So we’ve decided to get married. We’ve found the perfect partner. He ticks all the boxes on our spouse checklist and more. But wait a minute … what’s this? There’s a mother … and a father … an older brother … a younger brother … half a dozen sisters … nephews … nieces … But what does it mean? Does this mean the end of the marital paradise we had only just been envisaging?
All too often, when we are looking to get married, we focus on the person we are hoping to wed – his character and attributes. We forget that he may come with an entourage, and a large one at that. Or we may insist that we live completely separate from ‘the family’ as we fear them taking over our lives, and in doing so ensure that we remain ‘outlaws’ and outsiders whilst our husbands become human ping pong balls.
Of course, there are families in which, no matter what we do, we will remain the outlaw. There are mothers who will never see their sons as anything but theirs and we will be cast as the ‘other woman’ from the moment we agree to marry their sons. So what do we do? Hold out for an orphan? Not too many of them around. Below are some ways we might overcome some of the difficulties that might arise during the course of our marriages.
Anything done for the sake of Allah (SWT), fi sabeelillah, cannot be wrong. Marriage and relationships founded on the wish to please Him and Him alone seem to be easier despite the hardships they inevitably encounter. Intentions will need to be continually renewed as there will be times that our egos may take a little hammering, particularly when we feel we have done something well, for the right reasons, or have worked hard but have not been acknowledged. For example, we’ve invited all the in-laws around for dinner, slaved all day in the kitchen and been the most gracious of hostesses, only for the food and/or the house and/or our clothes and/or any number of things to be either criticised or looked down upon. I recall hearing from a Shaykh that when our egos become bruised, we need to examine the extent to which our nafs was involved in what we did. The degree to which we are hurt is the degree to which we acted according to our nafs and in search of praise and appreciation. When we do things with the intention of servitude to Allah (SWT), then the reward is ours whether or not others acknowledge what we have done.
Think of own family and parents
‘Do unto others as we would have done unto us’. Imagine how we would like to see our own family, and, in particular, our parents treated. Yes, as clarified in the May edition of Sisters (Caring for our parents: finding the balance) a son is responsible for the care of his own parents and a wife’s duty is to her own, but what harm would it do to aid our husbands in the care of their parents. Would we not wish the same from our partners and the spouses of our own siblings towards our parents? Showing the level of care towards our in-laws that we show our own parents can serve to increase the love between us, especially when they know that we are not in any way duty-bound or obligated to do so but that we choose to do it.
Step into our mother-in-law’s shoes
Or any of our in-laws’ footwear. Just as things are changing for us as a consequence of our marriage, so they change for them. Perhaps not to the same degree for all the in-laws but, even so, an adjustment is necessary to accommodate the addition to the family. Think about a new addition to our own lives, either through marriage or birth: how the person who is now married or has given birth is no longer available in the same way. Likewise, we need to be sensitive to what our in-laws might perceive as a loss. If we can show them that they are in fact gaining rather than losing, we will have achieved a tremendous thing. Also, if we remind ourselves that our husbands’ mothers, our mothers-in-law, can never be repaid by their sons for bearing and rearing them, as no mother can be, we can remain appreciative of what they have done – particularly if our husbands are kind, loving, and well-mannered.
Get to know each member of your new family individually when and if possible by spending time with them, with and without your husband. As we know, any relationship requires time and effort and what we put in is often what we get out. Make the effort and you will, bi’idhnillah, reap the rewards.
Have a discussion, preferably before marriage, about how you and your spouse will handle different scenarios that might arise, alongside what you expect from each other with regards to your families. If you are clear from the outset what is wanted, then problems are less likely to occur and if they do, you know where you stand. Talking about things as they arise and expressing yourselves facilitates understanding, whilst keeping quiet and bottling things up creates tension. Always consider it as teamwork; you are on the same side wanting what is best for each other and for the family as a whole. If you do, it is more probable that the two of you will to work together as opposed to against each other.
Patience and gratitude
Focus on the positive characteristics. Be grateful for these. Be patient with the difficult stuff. We all need to remind ourselves of how much we have and how much worse off we could always be. Sabr and shukr, as they say, are wonderful things.
Be respectful but be just
We also need to remember that our in-laws are our husbands’ blood relatives as well as our children’s. Some, especially the parents-in-law, will be our elders and as such, we need to be respectful – but that does not mean we should put up with anything:
“O you who believe! Stand firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even if it be against yourselves, your parents, and your relatives, or whether it be against the rich or poor …” (An-Nisa: 135)
… Do not oppress and do not be oppressed.” (Al-Baqarah: 279)
The Messenger of Allah (SAW) said: ‘Help your brother, whether he is an oppressor or is oppressed.’ A man asked: ‘O Messenger of Allah! I (know how to) help him when he is oppressed, but how can I help him when he is an oppressor?’ He (SAW) said: ‘You can restrain him from committing oppression. That will be your help to him.’ (Bukhari & Muslim)
For instance, if a mother-in-law insists on you doing something that is culturally a tradition but is outside the bounds of Islam, for example, hugging your adult brother-in-law, you can simply state that this is something you are not willing to do and provide an explanation if necessary and asked for. I am aware that things can feel pressured when these sorts of differences arise. However, if you are firm but polite, confident yet compassionate, then, insha Allah, the message will get across.
The relationship with in-laws can be a difficult one or it can be a fruitful one. We need to recognise our part in making it a success and work towards it. If we do, we will become part of the family and the days of being an outlaw will be far behind us, bi’idhnillah.
Khalida Haque is a qualified Integrative Counsellor/Psychotherapist with an independent practice whilst also being Counselling Service Co-ordinator for Nour. She has varied clinical experience that includes working with elders.