What Are the Signs of In-Law Abuse?

Living with south asian in-laws

By MySahana @mysahana

This article was first published here:

The relationship with in-laws has been stereotypically a tenuous one. Many people struggle with maintaining a positive, healthy and meaningful relationship with their in-laws. For many South Asians, it is about managing different generational, cultural and traditional values between the parents-in-law and children in law. Respecting culture and tradition are important for maintaining a healthy and positive relationship with in-laws. However, culture and traditions should not be explanations for what is otherwise apparently abusive behavior.

Abusive behavior toward their children’s spouses is something that is very common amongst South Asian families. This abuse is not only reserved for daughters-in-law but also for sons-in-law as well. Recognizing the signs of emotional abuse is necessary to maintain healthy relationships within the family as well as to maintain positive mental health for the son or daughter in law as well.

* Name-calling or belittling
* Derogatory comments at your expense
* Unreasonable expectations
* Dominating behavior in a way to control your actions
* Emotional blackmail
* Invalidation or minimizing your feelings
* Unpredictable responses
* Repeated criticism
* Screaming at you
* Threatening you
* Humiliation in public or private

These are all examples of emotional abuse, however, abuse an be presented in numerous different ways. If your gut is telling you that there is something wrong with how you are being treated, it is a good indication your in laws are emotionally abusing you.

While daughters and sons-in-law want to respect their spouses parents, a clear boundary must be placed to prevent abuse from occurring in any of the relationships. Without recognizing the signs of abuse, the marriage as well as the relationship between the in-laws will suffer. If children are present in the family, they will learn inappropriate and unhealthy communication patterns from the in-laws. They will also suffer from the consequences of witnessing abusive behavior.

Most importantly, the son or daughter-in-law’s self-esteem will suffer and this can have long-lasting consequences for all relationships, personal and professional. Finally, resentment can build in the relationship to the point of permanently damaging it.

If you find that your in-laws are being abusive towards you, speak to your partner about your concerns. Be specific in your examples when you’re expressing your concern. Make sure that this conversation occurs when you both are ready to have it and when your partner is open to hearing your thoughts. This is a sensitive subject for both partners, so care must be taken when expressing these concerns. Make sure to speak them gently and to be very clear to your partner that you do not wish for him/her to be in the middle.

It is important that you and your partner come to a joint conclusion on how to stop this abusive behavior from occurring. For some couples, this means seeing or speaking to the in-laws less frequently and for other couples it involves having a sit-down conversation with one or both of you to express your concerns directly. Whatever works for you and your partner, it is essential that abuse is never accepted in any relationship.

Learn more about the signs and symptoms of emotional abuse. Please leave your comments below.


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  1. Sarah

    I’m really glad that you have brought this issue up. It is so common in South Asian culture it’s almost a tradition in and of itself! I see so many girls today and know a few who are near and dear to me who are suffering at the hands of “well-intentioned” in-laws who can’t get past the generational or cultural divide. In-laws have overly traditional expectations, for example (ie: girl wants to work) and use that as a means of degrading the girl’s self-worth and driving a wedge between their son and his wife. I know that many in-laws won’t see their behaviour as abuse because mental / emotional issues have traditionally been downplayed in our communities as weakness…but it’s time that changed. Thank you for bringing this to light.


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