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Harmony in the home

Thursday, July 12, 2018

It takes understanding and transparent relationships for the two ladies in the house to get along, says Dr Parul Tank

The Mother-in-law Daughter-in-law  (MIL-DIL) Syndrome occurs when the two ladies of the house do not get along, resulting in tension, affecting the overall atmosphere at home. These issues have always been present, but it has become even more prominent in today's changing times. The phrase ‘And they lived happily ever after’ should have come with a clause of ‘the in-laws lived happily ever after’!

New-age women are known to be empowered as they earn independently, achieve higher education and manage their own finances. Without complete control of their fathers, brothers or even husbands, they have set their own standards. This however, creates a discord when women have to obey the rules or norms set by their in-laws, especially the mother-in-law, in understanding the various dynamics and rules of the house.

The problem

  • These skills are not taught and every daughter in-law has a different story to tell, some even more bizarre or hilarious than the others
  • The unhappy daughter in-law, unable to cope with the control over small but important issues, seeks assurance from her husband or parents. If these are unheard or shrugged aside, it leads to further discontentment and issues in the marriage
  • Most couples speak about in-laws controlling the decision-making arena, interference on the  daughter in-law’s way of living, choices she makes or what she does in general.
  • When asked, the mother-in-law often justifies that it is in good intent, that she is giving advice so that 'children' don't make these mistakes and she doesn't mean to control them or their decisions.

Areas of conflict

  • The differences generally crop up after the 'honeymoon' phase is over. It is difficult to put a time frame on when conflicts begin, but it is often in the first few years of marriage. The conflicts are because of the adjustment to new experiences, new cuisine, and a new way of daily living
  • Often, the common causes revolve around control and contribution to household finances if a woman is working, contribution to household chores and control on choices like the vegetables to be made, quantity, type of household items to be bought and so on.
  • Negotiating these issues and accepting all the above can be difficult. These issues can arise even if women don't live with in-laws or are visiting for a short time.

What's the way forward?

  • There’ is not always one side to every story told. It is important to maintain a transparent relationship under one roof. With times changing, egos have to be altered to maintain the decorum of the home.
  • Seek couples counselling to understand as a couple, where they stand.
  • It is difficult for MILs and DILs to become best friends. But a more stable path can be for the DIL to realise that the husband may not support her in the first few months as he has never faced this conflict before, and can't imagine being pointed out that his mother's decisions are wrong.
  • Women seeking counselling are aware that issues are often petty, but intrude on their privacy and decision-making space. By challenging the system, nothing will work in one’s favour. Rather, be vocal and come to a conclusion on what must be done.
  • For the MIL, it is important for her to lay down certain expectancies in a subtle way, without implying force; these will only be perceived in a negative manner. Give rational explanations as to why it is expected.
  • Coping skills should be taught, so that women can negotiate better and become assertive rather than becoming aggressive or being meek and feeling frustrated.
  • Practice tolerance to cope with minor issues, rather than making every issue a big issue.
  • For the new age mother-in-law, it is time to learn to respect another woman's wishes and decisions even if they don't fit in. She will learn from her own mistakes. It's also time the Indian mother-in-law learnt empathy and try to understand to let go.

Dr Parul Tank is Consultant Psychiatrist, Fortis Hospital, Mulund

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