve the quality of your life dramatically.