We know wives and mothers-in-law don’t get along. But men can suffer from family bullying too
By The Weekly | December 22, 2016
We tend to think of women as victims of bullying – we’ve all heard stories where wives and mothers-in-law don’t get along. But men can suffer from family bullying too – especially from father-in-laws, uncles and older brothers. Jokes about impossible in-laws are common but they do underline an open secret in Asia: bullying within families is common.
Sadly, it’s not always easy to spot. It’s especially difficult if a man is very filial, or he’s too shy to say anything, or he believes that asking for help is a sign of weakness. Here are some signs trouble could be brewing.
#1 There are endless family jokes about your husband
Aggression is often disguised as humour. This allows a bully to humiliate someone and then claim it was just an “innocent joke”. But here’s a clue; If the target of the joke is normally good humoured, but he’s not laughing now, then it’s not funny.
#2 Your family complain that your husband is not fitting in.
Comments can centre on his hairstyle, his attitude to childcare, his career choices – right up to serious matters like his religion. Your family are entitled to their opinions, but it’s disrespectful to try to force an adult into making changes they do not want.
#3 Your husband is systematically excluded.
He’s not invited to the bachelor parties and family party invitations are given to you, not him. When you’re all together and there are shared tasks like cooking or washing up, your husband is told not to bother. This can be a way of saying that he is not trusted. It’s like saying, “You don’t belong.”
#4 Your husband is bouncy and bubbly with you, but withdrawn and nervous with your family.
He has learnt to expect trouble and he is keeping quiet, hoping to avoid more of it.
#5 Your husband avoids being alone with your family
Some bullies are clever and hide their attacks. They may be sweet and nice over dinner, but when you’re in the kitchen doing the washing up, they’re ganging up on him in the living hall.
#6 Your husband avoids all family parties
He says he has to work, or he wants to see his friends, or he’s too tired. It’s fine to skip a function now and then, but when it becomes all functions, it can mean your husband has given up on even trying to get along with your family.
All families have ups and downs, but if you spot a pattern that shows you have a problem, what should you do? The reality is that marriage is a partnership where the two of you promise to support each other for better and for worse. Communicate sincerely with your husband, work out what the issues are and focus on solutions.
Perhaps your father genuinely is not aware that his jokes are hurtful, so take him aside and politely explain your point of view. It does not have to be a confrontation – it can be just an explanation. You need to show them that you stand shoulder to shoulder with your husband. Family loyalty and filial piety are extremely important – but so is your marriage. It also deserves respect.
Text: Ellen Whyte. Therapist Ellen Whyte lives in Malaysia. As well as face-to-face therapy, she counsels clients via email, Skype and Facetime. Occasionally she offers a free online public access agony aunt service over her blog.
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