Dear Thelma: My marriage is ruined by my mum-in-law's interference

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Dear Thelma,

I got married to my husband at the age of 37, and ours was an arranged marriage.

My husband is the youngest son. He has two older brothers who live in the vicinity.

From day one of our marriage, my mother-in-law has been controlling my life through my husband. There are a lot of restrictions, including the way I should dress up and how I should carry myself in society.

My mother-in-law is a very traditional and conservative type. I’m not allowed to speak English nor watch English programmes, and many other restrictions in the house. I have a language barrier as I cannot speak my mother tongue fluently.

My husband is a mama’s boy and always spends time with her. He never spends time with me nor talks with me. Most of the time, I've felt lonely. Moreover, whatever I communicate to him, goes directly to his mother’s ear.

Once, my family confronted him about why he should tell his mum about our conversation and he said that his mum always asks him what I spoke to him. So much so, I felt lonely and went into depression.

I thought my husband could be my best friend with whom I could share my feelings and thoughts but I bottled up everything.

My mother-in-law prefers us to spend time indoors rather than go out. We don’t even go out for dinner as a couple or for a holiday. He doesn’t even give me money nor spend on me. I’m the one who has to always buy things for him and I have to give my mother-in-law monthly payments as it is one of her demands. It hurt me a lot but I still kept quiet as I was independent and working.

Later on, I found out my husband always badmouthed me to his mum and relatives, saying that I’m good for nothing. With me, he tells one story, and to his mum, another story. So much so, we started to quarrel and he uses vulgar words on me. I had never heard those kinds of words before and it hurt me. Our quarrel would last only about five minutes but later would prolong for hours due to my mother-in-law's interference.

I had no peace living with his mum but I still respected his choice of living with her. My life was miserable as my husband and my mother-in-law always said that I come from an uncultured family. They always bully my family and always report about me to them. So much so, my family told my mother-in-law that both of us as husband and wife are mature enough to handle things.

My husband and I don’t even have intimate relations as he is not interested in this. So much so, once he told me to look for another man if I’m interested to have an intimate relationship. I even asked him to go and see a doctor, as it could be cured, but he refused. Due to this, I could not have a child, and my mother-in-law kept saying it was my fault.

A few weeks ago, I was chased out of the house as I could not provide offspring. Later, I found out from his elder brother that both of them had consulted an astrologer who said that I am no good for the family and my horoscope does not match his. My husband is an educated man but he still believes in horoscopes after five years of marriage. He even told me that he wants to marry someone according to his traditional values and culture.

Now I’m back at my mother’s house and they are waiting for me to initiate divorce proceedings. I even begged him but he said that his family and relatives already decided that I should be out of the house.

What shall I do? I’m so depressed and can’t even think straight. I am 42 now. Do I even have a future after this? I’m so scared to live alone for the rest of my life. When I got married to my husband, I thought of growing old with him and he was my life, but he ditched me for his mother’s sake.


Dear Ratna,

I'm so sorry to hear of your troubles. Let me start with the end of your letter and suggest a thought exercise.

You are now 42, so you have some 30 to 40 years of life to look forward to. Close your eyes and imagine living them as you have the last few years. How would you feel?

I suspect the answer includes feeling sad, controlled, frustrated and perhaps angry and despairing. It's no life. So the next question is, why do you think you should stay? And that divorce is a bad thing?

It is clear that you went into a marriage thinking you would be a couple, communicating lovingly and making a life together. Instead, you were treated like a cash cow, shamed, humiliated and controlled. It's a textbook case of emotional and financial abuse.

It is very hard for people who have not been in such a situation to understand why victims don't leave. You should know that part of abuse is making the victim feel as if they have no agency and that leaving will be a disaster. So please don't go thinking you're at fault.

Also, there is nothing you can do to change others. That family you married into are dysfunctional and they have to deal with that themselves. All you can do is work on yourself.

The most important thing to do now is to heal. I think you would benefit from a few sessions with a counsellor, psychologist or therapist who is skilled at understanding abuse.

Begin with a discussion about your depression. If you and your therapist think it is necessary, you may also speak to a psychiatrist, a medical doctor, to see if you might benefit from medication. If you're very down or anxious, a short period of medication can help smooth over the first few difficult months.

Whether you choose medication or not, the aim of the talk therapy sessions is to get support for your feelings and to help you make effective changes so that you can be happy.

Next, look at the prep that went into this relationship. When the marriage was being arranged, what was your role and what were your expectations? With the benefit of hindsight, did you miss any red flags? If so, what were your thoughts and reactions?

Then, examine the marital relationship. Write down all the things that made you happy and all the obstacles. How did events unfold? How did you act and how did you feel? With the benefit of hindsight, if you could do it all over again, what would you do?

I think that once you untangle it all, you will have a better idea of your own needs and values, and how you can make effective changes so you can be happier.

I appreciate that you will feel afraid. All change is upsetting because we human beings are wired to associate change with trouble. However, you should make a conscious effort to appreciate this change is taking you out of misery and into a place where you can be joyful.

So fuel yourself with another thought exercise. Imagine yourself living with a circle of friends who laugh with you, go out and about with you, share the daily joys and life's little obstacles. Imagine being able to go out and about as you like, without being criticised or run down. How would you feel?

I suspect that the answer includes feeling joy, companionship and love. You may find that is enough for a good, meaningful life. Please also consider that once you are in that happy space, you may also meet someone that you truly click with. Romantic love can come at any age.

So, my advice to you is to reframe your current position. You deserve happiness, and thanks to your present circumstances, you can reach for it now. Go get that help and start on a happier path. I'll be thinking of you.

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Mother-in-law , couple relationships


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