'My mother-in-law really hates me for no reason'

"Dear Thelma" is a relationship advice column that appears in The Star, a publication that is part of the Asia News Network. 

This article was retrieved via AsiaOne.

Dear Thelma,

I have been married for more than a year. After we got married, we moved in to stay with his parents, while waiting for our new house to be ready.

My mother-in-law has been treating me very badly for the past year. She screams at me over trivial matters. I can't even use her fridge. When I buy a tub of yoghurt and keep it in the fridge, she would complain loudly that the fridge is overcrowded.

She doesn't talk to me directly but she would say it aloud for my benefit.

When I use the water heater, she would scream at me for having a hot shower.

During hot spells when I bathe twice a day, she would complain about the high water bill. It's not that money is so tight in the family. She has a fine selection of branded handbags and shoes.

She only gives me six hangers to use for my week's laundry. All this may seem trivial, but the list goes on and on.

There is nothing I can do to please her. I have to grin and bear all these verbal abuses. She screams at me and mocks me in front of my husband or when there's nobody around. She was nagging me to get a job, and now that I have found one, I am so happy to get out of this hell for half the day.

I have thought of filing for divorce. I still think about it occasionally. But my husband is a very good person. He treats me very well. Being a very filial son, he often gives in to his mother's demands. She is like a queen at home.

My husband never speaks up for me. When his mother ridicules me in front of him, he would just keep quiet. This hurts me very much.

I have told my husband how I felt. He listened but could not do anything. He merely asked me to be patient.

When we got the keys to our new house, my husband and I were very happy. Then his mother started buying a lot of stuff for the new house. While I am thankful for her kindness, I am upset that I do not get to choose what I want.

I feel that my mother-in-law is running our lives. She wanted to go and collect the house keys. She is acting as though it is her house. I am worried that she may move in with us.

I am very unhappy about my present situation. I hide in my room when my husband is not around. I am a foreigner and have no one to turn to. I can't tell my family about my situation because I do not want them to worry about me.

I feel like giving up on this marriage. What should I do? 

- Fed Up

Dear Fed Up,

Your situation is one that many Asian wives can sympathise with. It is not easy being the wife of the filial son of a domineering mother. You may draw cold comfort from knowing that you are not alone.

When you and your husband were staying at her house, her behaviour was aimed at making you feel unwelcomed. It is not about how much money she has or how big her house is. It was your presence that was the problem. Perhaps she felt the burden of hosting you and your husband.

You will have to come to terms with the fact that your mother-in-law sees herself as the most important person in her son's life. You and your role, as she sees it, are secondary. Hence, it is no wonder that she has taken a keen interest in your new house. She will want to be consulted on all decisions concerning the house. While she may not want to move in with you, she may expect to have unfettered access to your house. All the time. Any time.

Of course, her visits will not be about her popping by to see how you are doing. She is going to take charge of your home when she is there. She is going to continue to make decisions for you and your husband.

Her criticism of you may be a reflection of her belief that no one is good enough for her son. Why is this important to you, though? Is it not enough to know that your husband appreciates you for who you are? Your husband must think you are perfect for him. That is why he married you. If he had thought you were less than ideal for him, he would not have proceeded thus far with the relationship. 

You are going to, first, have to accept that this is how it will be with your mother-in-law. However, it does not mean that there is nothing you can do about it.

A very important thing you have to do is to get some social support for yourself. It is good that you have now found a job and can get some respite from being stuck at home with your mother-in-law. You now have to make friends. You need a life outside your home. It can be a very lonely experience being a new wife in a new country. Your loneliness is making the situation harder to bear. 

Also, there is nothing wrong in confiding in your family. As a matter of fact, your mother may be able to give you some important insights and advice. She will understand. You cannot stop your family members from worrying. They will do what they do. What is important is that you have someone you can talk to and turn to for support.

Your husband is also a very important source of support. While he may not be able to stop his mother, he can be relied on to listen to you. It may help if you tell him what you expect him to do. What would you like him to do the next time your mother-in-law criticises you? How can he include you in making decisions for your new home? 

The two of you can also discuss respectable ways for you to respond to your mother-in-law when she behaves in a way that hurts you. Patience does not mean not responding, or doing nothing. Being patient means accepting people and situations for what they are, and learning to respond in a respectful way.

You don't want to insult your mother-in-law. You appreciate her kindness, and can empathise with the fact that she wants the best for her son and his family. That does not mean you have to allow her to run roughshod over you.

Of course, since you have thought about it, divorce is still an option. However, you may want to put this on the back burner while you try ways to address the situation. Bear in mind that there is no "solution" to this situation. You will just have to learn to cope with it.

Any new situation includes a period of adjustment. You were used to a certain kind of life before you got married. Perhaps you went into marriage with a certain idea of what married life would be like, and now you are faced with something that you were not prepared for.

Perhaps you were not prepared for the kind of adjustment that marriage calls for. On top of that, you also have to adjust to life in a foreign country.

So, the question then is: do you want to do this? Is your relationship with your husband worth all the effort? Do you think life with someone else, or even alone, would be better? Do not compare the situation you are in now with your life at home with your family. The comfort you once enjoyed may never be replicated elsewhere.

However, you can build it. It will take time, but you can build something that is a source of comfort and happiness for you. 

It will not be easy but it will be worth it.

- Thelma