Tuesday, August 25, 2009

In-Law Advice: What Husbands Should Do

In case I didn't make it amply clear in this post, there's one person I blame if a woman's in-laws aren't nice to her: her husband. So if you're an (Indian) husband, I hope this post will help you ensure that your wife isn't unhappy because of how your parents treat her.

First, make sure you know how she's being treated. Not just when you're present, but also when you're not. Listen for clues: how do they speak of her when she's not there? How do they speak of her to neighbours/friends/other relatives? Do they show consideration for her likes and dislikes when you're invited for a meal? Do they ask about her day, or just about yours? Do they talk to her as a person, or just as a part of the couple the two of you form? Do they refrain from commenting on her fashion or lifestyle choices (whether she wears short skirts, or drinks, or works late) even though they might not agree with them? But just listening is not enough: ask your wife what she thinks of your parents and how they treat her. Don't wait for her to seethe and hurt and finally tell you when the dam bursts.

Second, when they say anything in the least disparaging or rude, stand up for her at once. For instance, if they say, "If only you would wear a sari..." say, "Oh no, saris are so uncomfortable! I think she looks lovely in jeans!" If they say, "It's sad that you have to work such long hours, my dear," you say, "Why? She's successful and she enjoys her work. I'm so proud of her!" Make it clear that you approve of her choices, that you support her lifestyle and her decisions, and that you will not brook criticism of her.

Third, block their attempts at interfering in your life. Suppose they say: "I know Asha thinks it's too soon to try for a baby, but..." You say: "Asha and I have talked over it and we agree." "I wish you would move back to our city." You say: "Asha and I agree living in this city is better for our careers. You know you're always welcome to visit."

Fourth, make sure you always treat your wife with respect. If you raise your voice at her, you are sending the message that it's okay to treat her that way. If you don't listen when she's speaking or greeting her with a smile (at least!) when she comes home, you're belittling her presence in your life. Be extra careful about this for the first year or so (after which I hope it'll come naturally), when your parents are trying to know her and gauge your relationship. Once they accept how much you respect her, they are much more likely to respect her too.

The bottomline: always make it clear that your wife is the most important person in your life. Your parents should realise that insulting/hurting her will result in you liking them less. If they continue to disrespect her you should shut them out of your life: but if you make it clear from the beginning that you'll go that far if need be, you may never need to.


Dr. Ally Critter said...

Good advice, Unmana. This applies to the fair sex too- defend your partner from the world. It is essential not to let family interfere in a marriage.

Anonymous said...

Unmana I have seen this works. When a husband stands by the wife, she is unlikely to be harassed by the in laws.

dipali said...

This should be compulsory course material for any guy planning to get married!

Unmana said...

@lankr1ta: I agree. I am also thinking of doing a similar post for wives.

IHM: I'm glad you agree.

Dipali: Glad you like it. I wish some men would comment too, though!

Unknown said...

i did not want my husband to stand up for me.

i married the guy and not his family.

and so when in-laws make comments to me i answered them.

logic: they commented to me, not my husband - same goes the other way , when my parents make comments to my husband, he answers them NOT me.

Sindhu said...

It is such a coincidence that I came across your blog (from IHM's blog).. I just wrote a post this morning regarding a similar situation.

Adding you to my blogroll. I need more feminists :)

Indian in NZ said...

I agree Unmana, 100%. But if a husband is not able to stand up for his wife ( due to the way he is brought up or conditioned ) then I think he shouldn't really interfere if his wife stands up for herself and should not hold that against her.

I know there are some men who wouldn't be able to stand up and support their wife so vocally but then they shouldn't mind if the wife does that herself.

Anonymous said...

@unmana - agree with anrosh.Solve it on a case by case basis, between concerned parties.In an argument, the more ppl get involved, the more complicated it becomes.Take it like any other argument ,where you wouldnt not expect your husband to stand for you, right?

Unmana said...

Anrosh, lostonthestreet: If you would prefer to stand up for yourself, good for you. I feel the relationship between son and parents is closer than between daughter-in-law and parents-in-law, so the son should be able to put his views forward with less antagonism than if his wife did the same. Sometimes the woman might be reluctant to retort for fear of being considered rude. Besides, the point I'm making is that the parents-in-law are less likely to harass the daughter-in-law if the son stands up for her.

Sindbad: Thank you. I'll go over and read.

2 B's Mommy: Oh, I totally agree. What I've put up here is ideal: not everyone can do this a hundred percent. The basic principle being that the husband should make it clear that he totally supports his wife.

Ham Actor said...

I totally agree with your views.

Monika said...

Lovely post there. I agree with all that u've said here. In fact if your fourth rule is followed , everything else will automatically fall in place.

Unmana said...

Siva: I'm so glad that a man is commenting - and agreeing!

Monika,Ansh: Yes, the fourth one is really the key, isn't it?

Rohini said...

Very well written. My Inlaws are basically very good people and care a lot for me. but my MIL has this peculiar habit of picking up minor mistakes in everything. Not just with me but with her own daughter. The SIL has the freedom to retort and do whatever she wants but I am considerably new in the family and haven't stayed with them at all. When my MIL points out something that I haven't done(though its impossible to be done in the US), the husband stands up for me and tells her that it cannot be done and he doesn't want me to go out of the way and do everything. He tells me that its her habit to point out minor problems in everything, and that he can understand I cannot answer her back. So, he jumps in and tackles her! :)
But yes, its very important for a person to stand for his/her spouse in front of their respective families. If they old enough to get married and have kids, they are old enough to handle problems themselves. Advice should be given only when solicited.

Unmana said...

Rohini: Exactly. I'm glad to know of one more person whose in-laws are nice and whose husband stands up for her!

Itchingtowrite said...

wonderful post . Dipali directed me to this.
And I also think that "no comments" from teh husband towards any act is as good as silent support... which more often than not encourages the IL's nasty behaviour

Sue said...

Well written. The last line, especially, resonated for me because that's how I handled things with my parents. Vicky took longer but in the end I think he conveyed the same message. This marriage wouldn't have survived otherwise.

Unmana said...

Itchingtowrite: I assume you mean support towards the in-laws?

Sue: If the relationship between the couple is strong, other people can only be limited trouble, don't you think?

Sue said...

You've just triggered off a post. It's not that simple. BTW, your remark will only be tangential to the post.

Sujeet Pillai said...

Yeah.. I don't agree with a lot of this. I believe wives should respond to a lot of that on their own without husbands having to 'defend' them. And I think you sell in-laws severely short. A lot of stuff parents say is mainly related to their surroundings and how they've been brought up and their surroundings and frankly I'm not sure I want to "change" that.

Obviously I would stand up for my wife if she was being 'harassed' but a lot of what you put down as harassment seems way exaggerated.
Criticism of working late, how we lead our lives is constant from our parents (both sides) and it's not solely aimed at our wives, it's aimed at us as well.

I believe a successful family life (not just you, your husband and kids, but everyone including your parents and your in-laws) require a considerable amount of compromise and understanding and less of 'me-vs-you', 'us-vs-them' mentality.

Somehow I get the feeling that this post attributes extra individuality to the wife (and the husband) and less to the in-laws and parents which I don't consider fair.

Sujeet Pillai
(A reasonably successful husband)

Unmana said...

Sujeet: I believe that parents (or anyone else) do not have a right to criticise our lifestyle choices: and of course the same goes for in-laws too. It's just that it's easier to deal with it if your relative/friend is doing the criticising than if it's someone who you're not that close to but want to be polite to (like an in-law). Which is why I expect the spouse to step in at that point.

I don't see criticising someone's lifestyle as expressing your individuality - I see it simply as being rude.

Sujeet Pillai said...

Disagree with you there. I think everyone who's related or even close to me has the right to criticize my lifestyle choices. How would I know how to improve without having criticism?

You just have to know what to stand up to, what to accept and what to just ignore!

I'd prefer if my wife behaved as an individual towards my side of the family so that they begin to treat her and consider her an individual. I want us to be individuals first and a couple later in everyone's eyes.


Unmana said...

Sujeet: If you know what to accept and what to reject, why do you need anyone to comment on what you do?

See, this question only arises if you have the kind of Indian parent who expects to be treated with deference because you are an in-law. If they don't mind being treated like normal people and your wife can argue with them without them getting offended, I see no problem at all.

Unmana said...

Sorry for the typo in the last comment: they are the in-laws, of course, not you.

Sue said...

So, I didn't write my post because of unrelated reasons but my point was this:

Given that your post is all about laying down guidelines in the initial stages of a marriage, it stands to reason that very few husbands and wives will have a strong enough bond already to be able to withstand in-law pressures.

It helps of course, if you’ve been dating a while and it helps even more if each partner is aware of the failings and negatives of his/her parents, but the pressure is the worst just when the bond between you and your husband is at its weakest. Most of us survive but our marriages bear the scars. For a newly married couple to already have a relationship strong enough to withstand criticism is asking for too much. It may happen but I haven’t seen it.

So yeah, in ideal settings, the sentiment makes sense. In actual reality, not so much. In fact, I think it’s more to the point if brides are taught that their marriages are probably the most fragile immediately after the ceremony and that a lack of support then does not really mean a lack of love or respect. It could mean that, of course, but not necessarily so.

Sorry for the long response. I basically pasted the relevant portion from the post I didn't publish.

dipali said...

You make total sense, Sue.
This sounds like a sensible bridge between the real and the ideal worlds we all inhabit. And of course, in our particularly skewed desi world, a guy who speaks up for his wife is called
a joru ka ghulam. I guess he ought to be out of the family home and on his own before he marries.

Sue said...

Dipali, I'm with you on men needing to be in their own home before getting married. Life is a wee bit simpler that way for everybody concerned. Either that or a joint household with clearly demarcated duties and private spaces!

Unmana, sorry for the chitter chatter, am off finally. Thanks. :)

Unmana said...

Sue: Please don't apologise. I love that you put in so much thought into this - I wish you HAD done a post!

I agree with you, especially in case of arranged marriages. But I still think that's the easiest and the best way to resist in-law pressures. I agree it's not always possible. But I do think the best way is if the couple know and understand each other well before they get married.

And I totally agree with Dipali too! In fact, I think for one that everyone should live away from their parents for a bit before they get married, and second, they should have a separate establishment when they do get married.

Okay, follow-up post for wives coming up!

Sujeet Pillai said...

I think that is a stereotype - The typical indian in-law who wishes to be treated with deference. There may be people like that but that's definitely not universally applicable. Plus commenting on a daughter-in-law's dressing style does not necessarily make the f/mIL reflect that stereotype.

Regarding criticism, I woulnd't be half the man I am if I didn't hear other people's views about me and my lifestyle. And some of those views, I couldn't have come up with sitting in an armchair.

All this being said, I believe a man who cannot stand up and defend his wife for the things that he feels is right has more serious problems than in-law trouble.

Being a good husband I believe is simple. It's just the same as being a man with integrity!


Unmana said...

Sujeet: Sorry for the delay. I wrote a reply to your comment in my head, but my trip and the problems with the laptop prevented me from actually recording it here.

I wish I could believe it was a stereotype: unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be true, from all I read and hear.

Sujeet Pillai said...

Are you sure your data universe doesn't contain only the stereotypical datapoints! Statistics can be so deceiving at times.

If you go to a gay club and do a poll on hetero vs homosexuality, I'm sure you'll have a surprising result!

Anonymous said...

These are good tips, but frankly I feel that it is difficult for men to follow. Invariably relationships get set by the time the kids are adults, and this includes the way one behaves towards one's parents. For example if a son is not used to contradicting his parents (even if he disagrees) then its going to be difficult for him to defend his wife. Usually the guys sit on the fence, not knowing what to do. Its not that they don't know that their mother is wrong (well, the good ones) but often don't want to have a confrontation. On the other hand there are kids who are used to being frank with their parents and can tell them anything they want. Its easier for these sons to speak out. If they don't then something is seriously wrong.
Most guys who sit on the fence do not mind it if their wife speaks up. However this can spoil the relationship between the DIL and MIL so I think ideally the son should speak up. But well, if the MIL can forgive the DIL, its okay I guess. So its difficult to say which is right.

Anonymous said...

Writing another comment to say that your blogger settings do not allow me to comment under my own name. My username is not Nita, and its Nita that I would like to comment under. I think if you change your blogger settings, you will be able to allow people like me to comment under my own name.

Unmana said...

Sujeet: It's not statistical evidence, only anecdotal. I was just surprised by the number of stories of difficult in-laws around the blogosphere (and, to a lesser extent, in real life). Sure, you're more likely to write about a problem you have than about one you don't. And I have no idea what the ratio of good to bad in-laws is. But I'm surprised, in this day and age, people treat their daughters-in-law badly and expect them to put up with it (and some of them do).

Nita: Yes, this is what I would like to see happen. Unless we talk of what should be, it's difficult to get there, isn't it? I do think part of the problem is sons treating their parents as gods and refusing to confront them. In this case though, I suppose the woman's in-laws aren't her biggest problem.

I'll look into my blog settings and see what I can do.

Anonymous said...

Reached here via IHM. Loved the post! Every girl should print this and show it to her fiancée!

Unmana said...

partywithneha: Thank you, and welcome here.

wanderlust said...

you're a grownup, not a kid who needs constant feedback about the world. why do you want other people doing the thinking for you?
your words remind me of this aesop's fable: http://www.kidsgen.com/moral_stories/you_cannot_please_everyone.htm

Sujeet Pillai said...

I never said I let others do my thinking for me. But to say that all of my knowledge has come from 'internal reflection' rather than listening to other external points of view would be a serious error on my part.

I don't wish to please everyone, just the ones I care for!

Finally, please do not denigrate me by calling me a grownup! JK.. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Lovely advice you have given there Unmana.. Def must read for all husbands :)