The Men in Our Lives

A Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

Lately, we seem to be discussing a lot of situations regarding dil-mil issues.  In India, I’ve commonly heard this advice being given to dils: “C’mon, cut your mil some slack.  Wait until you become one.  Then you will feel the same way.  Understand her insecurities.  How would YOU feel when your son gets married and moves away?”

But these are not dil-mil issues.  At the root, these are husband-wife issues.  The mil is not a monster (am not referring to exceptions here).  Some mils are good people and some are not.  They are human, like everyone else, and come in many shades of goodness/badness. The average Indian mil is not inherently evil.  Rather, the husband is being an escapist and is reaping a double advantage here.

The previous generation mil is not evil, she is feeling insecure because

– she’s never been given an education (in many cases) or even if she’s educated, hasn’t been given an opportunity to pursue a career or interest, or even if she does have a career or an interest, doesn’t have true autonomy in her life (all financial and other major decisions were made by her husband)
–  in most cases, she’s never had hobbies, interests, or passions, these were seen as an inconvenience to the family who would rather be served hand and foot and adults in the household would rather be babies than do their own laundry
– she’s never had any friends or time to herself to go for a walk, read, see a movie, or just chill
she was never allowed the right to her own feelings, she MUST always feel a certain way (loving and giving to the family and completely selfless), she is not allowed to feel irritable, impulsive, angry, or disappointed at the way she gets treated by her own husband and in-laws.  (imagine how unhealthy this is for the mind and how it begins to distort someone’s thinking) She must always serve with a smile.  She couldn’t do anything on a whim. She couldn’t even visit her own parents without permission.
– she was not allowed opinions of her own.  If she disagreed on what should be done about a piece of property or how the money should be invested, she was seen as controlling.
– she did not receive much love or affection from her husband (this is downright cruel to any human being).  Whatever little warmth she received was very much conditional. If she did an outstanding job of cooking for 20+ guests, he would be nice to her in a pleased sort of way (without her realization, she got “trained” to “earn” love in a very specific way – through cooking and cleaning mostly, and giving up on her ‘self’).

(At this point, if you are a dil, you must be thinking, ‘So what?  Just because I was abused doesn’t mean I will go and abuse someone else.’  And yes, there are always exceptions.  Some mils who themselves suffered constrained lives could be happy for their dil’s opportunities, freedom, and happiness.  But, I’m not referring to exceptions here.  In many cases, the mils feel like they’ve finally been given a little bit of control – what they don’t understand is that to be genuinely happy, what we humans need is control over our OWN life, not SOMEONE ELSE’s).

– So, the previous gen mil began to look to her son as the “man” in her life.  At least the son is more openly affectionate – even if he is being a big baby and wants his shirts ironed and his meals cooked just so (nothing wrong with affection between mother and son, but in many Indian families, it takes on unhealthy nuances).
– Now when the son gets married she loses this little piece of warmth that sustained her and made all the trouble worth it.  Imagine giving up everything – your feelings, opinions, dreams, basic rights.  There’s only one last straw you are hanging on to – your children, or more precisely your son that society allows you (even approves of) to hang on to and get unhealthily attached to.
– The daughter-in-law comes into this complicated, messed up situation, rightly expects her husband to value her, but realizes she has to contend with someone else (mil) who is entirely unhappy about her happiness.
– Dil immediately starts seeing the mil as the ‘enemy’.

But there are 2 men lurking in the shadows that are responsible for this commonly unfortunate situation.
– One is the f-i-l who never treated his wife (the m-i-l) as an adult, as an equal, as a person with a right to her own feelings, opinions, desires, and dreams.  As someone who needed love and affection and emotional support from him.  As someone who needed him to share household and parenting duties.  As someone who could have achieved her full potential (as a writer/artist/teacher/banker/engineer/entrepreneur/blogger/chef/etc) if he had supported her education, her growth, and her talents. (Even in the older generation, I’ve seen a few exceptions of loving couples and in these cases, invariably, the mil is a better person, more reasonable, generous, loving to her dil)

– The second male lurking in the shadows that is responsible for all the drama is the husband (the m-i-l’s son).  He has never been an adult.  He doesn’t like picking up after himself.  His mom has done it for him all his life.  Now, he expects his wife to take over mom’s role.  If the wife complains she is working a full time job like him and can’t baby him, he pouts and conveniently let’s his mom take up this issue with dil.

– I’m not implying that all men are evil.  Some are genuinely good men, but deeply conditioned and trapped in guilt.   For many sons, it’s psychological – they are good men, genuinely trying to break out of this Oedipus complex type of situation and trying hard to have a healthy, guilt-free relationship with their wives.  But it’s hard and they’re struggling. Any attempt they make at bonding with their wives is accompanied by labels that imply that they are lesser men and tremendous guilt.  Move out of parental home? You are deserting parents! Guilt!  Buying a car for your wife and yourself?  You are splurging while parents are suffering!  Guilt!  Taking a vacation? Putting off having kids?  Visiting wife’s parents?  Guilt, guilt, guilt!

– And then there are sons for whom it’s convenient to not acknowledge that they have a role to play in this conflict.  It’s convenient to not take responsibility.  It’s convenient to dismiss the whole thing as a “women’s problem”.  They’re simply being selfish. They shift the blame on to the women (“women are women’s worst enemies”) and reap the benefits of being fought over for attention, and being served, while also being amused at the “silliness/pettiness” of women and allow themselves to feel superior.

– Regardless of whether the men are good (struggling to break out of conditioning) or selfish (and acting in ways that are convenient to them), ultimately they MUST hold themselves responsible and the wives MUST HOLD THEIR HUSBANDS RESPONSIBLE – for both husband and wife to be happy.

– What Indian women REALLY need to do is change the expectations they have for their husbands, rather than seeing their mils as enemies.

And now the answer to the question that is commonly asked of women of my generation: “What will YOU do when you become a mil?  When YOUR son gets married and moves away?  Will you not feel sad and insecure?”

The answer would be a ‘NO’ from most women who HAVE been given an education, and the opportunity to pursue a career, who were allowed to have control over their own lives and destinies.  The answer would be ‘no’ from any woman who’s been loved and treated as an equal by her husband.   Such women can love their sons but also be happy for their sons when they find love (and not feel insecure).  In fact, they would WANT that for their sons.  So, yes, it IS possible to both love your children AND set them free.

In fact I’m seeing this all around me – with my sister who is 10 years older to me and has married kids, with friends in their 50s who’s children are beginning to meet and date people. The mothers are no longer jealous or insecure.  They have a life.  They have interests.  They have friends.  They have a more fun, enriching relationship with their own husbands.  The cycle IS breaking.  We are the in-between generation.  We ARE breaking the cycle.

Yes, women need to be assertive   – but Indian men need to change as well.  That change won’t happen unless we expect it or demand it.  If we keep blaming the mils, there is no incentive for the husbands to change.  Secondary relationships can sometimes be draining on the primary relationship.  It is up to the 2 people in the primary relationship to prioritize their relationship.  For that to happen,  we Indian women need to start having higher expectations for the men in our lives.

I want to know how readers view this stance – that the responsibility for making a relationship work belongs to the 2 people involved and cannot be assigned to extraneous people or factors. Specifically I want to understand the challenges –

  • Do you and your husband consider your relationship the primary one (please know that this does not mean we stop loving our parents or our children, it just means that it begins with US – the biggest decisions will be made by US – our life and it’s direction will be defined by US)
  • Do you make all major decisions that concern each other by yourselves (and together) or do parents play a role?
  • Do you feel the need to constantly explain your choices?
  • Have you tried to assert yourself , and create your own space?
  • What is getting in the way of asserting yourself?
  • Do you live in your own space or with the husband’s parents? Do you think this arrangement is working? If not, why not? What would you like to do about it?
  • Have you tried to set boundaries, and if so, how?
  • What is the one thing you would like your husband to do? Are there more things? (here I’m talking about significant human needs like emotional support, a sense of belonging, avenues for fun. I’m not referring to how he loads the dishwasherJ)
  • Finally, and most importantly, was your husband able to overcome his Indian culture conditioning (guilt, unhealthy attachment, etc.) and does he now have a happy, guilt-free fulfilling life with you? If so, how did he get from A to B?
  • And readers who are not married, please feel free to express your views based on what you see in your own families – siblings/cousins/aunts/uncles or among friends.



99 thoughts on “The Men in Our Lives

  1. Excellent post!
    I feel like living with one’s parents or in-laws is just like living with roomies. You may hate them or love them but still get annoyed with trivial things like keeping toothpaste tube upside down.
    Live alone or live together. Just live with maturity and acceptance of human behavior.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Roomies implies equality. But what if one of your roomies think they must be served by you? That they can tell you what to wear or how to cook and when to go on vacation? That’s where it all breaks down.


      • What I am saying is, in laws can be perfect. And so can parents. Yet it can break down. So choose how you want to live. Living separately to keep relations intact is a very mature decision and shouldn’t induce guilt.


        • Actually this applies to husband and wife as well. Don’t see any logic in two persons always living together at all times under all conditions. Marriage is such an antiquated concept. Women must shun it, and so should men. Women can’t have their cake and eat it too.


        • But that part ‘women can’t have their cake and eat it too’. I like. I have an issue with women taking up the general seats in buses like a boss. They can stand. It’s not bad. :-/ I have deviated from the topic clearly.


      • This is a reply to PrincessButter in the comment where she says women shouldn’t take up general seats.

        Thing is, that’s not necessarily wrong. General seat is for everyone and not reserved for men. So technically there’s nothing stopping them from occupying said seats like a boss. Annoying if women’s seats are available, but they are well within their rights.


        • It’s not cool when there are men standing. Who are equally tired. I have seen women sitting with older men standing and on general seats. That is so not cool. I am not opposing women traveling in general class which is 70% of the train. It’s the bus seats, Where 50% seats are reserved.


        • @princessbutter
          The reservation is not 50 % everywhere. For example, in the public buses in Bangalore, the reserved seats include two for handicapped & two for senior citizens(both men and women) – bringing the total number of women-only seats to 12/16 in a 40+/60+ capacity bus. I’ve noticed the disparity in numbers in most states across India.

          And the tacit understanding is “if you’re a girl and don’t want to be groped stick to the reserved section, even if you have to stand on one leg.”

          As Sundar says, the general seats are meant for everyone.So I don’t really understand this issue with women sitting in seats while older men are standing.
          Funnily, no one asks the younger men to get up and give up their seats.
          Also, you’ll rarely see an older woman get into the general section and ask for a seat; but you WILL see an older man get into the women’s section and cuss at all the “stupid college going girls who are too heartless to give an old man a place to sit”.


        • I really think we are discussing this issue in the wrong way. What we require is more buses and better transport services in general so that everyone can travel with some degree of comfort. Moreover, public services for the elderly and handicapped are practically non-existent in this country. That must be dealt with too. There is no point in blaming young people who refuse to get up or in blaming elderly people who complain about those who are sitting. I am unable to find fault in either.

          We also need to keep in mind that both young men and women who sit and travel might not be as fit as they appear. With heart diseases and diabetes as well as a host of other illnesses that can sap the strength occurring at a younger age and are becoming more alarmingly frequent, we simply can’t judge a young man or woman who is choosing not to give up their seat.


      • You have tried to address too many issues in one post. Every generation has made dents in the system or else we’ll still be living in the stone age. If Premchand’s Nirmala raised a pertinent question why not to be reborn as a daughter, Tagore’s heroins were widows and challenging the system at their end. Every generation is in transition, to pat our backs because what we are doing is more up in the face visible is not anything great we are standing on the shoulders of giant mothers and MILs.

        There are enough tales of educated mean DILs I see every now and then who abuse the system that we struggled for. 498A abuse is a good example, we were the ones who protested in the streets and got our butts kicked with lathis so that everyone could benefit but those came after us started abusing it and those actually needed it for protection never got the benefit.

        The issue is we are stuck up in labels. We don’t want to give up the label of being traditional family oriented community with a modern outlook. What is that could anyone explain? Anytime there is a mention of self, self enhancement it is considered bad and selfish. The weak “cells” make weak “whole.” Deficits in emotional intelligence in each cell will and have preserved the whole for centuries while the scar tissue has only thickened thus creating a rotten whole.

        It was just yesterday Ravish Kumar of NDTV narrated on his FB page how he was a MIL yelling and shouting abuses at the DIL at the railway station while her idiot son and younger woman’s husband sat there oblivious to all that. What ravish did showed how things can change at all levels even though the immediate reaction of the oppressed was not so civil in the middle class terms.

        Our middle class privilege keeps us going round and round in self aggrandizement than take stock of the whole picture. Things will not just change by dancing around the issues at home, for a sustainable change we need to focus on institutional changes in education and public policy. How many of the bloggers on this forum go out of their comfort zone to talk about and participate in public policy?

        To win this war on patriarchy we need parallel battles at home and public arena. It is high time we start taking our responsibilities seriously here.
        Desi Girl


        • “You have tried to address too many issues in one post.”
          I find this statement a bit ironic:) I’m talking about unhealthy attachment between the mother and the son and the reasons behind it. And the consequences of it. That’s it.
          Your comment on the other hand brings up the entire patriarchy machine, it’s history, it’s ramifications and women’s struggles through the generations, and bloggers’ indifference/non-participation, labels, middle class families’ privilege, self aggrandizement and a host of other things.

          “Every generation has made dents in the system or else we’ll still be living in the stone age.”
          This is true for many things such as Sati, women’s education, child marriage, etc. However, this is not relevant to what I’m referring to – the mother-son attachment. We are very much where we were (in this regard) and just beginning to break out of it.

          “to pat our backs because what we are doing is more up in the face visible is not anything great”
          Actually I’m not patting my own back (am not a mil yet) nor am I patting the backs of the friends I know around me who are making great mils. I’m making a connection between their emotional needs being met and their ability to be generous human beings. There is nothing “great” about being a nice person. I’m noticing that this gen mils are nicer for a logical reason – they have been living far more humane lives.


        • Defensive? I’ve tried to answer all your questions and concerns and gave you logical reasons for my disagreement.
          “It is a big sand box everyone can play and learn.”
          Baffled. Where in my post or comment did I say I want to monopolize the field??

          Liked by 1 person

  2. -It is actually an individual’s issue, not thoroughly a ‘husband-wife issues’.
    -As much as the FIL & sons are at fault when it comes to mill-dil issues, the bigger fault lies with the mil for making them men the centre of her universe.
    -No dil sees her mil evil. The abuses the mil puts her through convinces her that the mil IS evil.
    -It is hard to digest a ppl pleaser (to her own in laws, husband, sons) could be so unpleasing to her dil. Why not continue and extend it to the dil? How come it stops just like that.
    -On the contrary, no level of education is too high or love is too deep, some mil are just happy to make life miserable. This, based on my own observations.


    • You are saying that ultimately the m-i-l is responsible for her own actions as she is an adult. I agree. And we can choose to judge her on her actions alone and ignore the events that shaped her. That is certainly one legitimate way to view things.
      But the husband is still responsible to make the relationship work. Whether the mil is a good or bad person doesn’t matter if the husband holds himself accountable (and is held accountable) for the relationship to remain fair to both parties.


    • Human beings crave power. For most Indian women, absolute power is granted only over the son and daughter-in-law. The woman’s ascent to power begins the day she gives birth to a son.

      Finally, as the years pass, the MIL goes from being lowest on the totem pole to being at the top of it.

      Here’s what happens: For about 30 odd years, the woman lives under the thumb of her in-laws and husband.

      All through these lonely years, the only person who is really her own is the son, whom she loves with every fibre in her being.

      The son grows up watching his mother’s silent struggles, the hurt, the disrespect and the neglect. He feels responsible for her happiness. After all, it was for him that the mother silently put up with years of neglect and disrespect.

      Meanwhile, the father-in-law, who was all-powerful once upon a time, who thought that it was his place to command and hers to acquiesce, is now old and outnumbered.

      At 65, his hold on the family is on the decline. His son resents him for all the years of neglect that his mother endured.

      Into this dysfunctional setup walks in an unsuspecting young woman, the new wife, eyes shining with dreams and hopes.

      The three co-dependent family member now struggle to form healthy relationships with the new daughter-in-law. She’s the outsider, the little-known stranger that nobody really trusts, including her own “husband”.

      The cycle repeats again. The husband is distant and wary. The mother-in-law feels threated and the father-in-law continues to live in denial.

      Welcome to the Average Indian Family!


      • Or, one becomes a “talking back, not raised well, disrespectful” bahu like me and live happily anyway 🙂 We Indians need to stop looking for outside acknowledgement. As long as we can stay courteous and dignified, I say screw the world. My happiness belongs to me alone!


        • I’ve realised, quite belatedly, that a life of dignity and self-respect is way more valuable than a life spent pandering to others, a life full of self-deprivation and frustration.


  3. Great post!
    Perceptive analysis of the situation.
    Looking forward to reading the comments.
    Am just wondering why in Indian families, it is usually a dil – mil problem, and never a dil – fil, or sil – mil or sil – fil problem.



    • Because as women, the dil and mil are on the lower rungs of the hierarchical/patriarchal setup. Hence they need to compete and fight for what they see as a limited resource – the approval of men, which is directly linked to their well being. If women’s well being no longer depended on the approval and pleasing of men, there would be no need to compete. Women could then create their own happiness (once barriers to happiness are removed). When we are happy, we can be happy for others.


    • I don’t think this is specific to Indian families- I think it’s a part of many cultures, although it may be more visible in Indian families since people often live in joint families and frictions arise more often (and also because the dil is often expected to pander to all wishes of the in-laws and live by their rules). I’m married to an American, and while I get along great with my in-laws it often surprises people here how often (and for how long) we stay over with them. People just assume that no one gets along with in-laws, especially the mil, she is made out to be this controlling menopausal freak! There’s also this movie Monster-in-law – Similar assumptions are made about sil-fil (that the fil never thinks the sil is good enough for his princess daughter), that probably isn’t very common in India.


      • Yes, we have ‘Meet the Parents’ where the son-in-law is trying to do his best to win over his suspicious father-in-law and comically failing. In American families, I’ve seen non-acceptance of both the son-in-law and the daughter-in-law in certain cases.

        The dynamic is different in Indian families. The in-law problems are not generic and have a specific nuance, one that is distinctly skewed in favor of men.. In (traditional) Indian families, the son-in-law is looked up to, seen as the source of the daughter’s well being and fortune, her ticket to acceptance and a place of honor in society. Hence to them, the son-in-law is someone to be placed on a pedestal. The daughter-in-law on the other hand is seen as a threat and must quickly be “trained” to cater to the best interests of the clan.


        • Son in law is looked up to only because Get married,STAY married is our Oxygen .
          Once Marriage loses its unhealthy importance, son in law will be seen as a mortal human too. Instead of worshipping him.


        • I think a lot of those comic situations seen in films are also inherently misogynist. The grown woman is treated like a property of the father, and the future husband has to please the current owner to become the future owner. Of course, ground realities can be very different because of lesser social acceptance of parental interference. But that does not negate the fact that in a lot of cases, teen girls and grown up women are treated as property, just in a different way.


        • Agree, many times in the movie I thought why can’t Teri Polo just tell her dad to kindly get lost if he didn’t like her husband. But instead she’s indulgent to him. They also show the situations in such a way that dad is mean to son-in-law mostly behind the daughter’s back.


    • “Am just wondering why in Indian families, it is usually a dil – mil problem, and never a dil – fil, or sil – mil or sil – fil problem.”

      1) Because we are told that marriage means the dil joining her husband’s family (even physically moving there). She’s the newcomer and hence the competition with mil for hubby’s affections as described in the post.

      2) Parents of sons are told that their son will forever be theirs and will ‘bring’ a wife to serve them but parents of girls are told to treat her like ‘paraya dhan’. Can you see how parents of sons would develop a feeling of entitlement towards the son as well as future dil?

      Imagine this was reversed and men started having to ‘join’ the wife’s family and live with them. The fil is already there and considers himself ‘head of family’ and the ‘man of the house’. Now the sil needs to find his place in the hierarchy. His wife is where she always was, no new dynamics, no new hierarchy. Would we not start seeing fil-sil issues instead of mil-dil issues?

      Liked by 1 person

    • There are dil -fil problems too and serious ones for that , mostly they crop up in the case of fil being too controlling and having too many expectations from his dil.
      ( incidentally in two serious cases which I know of , mil passed away long back and fil -dil have direct interface).So I guess, as long as mil is at the interface, fil stays out of the direct scene and spells his expectations and pressurizes his wife to do the dirty job.
      IMO,The micromanaging instinct of a man as compared to a woman may be relatively lower in the role of a parent in law ,because he has been quite in command in the family and has better autonomy on his life which patriarchy grants him .


      • yes I’ve seen this too with my cousin – her fil loves to play the good cop as long as mil plays the bad cop. Once again, there is no need for him to take a stand as long as the “women fight it out”.


  4. One of the best post I have read in recent times..Absolutely spot-on.

    I believe one of the main reasons why I have a great relationship with my m-i-l (I have been married for around 15 years now), is that from the very beginning we had made clear that we are not gonna let her son in between us. And my in-laws haven’t been the reason for conflict in my marital life either. If we have issues(yes, there are a lot of them), we talk it out amongst ourselves. I have enough space to breathe freely and I need not change my lifestyle drastically when she comes and stays with us. I do respect and adore her, while she acknowledges and reciprocates my gestures. It feels good that we don’t dread each others’ visits (like I have seen in so many other homes).


  5. Very well put. Only if it was as easy to make the men (husbands) understand this. In most cases, they are so intoxicated by the power they have seen given to their fathers that they expect the same even if at a sub-conscious level they know it is wrong. They keep on justifying their actions thinking “only till my parents are alive. After that, my wife can live her life as she wishes” without having the slightest amount of consideration for the number of years they expect their wives to become uncomfortable in their own skin to the point of suffocation.


    • I think we need to make women understand this. THAT is the hard part as they are made to move into ‘his’ home after marriage and hence it’s natural that they seek acceptance by ‘adjusting’. The day women choose staying single over being unequal, men will have to accept equality as only such men will be able to find partners reproduce.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Great Post

    Completely agree with your each and every word. In all most all the post which i have read here husband is hardly held accountable by women. They don’t have any expectation from husband. All post have one common “my husband is loving and caring but”. MIL is not monster. It is the husband who is trying to escape from situation.

    One more thing I would like to point out young Indian women(who have written here and others) are conditioned to put their husband first just after the ceremony. So even when husband had no sign of emotional closeness, respect and support still wife has made him as no.1 priority in her life. We should put our partner at priority but shouldn’t it be based on action and support displayed by partner. Based on strength of relationship and evaluation of partner instead of social conditioning.Sometimes I feel it arises because of this thinking only where wife has made husband No.1 in his life but she is still at very low place in his husbands life. All irritation stems up here.


    • “So even when husband had no sign of emotional closeness, respect and support still wife has made him as no.1 priority in her life. We should put our partner at priority but shouldn’t it be based on action and support displayed by partner. Based on strength of relationship and evaluation of partner instead of social conditioning.”

      Excellent observation. We give too much (love) too soon whether the other deserves it or not. And then feel cheated because it’s not being reciprocated. Maybe in a arranged marriage, take it slow would be a good approach. Get to know each other, establish ground rules, earn (rather than assume) trust, expect respect, then let this healthy foundation grow into affection and love.

      Liked by 1 person

      • This has always been my problem. I got married 4 years back and a lot of people back then told me “put your spouse first” and “your spouse should be above everyone and everything”. I was young (23 years old) and found this advice to be very stupid, because as said above I really do not believe in putting anyone first unless they deserve that spot. If my husband was not good, was manipulative and controlling then why should I put him first? If spouse is clearly wrong and parents or friends are right then why does the spouse deserve to be above these people who already existed in my life. The same holds good for a man too.
        Ultimately, after 4 years of being married I have come to the conclusion that a marriage is a union of two very different individuals (whether love or arranged) and a lot of macro and micro factors are responsible for the success of a marriage. It takes a lot of effort to make it work and the onus lies on both the parties involved to make it work.
        As much as we think that it’s only the two individuals who are responsible, the truth is that the families of both the parties automatically will come into picture at some point or the other. It’s how these two individuals handle their respective families and also the other person’s family that determine the success of the relationship.


        • Also,wanted to add this.
          In all the emails written by the women in distress, it’s only the MIL who is blamed and the husband is made into this little kid who has no brain of his own. Every woman says “My husband is otherwise nice”. Even here these women are hell bent on blaming another woman instead it’s clear that the husband or rather the man is to be blamed. So I now strongly feel that it’s women who cannot or rather do not want to blame men in their life and just want to continue blaming the MIL. If all these women would just step back and observe their situation with some objectivity they would realize that it’s actually the man who is basically getting the best of both the worlds: he listens to his mom complain and sides her thereby getting her affection, once inside the bedroom tells the wife that he is as helpless as her and pleads and gets the wife attention. So you see the man wins in the end, he gets hot food, a good bed and a happy friends circle while these two women are fighting.
          Second problem being, the women want the husband to support them, voice their concerns etc. Why? If someone is humiliating or being disrespectful to me, I should stand up for it and put an end to it, the minute I look for support or help is the minute I have told the person that I am dependent on you for solving my problem. This is why no man ever supports because he has nothing to loose. By acting like he is supporting the MIL and the DIL he is happy, now just think if he begins supporting one party over the other and fights for them, obviously he will suffer.


    • Whether arranged or love , women start putting their husbands no.1 overnight ! Sometimes its at the expense of their parents,siblings,friends ! I mean they just stick like fevicol ,right or wrong !
      In my family, both sisters have married out of religion, smoothly ,…..but my father makes all the effort while for them husband comes first,he speaks gospel truth ! Bloody all the time ??
      It just irritates me how they could dump my parents and disregard everything they say !!
      Enuff of united front,husband – wife relationship priority !! You can’t live off husband ,….one needs friends,siblings,cousins to have a proper social life! How can one person fulfil all your needs ?


      • And this arises from conditioning , women ignore every relation in their married life. Even when they are financially independent still they don’t try to have a independent existence.

        Don’t know when it will improve.


      • Isn’t this what the article recommends? That you need to have the relationship with your spouse as the primary relationship.

        This doesn’t mean all other relationships suffer but there are situations when you have to allow your primary relationship precedence over other relationships. Although it might be upto the individual to effectively find a balance between the two.


        • No. It means to recognise the causality – you take someone as your spouse and therefore their parents become your in-laws. That goes against the grain of Indian traditional wisdom – you wed not just my son but also the entire family. Therein lies the difference. Issues with the family cannot be allowed to rock the boat between a couple. as usually happens. That’s what it means by primary relationship.


      • I have a close friend who turns to me for emotional support, career guidance and marital counselling.

        I have helped her through many rough spots in her marriage and professional life.

        Yet, when she visits her in-laws, or when things are going well in her marriage, she blocks me out for months together.

        The problem with women like her is that the husband comes first even when they draw support from other relationships in their life and the husband is distant and indifferent.

        He still comes first, way above loyal friends who have been around for much longer.

        Such women don’t understand that a full life comprises of many different relationships and experiences.

        They build their world around their husbands and in-laws; yet expect unconditional support from friends and parents.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I think ultimately the problem is that we define marriage as an institution and not a relationship. Institution has members, also known as in-laws, relationship has 2 people. Having said that I believe that the reason men are accessory to their wife’s harassment is cause women themselves let them. Let me make this gender neutral, no one likes conflict,

    1. Boss: Ignore the boss and you can say bye-bye to the hike, promotion and even job… so boss cannot be ignored. Lets put in the extra hours, cancel the date, work the weekend, you understand don’t you, after all, its for our future
    2. Subordinates: Ignore them and they might quit for a better job and I will have to find replacements/ work even longer to pull the slack, you understand it don’t you honey?
    3. Parents: Its rude to live with us and not speak to us, any way you will be by yourselves in the bedroom. You won’t live with us…. blackmail, tell the whole world, we wont be around forever, you have the rest of your live together
    4. Friends and Rest of the world: its not like you see us everyday, cant you spare us some time. You can go to that dinner any time, you have the rest of your life together….

    See, how with each group the partner gets pushed lower and lower in the pecking order? What if we didn’t have rest of our lives, what if the ignored partner could and would walk off leaving this people pleaser alone, may be this will explain why many people complain that the romance is gone out of their relationship after marriage, cause then they know will try harder and stay. As someone pointed out in an earlier post, women leave relationships easily but will fight to save a marriage


    • Absolutely. It’s very easy to neglect your wife. Doing so has no consequences. Ignoring the other important people in your life has dire consequences which men are afraid of.

      What can the Indian Wife do? Not much. She alone is blamed when the marriage enters troubled waters. She alone, has to sacrifice her dreams, aspirations, self-respect, well-being in order to “save the marriage”.


  8. All around me the mils who are critical,harsh on dil, sometimes on truly slouch,mooching dil they are because they were treated that way by their own mils ! Earlier women used to get married at 18-20,thrown into running house and chores depending on where they stood on economic ladder !
    Their mils trained them by default, very few knew anything about money,managing house etc !
    And those women are ‘training’ dils now except dils now still don’t know much but are educated and have earned money and seen the world so to speak !
    The mils should stop ‘training’ dils until specifically asked or interest shown to learn ! I think that’s where problems start !
    Every house has rules ,an mil ….who has ‘made’ her house obviously wants her rules be respected and negotiations can only be done by request not rebellion !
    There is no way out of this ,……best is to ask the son to move out of house and let the dil learn on her own or help when asked !!
    The men are still not in the picture !!


  9. Do you and your husband consider your relationship the primary one (please know that this does not mean we stop loving our parents or our children, it just means that it begins with US – the biggest decisions will be made by US – our life and it’s direction will be defined by US)


    Do you make all major decisions that concern each other by yourselves (and together) or do parents play a role?

    Yes. Nope, parents don’t play a role in making major decisions.

    Do you feel the need to constantly explain your choices?


    Have you tried to assert yourself , and create your own space?

    Situation hasn’t come up for us to do this. In any case, my FIL built a separate floor for my H and has also built a really cool office in the house for him. We have two TVs in the house just for us–and have ample ‘separate’ space to entertain our friends.

    Do you live in your own space or with the husband’s parents? Do you think this arrangement is working? If not, why not? What would you like to do about it?

    Husband’s father’s house, one he built for his sons–situation is working because a) the house is huge–there’s enough space and privacy so that we’re not in each other’s space. Domestic chores are handled by the domestic staff so the burden isn’t on any of us. My FIL is a genuinely nice person with his own hobbies and interests.

    Have you tried to set boundaries, and if so, how?

    Setting up boundaries has only been an issue with someone who doesn’t live in this house so it’s not something to be dealt with every day. If I could go back, I’d deal with the situation better and less aggressively–I would have felt the best by just telling this particular person to respect my boundaries but felt that that could have caused a big issue. I find it ironic that it was easier for me to get said person to draw boundaries with me being aggressive rather than me being frank and saying ‘hey, I think you’re invading my space here.’

    What is the one thing you would like your husband to do? Are there more things?

    He’s good with all that stuff.

    Finally, and most importantly, was your husband able to overcome his Indian culture conditioning (guilt, unhealthy attachment, etc.) and does he now have a happy, guilt-free fulfilling life with you? If so, how did he get from A to B?

    My husband never had an ‘indian culture conditioning’ thing going for him–I think my MIL and FIL raised both their sons to be totally different than most Indian dudes. My other BIL (step-FIL’s son) is also quite egalitarian in his views and pretty independent.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your answers here highlight what it takes for a relationship to work – prioritizing it, setting boundaries, and having/establishing an egalitarian, democratic relationship environment.
      Thanks for sharing, Kay!


      • Priya, are you kidding? Kay’s answers highlight what it takes for a relationship to work – “prioritizing, setting boundaries, egalitarian, democratic…. ” ???

        Looks like you missed the ” FIL built a separate floor for my H and has also built a really cool office in the house for him. We have two TVs in the house just for us–and have ample ‘separate’ space to entertain our friends. … Domestic chores are handled by the domestic staff”

        Kay, glad that you have a setup that works and a decidedly cool FIL. My response is to Priya’s response, not your comment.


        • ‘Prioritizing the relationship’ was indicated to me by the following answer from Kay:’Yup’ to the question –
          “Do you and your husband consider your relationship the primary one?” A primary relationship is one that is prioritized over all other relationships, including significant secondary relationships such as those with our children, parents, and close friends.

          ‘Setting boundaries’ was conveyed by the fact that they’ve created their own work and entertainment spaces (we’re not debating the cost of these measures, affluent families can use affluent means, middle class families can use cost efficient means, the point being do what it takes to create boundaries, when living under the same roof).

          ‘Egalitarian relationship’ was directly deduced from Kay’s words – “My husband never had an ‘indian culture conditioning’ thing going for him–I think my MIL and FIL raised both their sons to be totally different than most Indian dudes. My other BIL (step-FIL’s son) is also quite egalitarian in his views and pretty independent.”

          ‘Democratic environment’ was deduced from Kay’s words – “Nope, parents don’t play a role in making major decisions” and her “No” to the question ‘Do you feel the need to constantly explain your choices?’ Sounds like Kay has autonomy and control over her life and choices.

          Kay, please correct me if I misinterpreted your relationship by misreading your answers.


        • @Priya–not at all, I thought you got exactly what I was saying (writing?).

          @anonymous–my set up is definitely defined by boundaries. That whole thing with the separate floor, office, even TVs = our personal space in a larger set up.


  10. IHM – Please delete my earlier comment.

    Excellent analysis of the entire situation. It irritates me when I see email after email blaming the MIL but absolving the husband of all responsibilities.

    Yes, I completely agree that the relationship depends on the 2 people in there and they both have to work on it, not just one spouse.


  11. Excellent post, completely agree! Every time a dil posts about mil issues here, I think ‘where is the husband? what is he doing?’. How low are our expectations from husbands?!

    The patriarchal marriage system is set up for these dynamics. The husband is where he always was, the new wife has to fight it out with the ‘woman of the house’ to find her place. It’s cause and effect.

    As it stands now, having a son means you are entitled to him serving you forever and bringing a wife to serve you too. You are told this since the day the son is born, imagine the level of entitlement (sub-conciously) by the time the dil enters the picture!

    We need to get over this ‘kanyadaan’ concept of the bride changing families and define marriages as a new family unit for BOTH men and women. Then you start expecting an equal footing. I think many women/ men feel this way but fall into conforming to traditional expectations to please ‘elders’. We need to start defining our relationships the way we see them and then act like it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “the kanyadaan concept” Yes, yes, yes. Reject it. Which means women must start doing one small thing which can become a very significant thing – refuse to live in their in-laws’ house. Don’t budge. Live in your own home. From the very beginning. That’s going to make a WORLD of difference.
      (I’m not referring to exceptions – where in-laws and younger couple understand boundaries and live in harmony, am also not referring to exceptions where parents are seriously ill or disabled and need constant care)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yep, it basically makes a lot of the follow-up questions in your post a non-issue. My husband and I lived away from family as students and then lived together for a while before marriage, often speaking to our parents one a week or two weeks on Skype only (we were in another country). So you are automatically each other’s immediate family unit before you even marry and have a strong internal bond.

        I simply refuse to do anything that is expected because ‘now you are part of their family’. That is not my definition of marriage and I will not wait for the world to agree before living as I want. For example, my mil wanted me to learn her recipes (including meat and fish even though I am vegetarian). I just didn’t. If she is concerned about passing on her traditions, she is free to teach her own son and daughter. IF I like something she makes, I will ask for the recipe. Simple. If we are able to hold boundaries in place WITHOUT giving in to guilt or blackmail, life becomes simpler.


        • That’s something I never understood. Why are these women so hell bent on teaching a new DIL their recipes and “culture and traditions” unless requested?

          The DIL comes with her own likes and dislikes, her own culture and traditions, her own ideas. The MIL is free to guide and instruct her son if he’s interested. Where did she get the idea that this other adult who just married her son is available for “tutoring”? Unless she thinks that cooking, cleaning and following religious rituals is wimmins work and her precious son is exempt.

          Some of these MILs are are so pathetic in their learned helplessness when it comes to simple tasks. Why would the DIL seek her out for mentoring and tutoring among the 8 billion people on this planet? If her own son does not care for her recipes and sexist, highly offensive “traditions”, why should someone else?

          Incidentally, I come from a matriarchal system where traditionally the son-in-law moves into the wife’s household. My MIL, who is from a patriarchal system, does not get it. At all. My husband has been very good at maintaining boundaries with her. He moved out of home at 17, and while she tries to mark her territory all over our house when she visits, he’s very firm about enforcing boundaries.

          He’s apparently “brainwashed” by me. ‘Cos you know, he doesn’t have a mind of his own. This is projection. You aim to control your son, so if he stands up to you, someone else must be controlling him.


        • Brainwashing does exist both the subtle forms and openly ,whether we like it or not !
          My sisters changed after an interreligious marriage ! One became atheist because husband is one !To outsider like me it does appear brainwashing by husband and in another sister’s case by husband’s family !
          They are unrecognisable to me !
          Its the same thing ,…..a newly married girl staying with the in laws family and slowly trained, to assimilate with husband’s family and one spouse asking,cajoling etc !
          Brainwashing happens all the time in the so called primary love relationships ,…….I don’t understand why nobody talks about that !
          All marriage s around me where in laws are nowhere in picture are operating on adjustment basis !
          The dominant spouse brainwashes,cajoles,asks out of love,mopes around till his/her wishes are granted !!
          I don’t think equal marriages are common at all !! The stubborn, persistent, crafty spouse wins all the time !!


        • @cossettez
          Maybe, your sister was attracted to someone with similar views and openly acknowledged her atheism only after marrying him?

          My DH was atheist since he was a teenager, but acknowledged it to his parents only after marriage. That’s because in his supposedly “close” family of birth, no one openly behaves like an autonomous individual ‘cos his parents will throw tantrums if you deviate from the problem. Of course, his lack of faith is all now because of me. I don’t care to spend any energy to dispel that notion ‘cos they are free to come to any conclusion they want. (BTW, I’m not atheist, but I don’t expect them to understand the difference between his approach to spirituality and mine.)

          Not saying this was the case in your family, just playing devil’s advocate.


  12. I find some parts of this post as fundamentally problematic. No one gets to define what should be or not the primary relation except the people involved in those relationship. Why this assumption that husband and wife form a primary unit? Also, just like men should stand for themselves and not put blame on mother and wife, ultimately it is the responsibility of the women i.e., wives, to stand up for themselves. Asking someone else ( the husband in this case) to show up for you never gets you too far. If the husband is not interested in having a relationship with you on your terms, why are you interested in turning him around to see the light. He wants one thing, you want other. If the two don’t match, both go their way.


    • “No one gets to define what should be or not the primary relation except the people involved in those relationship. Why this assumption that husband and wife form a primary unit?”
      A monogamous marriage is by definition a primary relationship. If someone doesn’t want to be in a primary relationship with another man or woman, they should not get married.
      (The only exception to this is open marriages or polygamous or polyamorous marriages, but obviously we are not including those subsets here).
      The problem in the India setting is when a man decides to get married (thus choosing to form a primary relationship with the woman), but continues to have a primary relationship with his parents. If you prefer to have a primary relationship with your parents, nothing wrong with that. Just don’t get married.

      “Asking someone else ( the husband in this case) to show up for you never gets you too far.
      If the husband is not interested in having a relationship with you on your terms, why are you interested in turning him around to see the light.”
      I’m not saying “ask”, I’m saying “expect it” and “demand it”. You never know. Some people change. Some people don’t. It makes sense to work on your marriage first and communicate your needs. If no one’s listening or caring, THEN it’s time to leave.


      • I see you have defined what a primary relationship is in the post. Its about putting the person you are in a relationship with above other relationships.

        My bad for missing it!


  13. Wonderful post, To answer your question.
    Yes me and my husband think our relationship is primary – we are first a pair, even kids have no place inside that, we + kids= family, we + kids+ inlaws+ parents + siblings = extended family .
    We do what we want, how we want ,when we want, decisions for family are taken by all, decisions for our relationship are taken by the 2 of us.extended family get information . we dont ask we tell.
    In 3 yrs I will be done with parenting the older one, cant wait, i will be around ( i hope) for advice is required, for support ( if reqd) and for money till he stands on his own feet ( if reqd) but beyond that we have repeatedly told him 18 it is, we will be spectators in his life and will watch with glee when he stumbles thru life. We have also told him thats when he needs to experiment with life, he has a safety net in us and can make all the mistakes. then he’s on his own.
    hopefully we will give our undivided attention to No.2 then and soon thereafter send her on her way and we shall be truly free yipeeeeee!!!! its almost here.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Great, great post!
    I agree with the analysis presented here, but I think there’s also a cultural problem in India with how people deal with any kind of power over another human being. And it’s not limited to women/MILs alone.
    Without intending to throw the ‘this is how they do it in America’ argument 🙂 – I will say this much that having observed how things are in the west and in India, i definitely think that power structures in India are badly enforced. The way a teacher speaks to her pupils reeks of ‘I have control over you’. Same goes for parents, inlaws, bosses in office, the way people speak to the domestic help, the way people talk to servers in a restaurant and so on and so on. Problem with India is that given power, people feel like they need to practice military style authoritativeness and even demean those ‘inferior’ to them in the power structure to emphasize their ‘power’. In the West, you refer to your boss by their first name (and not ‘sir’), and I’ve had open discussions with our professors here where we sometimes openly criticized their research findings and they accepted with grace. You NEVER question anyone who’s superior to you in the power structure in India and are expected to show a bit of servility as a sign of respect. And that is part of the MIL-DIL problem. It’s instantly believed that the DIL is lower on the rung and the MIL must not only show authority but ‘demean’ her a little and ‘show her her place’ to feel powerful. It’s the only way we’ve been taught to exercise power. I do believe fundamentally this is also at play here, in addition to the other factors mentioned by the author above. Now one might say, why doesn’t we see this as often with FILs, and there I agree with the author – the avg FIL has had other avenues to excercise power financially, or at a job etc.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You nailed it. We’re an inherently hierarchical culture. We either have to feel ‘above’ someone or ‘below’ someone. We find it hard to accept ‘different but equal’. And yes, the first time my prof asked me to address him by first name, I did a double take. He was so down to earth, would go out for coffee with students, whistle while walking, etc. He earned his respect by doing excellent research, not by throwing his weight around.


  15. I agree.
    But I think, women need to really ask themselves what they are getting into a marriage for.. If marriage is worth their time. And what sort of a marriage would be worth their time. And have some sort of understanding of the pros and cons.
    While you say the husband-wife relationship is a primary one, I am not sure that is our cultural understanding of it. Women get told, keep your husbands, your in laws happy. Men, nothing really. There is no expectation on men that they need to work on their marriages.
    If we let his family and our family arrange the marriage/wedding, if our parents shoulder the majority cost of the weddings, if we sit through weddings where the priest more or less says his family are ours now and we are leaving our natal one now, if we agree to move in with our in laws as a default, are we not putting ourselves in a vulnerable situation? Are we not giving in to the status quo? Or am I just incredibly cynical?
    I have come to accept that if two people want, they can make a relationship work. But external factors (including parents/in laws) do have an incredibly powerful impact,
    I do not consider my mil evil. But as a 27 year old, I am really not sure how I feel about people in their 50s and 60s that are severely lacking in self awareness and emotional maturity, no matter what life has thrown their way. I seem unable to give them the benefit of doubt. My relationship with with my mil is not pleasant – the best I have managed is indifference. Even on occasions where I have gotten myself pumped to spend time with her/do something enjoyable to both of us (we do not live in the same city), she somehow manages to disappoint/disrespect me. The hardest thing is the undermining of my husband and my relationship and the fact that I am this piece of clay that she needs to mould so I may “fit in” with her family. And even though both the husband and I have vocalised my lack of desire to to get moulded, it does not stop. I am constantly corrected and told taught the “correct” ways, which really is not pleasant.

    Liked by 3 people

    • It is without a doubt difficult to try and understand or be empathetic to someone, when that person constantly diminishes you. You and your husband seem to share an understanding relationship. I hope that serves as a strength to you and a foil to your m-i-l’s rancor.


    • I think all Indian women over the age of 50 secretly attend a mother-in-law training school where they are taught the basics of the art of emotional manipulation and control.

      I’ve never understood this obsession older women have of “teaching” the DIL rituals and customs.

      Why? They’re not of the MIL’s creation. She’s just an enforcer of customs. She has no power to change them, or institute new customs.

      Then why this obsession for perpetuating something that wasn’t yours to begin with?


  16. A very well articulated post. I think a balanced, egalitarian society is possible only when both sexes contribute. The general idea seems to be that if women want equality, then it is upto them to fight for it while the men stand by passively examining their fingernails. But the whole point of pushing for gender equality is to erase segregation and view both sexes as human, and therefore deserving of equal rights and personal freedom. This “if you want it, you fight for it” attitude is counter productive to the end goal.

    I think, in some small way, we are headed there.Key figures/organizers in groups like Slutwalk and Got Stared At are men. Some of the pro-feminism commentors on this blog are also men (although, is it me or were there more men a couple of years ago as compared to now?).


  17. Priya your post is excellent. You have brought out all the nuances in Indian marriages. I loved the comments by Neha and Carvaka too.

    There is one question that has always bogged me. Why is marriage mandatory in the first place? If given a choice between marrying or not marrying, given the expectations after marriage, how many Indian women would opt for it?


    • “Why is marriage mandatory in the first place? ”

      I know you are not implying ‘mandatory’ in the legal sense. I’m assuming you’re asking why is there so much social stigma against not getting married. Think about who benefits. In a traditional, patriarchal setup, the husband’s family usually got/gets a free slave. By making marriage mandatory (in a social sense) and by converse, by making ‘being unmarried’ punitive, the clans are assured of continued access to the slaves.

      “If given a choice between marrying or not marrying, given the expectations after marriage, how many Indian women would opt for it?”
      Well, in this generation, now that we have been allowed education and opportunities, we do have choices. Therefore some of us ARE opting out of marriage or getting into more equal marriages or getting out of unequal marriages. There are still some women who stay in unequal marriages out of fear of social disapproval and isolation, conditioning, and other factors. But we also have more women breaking up and finding the life they deserve rather than stay in suffocating marriages. I think overall, we are better off. There’s certainly more awareness, more discussion, and less fear.


      • I suspect that in the next fifty years, as the stigma against single women declines, and as more women can achieve financial independence, fewer and fewer women will agree to unequal marriages.

        Most Indian women marry because they do not want to subject their parents to a lifetime of harrassment.

        Given how much women give to a marriage, and how little they receive in return, most women marry to escape the stigma around being single and unmarried.

        Indian society realises that marriage is inherently unfair to women, therefore the unrelenting pressure on women to get married and stay married.

        If marriage were so awesome for women, they would not have to be coaxed, threatened and blackmailed into marriage, right?


  18. My husband and I are simpler people. We are not that well-read or familiar with psychology, human behavior, establishing egalitarian and democratic relationship in family relations, setting boundaries. We have not much clue about unhealthy attachment, culture conditioning, emotional support, create own space.

    We are simply married, love each other, know that living with parents or siblings or any other person in the same house on a permanent basis, even a housekeeper, would drive us crazy. We keep our problems or issues to ourselves mostly, and if share with family it is afterwards.

    The solution is not so complex. The first comment itself said it. Live separately. If husband won’t agree to that or cannot, then that is the problem. If living separately and still there are issues, then, the young couple’s people management skills is the problem.

    What is the point of being familiar with “evolution, psychology, human behavior, egalitarianism, democracy, emotional support, cultural conditioning, patriarchy, hierarchical society, power levels” etc big big fundas if cannot realize the relatively simple concept that live separately, and manage the interactions with some common sense, and learning from any initial missteps.


    • You are assuming that your circumstances are shared by every Indian woman.

      If you have never encountered dominating and manipulative in-laws, you may not realise how stressful it is to deal with them constantly, ceaselessly without respite

      Ideally, such women should seek divorce, but given the social stigma of divorce, it’s long-term psychological effects, it becomes a Hobson’s choice.


    • “The solution is not so complex.”
      Hmm, I wonder why so many intelligent women suffer in unhappy marriages. Calling other people’s suffering simple is belittling.
      I have known rational, educated, successful women who find it hard to leave an unhappy marriage. They know in their hearts it’s not working. They know in their heads it’s not adding up. They know the husband will choose to live with the parents no matter how stressful it gets. But they still stay. Why? No one really knows. We are incredibly complex beings with 37 trillion cells and our brains have evolved over 85 millions years. How we make choices is anything but simple. Every human being is unique. Let’s respect that.


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