Saudi Arabia: Building a Relationship With In-Laws

I always enjoy responding to specific queries from readers.  Most recently I was asked how does a foreign wife build a relationship with Saudi in-laws.

The answer is simple yet also complex.  It is simple in that I believe a woman should be herself.  After all, her Saudi husband fell in love with her for who she is.  Yet it can be complex depending on the outlook of the Saudi family.

If a Saudi family expected their son to marry a Saudi woman of their choosing, then a foreign wife may not be immediately or warmly welcomed.  It’s not through her fault that she may feel isolated and only time will allow the family to work through feelings of disappointment before they may be able to reach out and accept the foreign wife.

While the foreign wife should not attempt to make herself over into a Saudi woman, she should take an interest in the lives of her mother-in-law and sister-in-laws.  What mother-in-law can resist a new wife who only wants to make her son happy?

The foreign wife should be patient but not reticent.  Do not be shy or afraid to initiate conversation with her new female relatives.  Find out if they like to read or cook or have special hobbies.  Look for the commonalities that are shared between you.

Be willing to go shopping with them or visiting other relatives with them.  You may not be able to understand everything said if you do not speak Arabic but smile and demonstrate your happiness for being out with them.

Don’t hesitate to ask your mother-in-law or sister-in-laws for advice.  It flatters them and pleases them if the foreign wife wants advice on cooking, engaging and training a housemaid or best places to go shopping.

If you prepare a dish that your in-laws like but do not know how to make, surprise them occasionally by having the dish delivered to them for dinner.  Many times my Saudi sister-in-laws would send dinner to my husband and I which we appreciated and enjoyed immensely.  They were equally pleased when I’d send dinner or a special dessert to them!

Most importantly, be willing to listen when the in-laws speak.  Answer their questions forthrightly and with respect.  Let them see the love you have for their son or brother.  Last but not least, be patient.  Some relationships may take longer than others to form but the old adage is true that time overcomes challenges.


14 Responses

  1. If you show interest in learning more about their culture, language and family and do your best to show respect for them on some level, that should go a long way to building a relationship with them. Being genuine, generous, friendly, and hospitable helps, too.

    What can be fairly interesting is trying to communicate with another person without sharing a common language. Body language helps a lot!

    I’m hoping to meet my in-laws in person soon. I really miss them!

  2. Very interesting subject and thanks for all the advices. I’m married with a Saudi man and I first came to Saudi Arabia, I did everything to let my in laws hate me very much. I was very young!

  3. In my 20 years of marriage to my arab husband and living with his parents and sister at one point for awhile…they never took interest in me, never asked me about my life. In fact they did not even greet me when I arrived the first time…just stayed put on the floor watching tv. Sometimes no matter what you do, it isn’t going to break the wall of dislike they have for you. Once you realize this, don’t even bother trying. It will only result in tears and hurt feelings for you and more fodder for gossip for them.

    If your one of the few lucky ones that has arab in laws that like and accept you..please put your story here. I think I only met 2 such women in my 23 years of experience knowing such couples. All the other ones just gave up and spent as little time as possible at the in laws house etc…which is what I ended up doing eventually.

  4. This is a very depressing story Coolred. Have got any idea why the Arab inlaws act in this way with foreign wives? Or would an Arab wife be treated so as well?

    Strange one, so you got married? Congratulations!

  5. I have no idea why…other than jealousy and anger that their son chose someone outside the tribe, culture, religion, country, universe…etc. Of course they will not take it out on their son so his wife gets all the blowback.

    One of the worst aspects of this intense long held dislike is that when the couple have children (if they do) their dislike for the foreign wife is made very apparent to her children and often those children as used as pawns and made to feel ashamed etc for having a foreign mother.

    I would advise any woman that thinks about marrying an arab…if you know you will be living with his family, or at the least have plenty of contact with them…make sure you meet them BEFORE you marry. It will tell you an awful lot about the life you will most likely have with them.

  6. I have in-law issues too 🙂 but to be fair they have shown their dislike of my husband’s actions to him too. I think the driving force for this was his dad and brothers and sisters which then influenced his mom, but a few of his siblings who had moved out of saudi and also choose their spouses were very nice, and after his dad passed his mom became much more accepting, by then the barriers were in place, so i didn’t bother much with them plus they made my life quite hard when insaudi. we never lived with them but they were very excluding in all they did, of course my husband was always invited but after they tried and couldn’t get him to marry another lady they kind of gave him the ‘cold’ treatment a bit, but which time we moved and i cut all contact and now they call if they need something , mostly money , i send it and don’t keep much contact, my bil who lives outside saudi and his wife who received similar treatment is the same way, we kind of are each others family…

    sad since being accepting brings so much reward, but who knows what runs in their mind. slowly they will change and for sure the younger generationt hinks differently so it will get better.

  7. Since I am getting married next summer, this inlaw/outlaw problem has been waxing my brain quite a bit; having heard awful stories from married friends. So Carol’s post was so timely.

    I have been doing a lot of research recently (my fiance doesn’t even know about it) to make sure that I am a well-behaved daughter-in-law. I have met my in-laws of course and they seem very nice and pleasant; although my married friends tell me that “real stuff” comes into play after tying the knot.

    First thing I have come to find out is that giving each other lots and lots of “space” is paramount. Luckily, my inlaws live in San Francisco and we are going to be living in DC; a “space” of 3-K miles. My future inlaws have hinted that when they come to visit us on holidays, etc that they would prefer to stay at a hotel. Whoa, so that solves that “space” problem!

    It goes without saying that mother-in-law and daughter-in-law competition is an age-old phenomenon that transcends race or culture or religion. I was gonna say that it has existed since the time of Adam & Eve but then that won’t be true since they had neither inlaws or outlaws. Suffice to say that this “mil situation” causes all sorts of tragedies within families. Both sides always assume the worst of each other’s motivations and most comments and opinions of either are almost always seen in a negative light. There is rarely little love lost between the two most important women in a man’s life!

    Then my research also showed me that there is this Feng Shui SOLUTION and perspective. Feng Shui folks suggest that those having this unhappy problem could start by first transforming their attitudes. They say that feng shui can help but unless there is also a reversal of expectations, it is less likely that feng shui can change much.

    According to feng shui, if your mother-in-law is staying with you, remember that she is probably feeling less comfortable than you realize. Because underlying her external bravado is the thought that she is probably not very welcome, so do make an effort to really make her feel welcome. Feng Shui suggests the following remedies:

    FIRST: Light up the SW corner of your living room with a bright light and put a lovely picture of the two of you – wife and mother-in-law – smiling happily in the SW corner. Make the picture quite big so both of you can see it and be reminded of how close you are or can be! Feng Shui sez: this little Taoist tip works wonders :)-

    NEXT: Place two crystal balls on a table also in the SW corner. This creates excellent earth energy that will cause both of you to bond really well.

    The presence of grandchildren is itself the most powerful cure. The energy of children is pure and very yang and this helps dissolve conflict and disharmony.

    It also helps to paint a wall red if there continues to be tensions. Fire element energy is always effective for burning up feelings of hostility and tension.

    If you are staying with your in-laws and your mother-in-law rules the roost, the situation is more difficult. Here it will be you feeling that neither you nor your husband is the power in the house and it is likely that the mother-in-law here will exert a great deal of authority.

    If you are the wife feeling stifled by the situation, the best solution is to wear a powerful amulet that will help to reduce any feelings of hostility. The rooster with amethyst and fan amulet here is excellent. Carry it with you always and you will find that any hostility between you and your mother-in-law will dissolve. You can also place two crystal balls on the table where you can both see it. This is powerful in helping to ameliorate any tension or left over anger.

    Disclosure: BTW, I do not believe in feng shui or taoism or fan amulets or crystal balls or roosters with amethyst. These are all but urban legends :)- I am not criticizing those who believe in such “magic” … more power to them!

  8. Thanks for the tips! I’ll keep them in mind if I ever marry a Saudi. 🙂

  9. very informative article, carol! these mother-in-law problems are surely there in all cultures and societies. the age old question still remains what can one do.

    these so-called “problems” are nothing to laugh at, though. when our own tv programs stereotype an overbearing, over-indulgent, or overpowering spouse’s mother, we laugh while empathizing with their frustration. in reality, a single visit or phone call from the “monster” frequently injects us with a serious dosage of tension and aggravation that lasts for weeks, months . . . or longer.

    especially comments from her like: i was just trying to help; in my day we never . . .; are you sure that you can afford to . . .?; i don’t know what I’ve done to make you hate me; i only say/do these things out of love and deep concern; i never meant to upset you; my grandchildren don’t even know who I am; blah blah blah.

    someone earlier mentioned giving “space” in mil-dil relationship as the end-all cure for the “problem”. sure you could live as far away from her as possible, restrict her visits and exposure to your children, and make sure your spouse knows his/her mother is the sole culprit in the bothersome relationship. in other words, you could establish that you’re usually right and your mother-in-law is frequently wrong! surely imho these are not the most sensible solutions!

    i think having realistic expectations is vital when addressing mother-in-law problems. we all want to keep our sanity, while not allowing a tense situation to escalate. is there a sensible solution? i think i read it in good housekeeping magazine a while back that there are three steps or something like that to sanity: become one; set priorities; exchange respect.

    someone might scream “i am constantly having mother-in-law problems! you don’t know my circumstances!” i can share with you this personal tid-bit: for over 30 years, my family watched me criticize and harangue my mother-in-law, a woman who experienced multiple cancers and widowhood from alzheimer’s. like a cancer, self-righteousness blinded me. I doubted that my mother-/daughter-in-law’s relationship could ever change.

    of course, i had forgotten the healing power of faith and forgiveness: lord god heals damaged family relationships, but we have to relinquish our rights … to get even, to find fault, and to be angry. only and only then can he accomplish the impossible through us …..

  10. “What mother-in-law can resist a new wife who only wants to make her son happy?”

    Easy: one who’s annoyed by the mere possibility that her son’s happiness depends on anything other than her own approval. Sadly, that’s very common in Eastern cultures, and it isn’t unique to Arabs.

    That said, I know quite a few Western wives of Arab men who seem to have good relationships with their in-laws. When I lived in the Middle East, I was approached more than once by mothers wanting me to marry their sons. As is usual in the traditional way, they didn’t know me at all (and wouldn’t have liked me at all if they had!), but they did know I was American, and evidently had no problem with it.

    In all those cases, though, the women are white. I don’t know any Arab man who’s married to a black or Fillpina woman whose family is happy about it. I suspect it comes back to that culture’s preference for light skin – the perceived negatives of their son marrying a foreigner might be ‘worth it’ if she’s white and will give them light-skinned grandchildren, but not otherwise. That’s completely wrong (and forbidden in Islam), but it’s the way many people think.

  11. I absolutely love my Saudi in-laws and I do believe they love me. My husband’s two sisters were especially welcoming, protesting when my mother in law attempted to rename me with an Arab name (“But I just want to call her something I can pronounce!” lol). They visited us in the states last summer and we had an absolute blast – we took the whole family to waterparks, paintballing, parks, festivals, and boating on a lake, in addition to generally gathering at the house. I think a few things made a difference: the way my husband went about introducing me, the fact that our first times together were times of great fun and vacationing, the fact that most of his family has lived in the states for study at some period of time, the fact that I can speak Arabic and thus can connect with all members of the family, and perhaps the presence of grandkids – it’s hard not to get along when all (especially myself) are cooing over extremely adorable chubby babies! We also kept staying in our own apartment during their stay – the vacation home already had twelve people in it, and having a place to retreat was I believe better both for me and for the family as I became the new member of it. As for the extended family who might be more skeptical, my husband has been helping me participate in formalities like calling and saying the appropriate phrases to give my condolences when a family member passes away, which I believe has paved the way to their additional support. I feel incredibly blessed – I love my new family!

  12. I correct that, I get annoyed at his little teenage brother… but that just makes him like the little bro I never had 🙂

  13. That is so wonderful, Catherine! It sounds like you have a great family and exceptional husband! (smile)

  14. Salam I’m married saudi man and I have two kids for ten year I try to be nice to my in laws run after them but sorry no nothing work in my case! His mother don’t like me from beginning even before she meet me and just got wors , she ask me in first visit “why you choose my son ? Why not British man ?,, I said I love him ! She said what love ! I just didn’t reply back and didn’t take serious witch I should ! I’m not talking about ignorant sister in law ! Any way bottom story becafull with eastern province ppl specialy Dammam there are very closed minded .im scared they will disroy my relationship with my husband because I get punish in every conflict badly I mean :((((

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