| May 23rd, 2006

* mother in law-daughter in law: from a theoretical perspective

Classic Mother in law-Daughter in law relationship issue is about relationship and its complexities reflecting a personality in joint family living in intimacy which in itself carries a risk of unmet expectations.

Each personality is structured in three ego states such as the Parent ego state, the Child ego state and an Adult ego state. The Parent (P) reflects values, the Adult (A), rational deductions and the Child(C), feelings. Relationships are the inter play of the functional quality of the ego state model in each personality.

The mother in law and daughter in law conflict is not a universal one. We cannot assume this conflicting relationship to be endogenous or in the nature of things. However, it does relate to gender scripting and a life position that a personality goes through from childhood being the foundation of personality, the unmet needs or repressions during childhood may erupt in an extremely compliant or aggressive child ego state behavior, triggered in a conflicting relationship.

The feminist psychological view is that Girls are brought up to feel limited and repressed from reaching autonomous functioning. Symbiosis or extreme emotional dependence on parents is transferred to spouse, son or others. Most female children we presume grow out of the feeling of limited or worthlessness, as in the process of social interaction, education etc. They are able to change their life position into a stabilized “I am Ok, You are Ok”.

Psychologists like Eric Berne states that persons can be in either of the four position at any time of their life, such as,
I am OK,  You are Ok
I am Ok, You are not Ok
I am not Ok,  You are Ok
I am not Ok You are Not Ok

People in the first position are autonomous and enjoy non symbiotic relationships. People in the last life position are not happy people and tend to seek blame and even lay traps for blames to confirm their unfortunate life position. These positions are reflected in the way we transact communication (nonverbal or verbal) with each other. People with the last life position are in scripty (see below for explanation) behavior where he or she is acting out her/his unmet child needs. In reference to this psychological understanding we may deduce that when the mother in law is in symbiosis with son and in addition to a parental message (from Parent ego state) that women are inferior to men and should be controlled — is acting out her life position when threatened by her sons attachment to the daughter in law. The daughter in law if brought up under an unfavorable gender script may have a similar life position trying hard to prove herself as a worth while wife, yet not understanding her mother in law’s intra psychic needs. In non psychological terms this means that joint living impresses on us the need to remain within boundaries, to understand the emotional IQ and needs of the other and to communicate in a manner which reflects the prominence of the adult ego state and will result in complementary transactions.

General tips for getting on well that apply in these relationships as well are:

To understand the dominant ego state in the other. If mother in law is coming from a controlling parent ego state and being aggressive, there is no point in reacting. Go along till her adult ego surfaces from the negative parental grip. In a cooling momentum, the daughter in law can deal with mother in law in a nurturing parental ego state and may even receive an apology. If daughter in law is in a nervous child ego state, the mother in law might try to give her positive strokes which help her adult ego state to function in a better life position.

Life is time spent in relationship with self, with others and in a situation. We need to analyze our time structure, to watch the proportion of time spent in productive activity, in enjoyment, in social interaction, in intimacy or in withdrawals. Balancing our time structure is important to reach a stable life position which in itself is the best way to live and let live.  Giving space and autonomy to each other is a good way to grow together in harmony.

About the Author

Ms khursheed Irfan Ahmed is family counselor based in Dhaka. She is one of the founding members of Ain O Salish Kendra.


“Scripty” is a psychological term. It refers to a “not ok life position” a person has developed since childhood and decides to maintain by creating situations that will put him/her in a not OK feeling. Scripty self perceptions in their rigidity serve as hang ups which leave us in a feeling of no return (Author).


5 Responses to “* mother in law-daughter in law: from a theoretical perspective”

  1. Lavanya says:


    I disagree with your advise on dealing with this kind of relationship. I belive from my experience and interactions with my friends that these relationships are power wars.

    You might understand that Indian men might be very similar to men in Dhaka where they feel a kind of obligation to parents.

    But girls in India have overcome this obligatory relationship mode and moved on to become independent, even more independent than men.
    So i dont think this logic applies, coz women do not feel the need for acceptance anymore. They want to treated as an equal and will not settle anyother way.


  2. Annette says:

    I am about to marry a man who is an only child. His father died 3 years ago, and his mother is still living. She has TTP, lupus, and is borderline diabetic. He believes that it is his duty, his responsibility to take care of his mother, and when she is no longer able to be independant, she has to live with us. “She’s my mother.” “It is only right that she moves in .”

    I work in a 35 patient dementia day care center, loving what I do; yet, I do not love her. She has been incredibly cruel to me. I believe that if she is unable to live independently she should move to any of the wonderful communities that are able to support her needs. That is not an option he cares to consider.

    I love him with my whole heart. I need some advise.

  3. Dear Annette

    Yes you have a dilemma here. The behavior of the ailing woman may be due to her sickness and also her symbiosis to her only son. You love your fiancé very much who feels responsible for his mother whom you don’t like and for good reasons would like her to stay in a home suitable for her condition. As a care provider on affected people, how would it feel if you put forward your suggestion to your fiancé with due respect to his sense of responsibility and at the same time the advantages that his mother would have in living with an appropriate community……he could visit her frequently and she could visit him…so that the bond is maintained. You could give him positive strokes for being a loving son ,assuring him of your love. As a professional, you could assert that his responsibility towards his mother lies in arranging a comfortable and medically caring environment for her.

    You might think of options using your good quality of resilience:-

    If your fiancé is adamant to keep his mother with him, what arrangements can you make to keep her un interfering?

    You love him very much and he wants to marry you. Negotiations for conditions carry weight before marriage, if handled with psychological understanding.

    Wishing you all the best in personal happiness.

    -Khursheed Erfan Ahmed

  4. Ravisha says:


    I am staying in joint family. I got married 3 years back. My Mother in Law always interrupt me whatever I do. She doesn’t allow me to do anything and keep on saying that I don’t do any thing. Which is troublesome for me.
    My husband want to stay with family.
    What should I do.

  5. Sanya says:

    Hi Ravisha

    You are in a difficult situation. I understand the problems you are having. You will not ever be able to seperate husband and mother- sometimes thats just the way it is. Some options you have are:

    1. Get him to talk to his mother and make sure he tells her that he is upset with the fact that she makes you feel unvalued.

    2. Tell her yourself – not the best approach though but tell her that f she thinks you are not doing anything then you will stop doing what you are doing.

    3. Stop doing everything apart from things you need to do for your husband.

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