'Joint family, lack of privacy, sisters-in-law barging into my room. How do I draw a line?'

Haya Malik

Dear Haya,

I'm married to my first cousin and we have three daughters together. My husband has a rotational job abroad and only visits us for 28 days after every 32 days. Important to note that my girls and I live in a joint family with my in-laws which, apart from my parents-in-law, also includes my husband’s sisters, one of whom is single and another is a divorcee with a son, but another married sister-in-law is also always staying at our place with her children.

Owing to this situation, the biggest issue I’ve been facing since we’ve been married is the extreme lack of privacy and having no voice when it comes to my husband prioritising his sisters and their kids over me and my girls. It is to the extent that I can’t even visit my mother peacefully, as my sisters-in-law invade my bedroom and personal things even if I lock it before leaving the house. My husband, on the other hand, only says “this is not an issue”.

As a married couple, we never get to spend time together. His sisters either barge into the room or force us to sit together with the family. The same is the case with us as a family. We can never go out alone with our daughters because my sister-in-law always wants her hyperactive four-year-old son to accompany us. This kid often seriously harms and beats my girls, but no one bats an eye because “he doesn’t have a father to care for him”.

There are several other petty issues as well like taking away things and food I keep for my children. This kind of behaviour overwhelms me with anger. Please help me understand how to deal with this situation and convince my husband to side with me who, despite countless discussions and quarrels, has done nothing about it.

— Perpetually annoyed

Joint family, lack of privacy, sisters-in-law barging into my room. How do I draw a line?

Dear reader,

I am sorry to hear what you are going through. It sounds extremely frustrating.

When we are in a state of overwhelm, I invite you to come back to yourself and focus and become more intentional about the things you can control.

Let's have a look.

1. Communicate with your husband: I know that you have already done this before and he does not regard this as an issue but the way we communicate matters. Use "I" statements to express your feelings and avoid blaming language. For example, say, "I feel overwhelmed when there is a lack of privacy" instead of "You always prioritise your sisters over me." Let him know the impact it is having on you and how you feel.

2. Set Boundaries: You cannot control other people’s behaviours and responses, but you can control your own. If you keep waiting for other people to treat you the way you’d like, you’ll be waiting forever. You need to create boundaries. Boundaries are a way to teach people how to treat us and love us better. Boundaries with your husband, in-laws and other members of the family. Get clear on what is acceptable and not acceptable behaviour for you and implement the same via your words and behaviour to them. Create boundaries around private time with your husband and nuclear family. Set rules regarding invasion of personal space, visits, and interactions and communicate the same to the entire family. No one can force you to do anything you don’t want to.

3. Seek Support: I would encourage you to seek support from a trained therapist to aid you in navigating these challenges and creating the boundaries you require to aid you in your well-being. In addition, build a support system, and reach out to family and friends; A support system that understands and validates our experiences is proven to be crucial to our wellbeing.

4. Encourage Empathy: Encourage empathy among family members. Speak to your parents-in-law and express to them how you feel and the impact it is having on you. Own your feelings and experiences and steer away from blaming.

5. Involve external help if required: If all else fails, perhaps seek external help from family members or an elder to intervene and guide.

6. Practice self-care: Self-care is one of the biggest things in our control. When we constantly stay in our environments where our well-being is at stake, we live in a state of survival rather than being able to thrive. Find healthy outlets for your anger, engage in activities that bring you joy, and find some meaningful work that you enjoy. Engage yourself in purposeful tasks and activities that bring you joy and feel meaningful to you.

Once you have worked on all of the above, you will be in a better position to further assess the situation.

Remember, life is 10% of what happens to us and 90% of what we make of it. Many times, the experiences we go through are an invitation to our personal growth. It is an invitation to take ownership of our lives and be in the driving seat, instead of the passenger seat.

Change may take time, but you must remain patient in the process.

Good luck!

— Haya

Joint family, lack of privacy, sisters-in-law barging into my room. How do I draw a line?

Haya Malik is a psychotherapist, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) practitioner, corporate well-being strategist and trainer with expertise in creating organisational cultures focused on well-being and raising awareness around mental health.

Send her your questions to [email protected]

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