First Wife Syndrome

  While the world begins to fret about a new(ish) virus epidemic, I’ve been struggling with my own illness.

Commonly known as first wife syndrome,  this illness is at epidemic proportions in Turkey and commonly occurs in the first wives of families.  It can be particularly aggressive in families with no daughters, and non-Turks seem to suffer the worst from the symptoms.  This affliction can range from very mild to debilitating, and there is no easy way to predict who it will strike. 

Symptoms include,  but are not limited to, back pain, neck pain, head aches, upset stomach, depression, mood swings, lethargy, exhaustion, and general malaise.

But no, really.

Like I described before in a recap of things I love and hate about Turkey, there’s a different standard applied to women rather than men.  In the most extreme cases,  it can manifest as women being treated as near slaves in the house.  This extends to wives, where the women marrying into a family are expected to take on the work of the senior woman in the house (mother in law) when they are there.  This has recently become more of a burden on me too.

Don’t get me wrong,  I have no problem with helping.  What I don’t like is doing things on my own when it isn’t something I’m doing just for me.  For example, forgive me if I get mad about doing my brother in laws laundry.  He’s not my husband and therefore not my problem.

This has been more of a problem since the winter started,  since my mother in law is prone to illness.  The first week it was OK,  but after a month of being asked to make tea (when I don’t want it),  make enough pita bread (lavaş) for our 5 person family without help,  do other people’s laundry, etc… Mmmmm how about no.

But what can I do? If I say no,  I’ll start a traditional rift between wife and mother in law.

This really made my blood boil when I was being told to assist my husband’s aunt in her serving us (as guests) when her own grown female grandchildren were not being made to lift a finger.  This is not normal in American culture (as I know it), and when we first got here nothing was expected of me, it was just a pleasant bonus when I helped so frequently.  But as I’m learning to do things on my own,  it seems that they’ve forgotten I’m not Turkish.

Maybe I should be flattered?

Nah,  I’ll just be mad.

Hopefully things will improve when we move out of my in laws house.  Whenever that will be. The longer I stay the more culture shocks I go through… Is that how it’s supposed to happen?

And now I kind of feel bad for feeling this way! Just because things are different doesn’t make them wrong…

But I can’t turn off 25 years of living my life with a different set of expectations!

What is an expat to do?

6 thoughts on “First Wife Syndrome

  1. It seems there is a LOT going on here (and in your other post)….what is your husband’s opinion on the whole matter? Is he willing to stand up to his family on your behalf? When you two live on your own, how does he imagine your role? I get that living with in-laws can make everything a lot trickier, but if this is the “norm” to him, will it always be the norm to him? Or does he have a more egalitarian view of the role of women at home, in a family, and in society?


    1. The problem here, honestly, is a culture clash between everyone else and me (but not hubby lol, he’s basically American now). The role of women as servers and particularly of young women/married women serving the family is so deeply rooted in the customs and culture here, to not do it would be equivalent to physically slapping his parents/family in the face. So I must grin and bear it when the time calls for it. He feels a lot of sympathy for me though, but he’s already dealing with his own struggles with his parents that tangling with them in this matter would just make things… Explode. Rather than leak haha. But when it’s just us he goes the extra mile to make it up to me hahaha, serving me with cookies and coffee and treats and doing work so I don’t have to. While I’m OK with a traditional role in a sense, it really depends on other factors (like if he works and I don’t, I’d do a lot of house work, service, etc. But if we both work then we split it. Etc). I feel I need to post another thing to clarify lol.

  2. Oh no I hope your fealing it’s not nice to be made feal that way but insallah you find your own place soon and the only serving you will be doing I when they pop over for tea 😉 but washing the brother in laws clothes no that’s were i would put my foot down not happening once many ok but it will just become a habit luckly if never had a problem like that with my in-laws but cousins and neighbours will question why I don’t do much around the house and they will be told to mind there own business very quickly 😂 stay strong somtimes it will seem like your fighting a losing battle but life is a test one you will pass ☺

  3. I thought this was just happening to me i lived with my mother in law and two brothers in law for one year in Turkey and it was exactly like your experience but now I’m not with them I miss them!

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