My article in the Mumbai Mirror on how to have a healthy relationship with your in-laws, especially if living with them. India still maintains a collectivist ethos….a fact that we can accept and adapt to much more peacefully. Read the print article at

In-laws have often been jokingly (and sometimes very seriously!) referred to as “outlaws”; the love-hate encounters with them frequent fodder for countless Bollywood melodramas and TV soaps. In the real world too, perhaps any woman or man is testimony to the expectation-filled, pressure-cooker like scenario a relationship with in-laws can be. But when it comes to living with them, the stresses increase two-fold.  Recent research is bringing up findings that living with in-laws may not only be a mental strain but damaging to one’s health too.

A study by Harvard Medical School researchers found that Japanese women who live with their mothers-in-law were three times more likely to have a heart attack. And Japanese women are traditionally at a much lower risk of cardiac disease than in other countries! Studies in the United States and Sweden have backed-up the findings of this research. It seems that no matter which part of the world you are in, staying with in-laws can prove to be extremely stressful.

So what accounts for this in-law epidemic? Staying with in-laws can also be an adjustment nightmare because of clashes on issues such as culture, religion, lifestyle and social status. Sometimes more serious issues may be the root for a hostile environment.  The marriage may be against the parents’ wishes or there may be dowry pressures, like in a lot of Indian homes. Whatever the reasons, staying with in-laws is usually no joyride.

5 positives that emerge from living with your in-laws.

  1. Help with children and daily household chores- the couple also gets time alone.
  2. During times of crisis like an illness, having family stay with you can be a boon.
  3. Elders can mediate and buffer relationship issues between the couple.
  4. Financially there may be contribution from pensions or investments which can help when the couple is setting up a new life.
  5. Advice on managing finances, career and children is readily available because of the experience elders have with these areas.

 Usha’s in-laws mistreated her- insulting her, verbally abusing her and expecting her to work as well handle all the household responsibilities singlehandedly. A year after the birth of her second baby, Usha attempted suicide. Although doctors put it down to depression, the cumulative stress of years of torture was actually Usha’s undoing. She moved out with her husband soon after. If the case is not as extreme and minor quarrels can be resolved, do consider the positives of staying with in-laws.

  • Proceeding patiently: A newly-wed daughter-in-law entering her husband’s home is like a huge wave that’s going to cause the sand to shift, and then settle after a while. The best thing for the new entrant to do would be to first navigate her way by studying how things function in her husband’s home. Before introducing any changes, she should first work on developing a rapport with her new family members. In-laws too can help by being reasonable and giving her some time to absorb the new way of life.
  • Avoid over-pleasing; keep a balance: The new daughter in law does too much in the beginning- cooking elaborate meals or babysitting nieces/nephews- in an attempt to “fit in”. In laws too may run around pampering the new member. Overdoing has its hazards, the biggest being resentment. So from the beginning learn to be practical knowing that life will soon return to normal. Would it then be advisable to continue doing as much?
  • Settling issues upfront: In-laws may not be able to take the place of your parents but try to respect them as if they were. Would you resolve a quarrel more quickly with your mother than your mother-in-law? Is it your ego that gets in the way? Making this simple perception shift can make a huge difference in daily communication with in-laws.
  • Nip the problem in its bud: When there is a disagreement, the wife expects her husband to mediate; the in-laws expect their son to step in. The wife and in-laws should simply communicate with each other rather than over the husband/ son’s head. Issues are then resolved when they begin, not when they escalate out of proportion.
  • Communicating maturely: Most conflicts are handled by yelling “You just don’t respect us” or passive swallowing of anger. Both are unhealthy and damage the relationship as well as health. Instead, even the most minor issue can be resolved in an assertive, adult way without expressing emotions negatively (“Ma, if I cook an elaborate meal in the morning, I get late for work and my boss has already given me a warning twice”)
  • Taking up work: A lot of women agree that a more harmonious relationship with in-laws develops when the woman is working. A career gives the woman a sense of pride, financial independence, and much-needed distance from her in-laws. Part-time or freelance assignments are usually pretty easy to get these days. Even if the work is full-time a woman shouldn’t hesitate to take it up.

It’s truly said that in India one never really marries a person but his/her entire family. The joint family system, despite dwindling in number, still remains a very large and prominent focus in the marriage of most Indian couples. So when there’s no option but to live with in-laws, it’s best to manoeuvre around that mine-field as diplomatically as possible!