Our Pages

My mother-in-law ill-treats me. What can I do?

Weekly Q&A

My mother-in-law ill-treats me. What can I do?
Posted on May 11, 2021  - By Dr. Alexander Kurian

Today’s Q&A is a bit different from the ones we’ve done so far. Today, we’re not delving into a hot topic in modern-day Christendom or working through a confusing Scriptural passage. Instead, we’re hoping to address a dire situation in the life of a fellow sister in Christ.

We thank God for her life, for His work to save her, and for His Spirit that has led her thus far. We are deeply sorry for the situation she’s in, but are encouraged by her heart to persevere and reach out for help. 

Disclaimer: This is a response to a long, heartfelt letter that was sent to us. For privacy reasons, we’re not copy-pasting the letter, but will focus on answering the following three questions:

  1. My husband wants me to tolerate his unbelieving mother, even though she ill-treats me and undermines my efforts to raise our kids in the Lord. What can I do?
  2. How can I handle them when they argue against Jesus in favour of Mary? They are devout Catholics, and these arguments often occur in front of the kids.
  3. Is it wrong that I don’t want to go back to their home? Will my behaviour bring God’s judgement on me? Will Jesus not take me to be with Him during the rapture because of my negative feelings towards them?

The in-law dynamic

I am sorry that you were compelled into marrying an unbeliever. Scripture does not condone this. But we know from God’s word that no person or circumstance is beyond redemption — not your husband, kids, or your in-laws.

We also know that Scripture exhorts women who are married to an unbelieving husband to submit to him regardless (1 Peter 3:1). The rest of that passage — till verse 6, at least — is well-worth reading for wisdom in dealing with your situation.

Notice these details about the wife: respectful, of pure conduct, inward beauty, a gentle and quiet spirit, and fearless. That, dear sister, is a portrait of the kind of woman God is calling you to be. Keep that in mind as you read through the rest of this response. 

Now, as a married Christian, next to God, your family — your husband/wife and children — must be your first priority. The Bible is very clear on this. Notice the verbs in Genesis 2:24: “leave”, “cleave”, and “become one”. Both the husband and the wife should strive toward this ideal. 

As a married Christian, next to God, your family must be your first priority. The Bible is very clear on this

Yes, our parents always deserve our love and respect. But after the wedding, they become secondary to your own family. It is my hope that your husband also develops this biblical conviction, as it is foundational to a healthy married life. We should not allow anyone, not even the family we were born into, to negatively impact our married life. 

We should give our love, respect and support to parents all through our life. Children are commanded to obey the parents in the Lord (Ephesians 6:1). When we are adults, and especially if we’ve established our own families, there is no longer a question of obedience or dependence on them.

Children outgrow the stage of complete obedience, but even as adults, we do not outgrow the requirement to honour our parents (Ephesians 6:2). The way we deal with our parents must still be gracious, respectful, and loving. 

Now, it is important that parents realise this as well. But even if they do not, we have to fulfil our God-given responsibility of protecting our married life. We should not allow anyone to interfere with it. It is important to be intentional in a united effort from the husband and the wife to understand and support the other to fulfil this goal.

You are responsible to bring up your children in the fear of the Lord. This is a God-given mandate and He allows no room for compromise. As a parent, this is your primary calling (Ephesians 6:4). Everything else can wait. 

I would encourage you to especially pray for your husband and boldly take steps to discuss these matters with him. It is important that you both are on the same page, and that he can be supportive of you in this. Lovingly remind him of these truths from time to time. Perhaps it would help him to receive some counselling from mature Christian brothers, if he’s open to it.

Above all, ask the Lord to open up ways for you to fulfil your God-given duties to your children, even amid all the hindrances. Also, mobilise fellow sisters as your partners in prayer.

Gentle witnessing

Boisterous and divisive arguments will not help in any way. But you can prayerfully and gracefully show them from the Scriptures that Jesus Christ is Saviour and Lord, not Mary. 

Boisterous and divisive arguments will not help in any way. Gentle witnessing with discernment is the best option

After exhorting the saints to submit to those whom God has placed over them, even if they are evil or unjust, Peter writes this in 1 Peter 3:

“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:13-16). 

To be bold in standing for the truth, it is essential that we spend time in reading, studying, and praying through the Word. Our knowledge is very limited; there is only so far our words can take us.

So, make sure to read the Bible everyday, knowing that it is the very Word of God. Meditate on His word as often as you can. Spend time in worship, “…singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Ephesians 5:19). Pray through what you have read and understood. And constantly seek to apply these truths in the environment you’re in. 

Gentle witnessing with discernment is the best option. Remember that being firm is not rude or disrespectful. However, if they continue to be resistant, then there is no point in an argumentative discussion — especially if it is in front of your kids. Leave the matter to the Lord and commit them to His care. Let Him deal with them. 

Your life and testimony, however, should be maintained before them. This is a big struggle. Trust in the Lord to give you the grace to be His witness before them.

The principle outlined in 1 Peter 3:1-2 is applicable in this case. Do not pressure the unbelieving family members into converting. Instead, our godly conduct without a word to the truth of the gospel can be used by the Lord to convince and convict them.

The believers security

It is not wrong to go back to stay with them permanently. But that is not a good option. If real leaving, cleaving and joining has to happen between a husband and wife, they should establish their own home. Of course, rare exceptions can be made for practical needs.

This is a great problem that has destroyed many marriages in India. It is from the joint family set-up that several problems erupt — the major one being “the mother-in-law problem”. Hope your husband realises this situation and that his primary responsibility is to protect your married life at all costs. He has to plan and make decisions for the future with this goal in view.

Now, for those in Christ, for those who are saved, there is no reason to approach God with the fear of not being accepted. Yes, we are called to behave rightly, even to those who hurt us. But it is also true that we will fail to do so on many occasions; while we’re in this body, we continue to be sinful. However, that does not change our standing before God.

When we’re saved, we’re adopted into the family of God, made part of His kingdom and fellow heirs with Christ Himself (Romans 8:14-17). The gospel assures and Jesus’ blood seals our acceptance: once saved, always saved.

If you are a genuine believer, you don’t have to worry about the rapture or the security of salvation. Your future is safe forever in the Lord.

If you are a genuine believer, you don’t have to worry about the security of salvation: once saved, always saved

Satan is creating doubts and confusion in your mind to weaken your faith. 2 Corinthians 2:11 reads, “… so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs”.

Winning conduct

Here are two final words of encouragement.

First, trust in the Lord and be bold in your conversations with your husband. The Word of God instructs wives of unbelieving husbands to win them over without a word by the conduct of their lives (1 Peter 3:1).

This is not a call for your silence. It doesn’t mean you should stand by idly as the situation at home develops. We are not called to remain silent, especially when it comes to preaching the gospel (Romans 10:14). For it is through the living word of God that we are saved (1 Peter 1:23). So, don’t shy away from preaching the truth — to your husband, your kids, and to your in-laws.

Don’t shy away from sharing the struggles you face at home with your husband either. Encourage him to do what’s right for you and your kids. Remind him, in love, that you and your kids are to be his first priority beside God. But you are not called to convince them with (excessive or nagging) words. The Word of God simply calls us to grow in Christ-likeness that wins your husband over.

Second, it is vital for your heart — and your growth as a Christian — to have a healthy community around you — especially in a church context. The local church is a means of God’s grace for our spiritual growth. (In your letter, there is no mention of a church you are part of. If you are not part of a healthy church, you could reach out to the team at ButGod, who may be able to help you find one.) 

Also, try to develop friendships with a few mature Christian women around you. It would be good for your heart to share your problems, read and pray through the Word with them.

May this response encourage your heart as you deal with matters at home and may you continue to walk steadfastly with the Lord.

Dr. Alexander Kurian

About Dr. Alexander Kurian

Alexander Kurian has been committed to the proclamation of the gospel for over 40 years. He has a passion to be conservative in guarding God’s revelation and radical in our application of it in a postmodern world. To that end, he is currently involved in a global ministry of teaching, training and equipping.



Get a notification in your Inbox

A weekly brief of new resources and Scripture-based insights from our editorial team.