Knowledge

Living With My Brother-in-Law

Question:

I am a convert, and have been married for almost 6 years. Unfortunately in that time, my brother-in-law has stayed with us. Initially I didn’t mind, mainly because I wasn’t really practicing at the start of our marriage and didn’t see an issue with a non-mahram (a male not directly related to you) living with me. Over time as I have become more practicing, and just with the annoyance of having to live with someone you don’t want to live with, this has become a real source of stress for me. I am not comfortable with going out of my room when my brother-in-law is home, and despite really enjoying cooking/baking on my days off from work, I don’t even want to go into the kitchen when my brother-in-law is home. We have a normal house where my bedroom is directly next to my brother-in-law’s bedroom. I have a separate bathroom I can use, but it is on the other side of the house, not an ensuite. I don’t even have my own part of the house. My husband doesn’t see this as an issue. I have told him repeatedly how unhappy I am with this living arrangement, but he says he can’t do anything about it because his family will be offended.

Slowly, I am becoming more practicing and I feel this is really impeding any further spiritual growth for me. There is an opportunity coming up where a nearby female relative of mine will have a spare room, and I am considering staying there for a while just to get out of this uncomfortable situation. Please provide me with advice on what I should do.

Answer:

Living with extended family members can be challenging, but especially so if you are a woman and your living arrangement involves a non-mahram member of the family. You are struggling with the need for privacy in your own home. Having your brother-in-law around is impacting your comfort level and affecting your relationship with your husband.

Given that you have continued with this arrangement for the past few years, it may be difficult for your husband to understand the recent change in your feelings. Additionally, he may be obligated to fulfill certain family responsibilities. Talk to him again, but try a different strategy. Often, when we discuss emotionally charged subjects, we unintentionally resort to hurtful and destructive communication patterns.

Own your feelings and use “I” statements to explain to him the impact your current living arrangement is having on your spiritual growth. For example, you can say: I feel restricted when I can’t move comfortably around the house. I miss you and want to be able to spend alone time with you. Avoid accusatory language and be honest with your husband. Perhaps he is unaware that you are struggling so much that you are considering moving out for some time. Ask him to help you think of alternatives.

Is it possible to move to a larger home? A smaller home with a finished basement can also be an option. Can your brother in-law contribute to making that possibility a reality? Additionally, if there are any personal issues between you and your brother-in-law, it is best to address them honestly and openly instead of living with resentment. Did your brother-in-law say or do anything that made you uncomfortable? Given that you’ve lived with him for many years, are you now restricting yourself due to his actions, due to your own spiritual growth, or is it just that he is taking over your space with no consideration of your needs?

Consider setting some boundaries in the home. For example, you can request your brother-in-law to give you private access to the house for a certain period of time every day. It may be that your brother-in-law is not even aware that you are struggling. Consider sharing your concerns with him as well or if it’s more appropriate, asking your husband to do so on your behalf. If all else fails, it may be worthwhile to share your concerns with an imam or other family members to find an arrangement that is satisfying for everyone.

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