Is Your Husband Someone Else’s “Substitute Husband”?

While discussing the focus of this website with a friend, he shared his thoughts on in-law challenges. This is what he had to say:

“Mothers, especially in South Asian cultures, often lack sexual intimacy, closeness, and deep companionship with their spouses. Though they would dispute it in conversation, this is in part due to the nature of arranged marriages and the semi-archaic purpose of marriage within these cultures. Indians regularly defend arranged marriage by claiming that they ‘learn to love,’ yet this form of acquired closeness is usually very different from the modern, Western notion of married love. As a result, psychologists claim, mothers form distorted relationships with their sons. When their sons get married, a variety of conflicts arise.”

Some South Asian mothers that I have observed become excessively attached to their sons, oftentimes expecting their sons to fulfill their emotional needs that normally a spouse would fulfill. In these types of relationships, the mothers naturally crave intimacy and because they don’t receive it from their spouses, they try make their sons their “substitute husbands.” Westerners would usually view these relationships as “dysfunctional” or “overly dependent,” however many South Asians may view this as normal. When a new daughter-in-law comes in the picture, she may be the first to point out to the son (her husband) that he has an unusual relationship with his mom. Because a son’s role changes once he gets married, the mother naturally has a hard time adjusting to the changes. This can cause further tension in the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship.

What do you readers think? Have you seen this occur? Where do you draw the line?

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  • laila

    definitely agree! my mother in law never cared about my now husband before we got married, she wouldn’t talk to him for weeks or return his calls, he complained about this regularly before we got engaged. the minute i entered the picture, his mom was calling him her raja beta and buying him things. after we got married, his mom expects him to call everyday and but her presents and check on her. the worst part is that when she has problems with me, she cries to her son and makes him feel guilty so he will take her “side” and if he doesn’t, then she ignores him and won’t take his phone calls. this is behavior i see in my friends among young couples who are dating/talking for marriage.

    • SAIL

      Laila, Thanks for sharing. I wonder if your MIL became threatened by your presence, therefore stepping up her involvement with your husband. Or maybe she just started missing him since he wasn’t around so much. Regardless of the reason, she should NEVER complain to your husband about you. Your husband cares about both of you and it probably hurts him to hear negative things said about you or about his mom.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003405580358 Noman

      absolutely 100% i agree with this grave reality,which is inovencently overlooked by all the law making bodies of the country, and mother-in-laws are suffering silently at the hands of the daughter-in-laws, who are playing evil role for their personal ego problems,filing false complaints,and making arrests just on false complaints,this is high time to amend the laws for equity and justice,personally i am ready for any directional role to be played for to change the existing laws, before more mother-in-laws become innocent victims, sultan khan9 at gmail.com

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  • Garygill

    Yes this is very common in the Indian culture and yet no one does anything about it, infact the MIL is usually seen as a victim and the DIL as the evil one. The divorce rate has gone up. How do you enmesh this relationship when mother and son don’t want to be enmeshed? That is the question. I think these mothers do a poor job of raising an emotionally sound adult who can be a good husband because they want them all to themselves forever. God intended man to have a wife and he is to love her how he loves himself. A man is supposed to leave and cleave. Leave his parents and cleave to his wife. All healthy good relationships understand this concept. Its only the failing unhappy marriages that get destroyed by not following this belief. Sorry men, you can’t have both. You are not supposed to have both. If your emotional crutch is your mother how will you build a trusting relationship with your wife and then your own family. Indians believe that they are one big family and then when a couple gets married, families are getting married. That is a disastrous  way of thinking. Lets think about this one. I am in my 30s, my parents in their 60s. When they came from India they did not have to deal with mother in laws they were free to form their family SEPARATE from their parents and their thinking. They had to adjust to North American lifestyles which was not looked down upon by their parents. So what has changed. Why have these mothers grown to be so critical and overpowering and manipulating of their sons?  A simple case of dysfunctional relationship between mother and son. Your wife is your number one priority, she is the person you share yourself with not your mother. An enmeshed relationship is also seen as a form of incest without sexual desires. It uses the same emotional manipulation and abuse and is catastrophic for a married couple. A woman can build her family and her home but and unmeshed mother to her son can destroy it in 30 days. I urge all women in this type of situation to take a firm stand. Don’t be afraid, God is with you always. You are his daughter and He has always wanted the very best for you. Now heres my advice, slap the b***cH. Its sad but the indian culture and these mother in laws prey on the nice daughter in laws that say nothing. The ones that are so nice. They will never stop causing problems in your relationship. Their goal is divorce. That does not have to happen. Your husband cannot have relations with his mother if they are enmeshed every therapist will tell you that, and its true. You will have to slap her so she never comes near your again. Stand up for yourself its ok. Sometimes violence is the answer. 

    • southasianinlaws

       Thank you for your post Garygill. I agree with some aspects of your comment but I disagree with the violence part. If a daughter-in-law is to ever have a good relationship with her mother-in-law, she needs to have patience and self-restraint. Even when challenged with the most upsetting situation, violence is not healthy between in-laws or any family members. Thank you for sharing though. I appreciate having various perspectives on this site. Please continue to share your thoughts.

  • http://twitter.com/shit_MIL_says Indian mother-in-law

    Of course! This is the norm in Indian families, 

  • http://twitter.com/shit_MIL_says Indian mother-in-law

    Of course! This is the norm in Indian families, especially after the husband passes away, mothers start staying with their sons, it is easy to replace the husband with the son in terms of her daily chores.  However, I disagree with the Freudian theory about attachment to explain this dysfunctional relationship. I think there are three things that contribute to this (until now) accepted societal norm, 1. Motherhood is the most noble and ultimate goal a woman’s life, hence everything about becomes sanctioned. 2. Sons are conditioned from early on to be emotionally dependent on mothers and often such kids are socially challenged as adults. 3. Since motherhood is so pure and noble, nothing that a mother does or says can be bad, hence the son has trouble accepting that the reality of an overtly dependent mother and also the fact that he can count on her for eternity unlike a wife?

    • southasianinlaws

      Thank you for your input Indian Mother-in-Law. I think you were right on when you said “…the son has trouble accepting that the reality of an overtly dependent mother.” Relationships are complicated and with out some established boundaries, problems are bound to arise. 

  • http://twitter.com/shit_MIL_says Indian mother-in-law

    Of course! This is the norm in Indian families, especially after the husband passes away, mothers start staying with their sons, it is easy to replace the husband with the son in terms of her daily chores.  However, I disagree with the Freudian theory about attachment to explain this dysfunctional relationship. I think there are three things that contribute to this (until now) accepted societal norm, 1. Motherhood is the most noble and ultimate goal in a woman’s life, hence everything about it becomes sanctioned. 2. Sons are conditioned from early on to be emotionally dependent on mothers and often such kids are socially challenged as adults. 3. Since motherhood is so pure and noble, mothers are respected even revered, nothing that a mother does or says can be bad, hence the son has trouble accepting that the reality of an overtly dependent mother and also the fact that he can count on her for eternity unlike a wife?

  • Nice Daughter-in-law

    Hello. I must admit I am considered a nice daughter-in-law by my husbands extended family. Before my husband and I decided to tie the knot, I offered to move in with his family because I knew it was important to my husband and because I knew I had the patience to do so. After I moved in, my MIL became passive aggressive. She has told me to stay away from her daughter’s husband, constantly tells me I am stupid (although I hold a master’s degree and am more educated than my husband), threatened to kill herself because I did not want to stay in her bed (we live in a 5 bedroom house with 4 people in the household but I am not allowed a room), grabs my wrists when she’s angry, gives me silent treatments for weeks, make up lies about me and then admits she lied, cries constantly, walks in on me and husband when we’re alone. The list goes on. I still care about my in-laws and would like to have a good relationship with them but she said she doesn’t want any relationship with me. I don’t know why she hates me so much when I have never disobeyed anything she’s asked me to do. When I try talking my husband about it he tells me he wants a divorce. When he’s calm, he cries and asks for forgiveness. And I forgive. The cycle continues. A few times we came close to getting one, but we love each other way too much to go through with it. We decided to move out and see how that goes but I have no hope because she’s so intrusive. She also claims to be sick all the time which makes him want to stay. She hates my father-in-law and wants no relationship with him despite my FIL wanting to be closer. I’ve come to the point where I’ve had it. Too much has happened for me to forgive and and forget. I’ve been to a counselor but nothing will change until my surroundings change. Not sure what to do……..

    • southasianinlaws

      Sorry for the delayed response. I’ve been preoccupied with my newborn. Thank you for sharing your experience.

      I don’t think your mother-in-law has a problem with your specifically, sounds like she has a problem with everyone. She sounds manipulative and needy. She almost sounds as if she has a personality disorder.

      I’m sorry for all that you are going through. I know you have mentioned you have never disobeyed her but have you ever gently confronted her about her intrusive behavior? Although I am a fan of direct communication, in this situation I’d actually recommend your husband getting involved first. Her behavior is borderline abusive, especially the grabbing of your wrists. Your husband needs to focus on setting boundaries. He’s probably used to his mom’s behavior and is fearful of her reaction, therefore allowing her to continue to behave in this manner. But clearly it is affecting your relationship. He needs to start with small, easier things such as knocking before she enters your room.

      Maybe reassure your MIL that you don’t plan on interfering in her relationship with her son. And express that you desire a positive relationship with her, if you haven’t done so already.

      If (hopefully when) the relationship improves, you won’t forget..but forgiving will only benefit you.

      And unfortunately, there may be a point where you may have to accept that this is the way she is and do whatever is needed to protect yourself. Continue to treat her with respect but keep your distance if possible.

      Good luck and stay strong.