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Problems with my In Laws

Community Member

At the time of our first child's birth (seven years ago)my husband had a mental breakdown he suffered psychosis, including auditory delusions and paranoia.My husband is now well and has moved on from his illness. And we both have good jobs.I still feel traumatized by these events. His family never offered any practical support. We chose to remain involved with them. I thought it was the best thing to do.

My Husband and his two older brothers were raised by his step father since my husband was two.They have no contact with their biological dad.The stepfather is a binge drinking alcoholic and a bully.He bullies my husbands mum and his
children and our children (especially our yongest).My In laws have two adult children together a daughter and a son.My husbands sister is also a bully to us and our kids( she has called my husband a " fucking psyco"). The youngest son is a drug addict. My mother in law has been unable to have an ongoing relationship with one of her older sons for many years
and more recently the other son had stopped communicating with her.My mother in law would tell me that her other sons wives
were “crazy" "lazy""manipulative" "bitches" " bad mothers".
My sister in law openly admitted to
my husband one day that she and her husband had been using drugs when they
went out.My husband decided to tell his mother.This
obviously backfired and my mother in law became angry and flat out denied that
her daughter would be using drugs around her children.
My mother in law became hostile towards me when we were next in contact.I decided to ask her why she was so hostile
towards me she denied this behavior.Within a day I received many threatening text
messages from her younger son .He
threatened me with violence if I gave his mother a hard time again.Things have deteriorated in the last six months.Initially my husband and I both decided to stop answering their phone calls and stop
spending time with them.This lasted for about four months.His mother has been inviting him to catch up with them
and bring our children (not me).I feel so uncomfortable about my
kids spending time with them without my presence. Our
relationship is suffering because of this.My husband refuses to talk to me
about it and I feel he blames me for what has happened.I feel generally sad and hopeless about my situation.Not many of my friends understand my decision to distance myself
and my kids from their grandparents and family.

8 Replies 8

white knight
Community Champion
Community Champion

Hi and welcome

Does your husband support you 100%?. Eg if your husband visited his mother and siblings and ithers said negative comments about you would he defend you?. If not then you have a marital issue to fix.

If your children visited your in laws home would you feel they would be mistreated?. If the answer is yes then you should not send them there. In all cases base your decision on evidence not feelings.

These situations are complex. Although your husbands step father has a history of bullying your husband still visits him. The bullying could be tolerated so it can't be too bad. Also when your children visit them your husband tolerates the "bullying".

We only get one side of the story here. You are an in-law to them also and that household has survived many years the way it has and his mum and step dad are still together.

I suggest there is a happy medium here to seek. Visit every third time so you are keeping your distance but not cutting them off.

Finally, have a meeting with hubby and discuss boundaries others can't cross especially with your kids.

The real problem is, bullying to you could be just part of this step dads persona. We are all different.

You married your husband not Hus mum or step dad. There us nothing you owe them. But your kids are their grandchildren. Make sure if you are going to deny them there grandchildren and deny your children their extended family...its for a very good reason and reason enough that your husband agrees.

I don't think you have reason enough based on your account.

Tony WK

It is true that I have not given specifics of the "bullying" behavior.I understand that this term gets thrown around a lot. We have tolerated very bad behavior over the past seven years.We are both very non confrontational and had a lot to deal with my hubby's illness in the early stages with our young family and I feel that this why we have stayed in contact with his mum and stepdad in comparison to his other two brothers who don't and consequently also their wives and their children (Five grandchildren in total from these two families). Hubby's Step Dad and mum did not support any regular contact with the brothers biological dad.And one of my hubby's early memories is of his step dad hitting his biological dad. The relationship with their dad broke down when the boys were young.

My hubby knows and has stated that what his half brother did was wrong (by threatening me). But he said it would be much worse if we confronted him on this behavior or even stopped communicating with him. His brother is likely to retaliate against us. My husband has (with pressure from his parents) helped his younger brother many times, we have given him our old car, paid him for odd jobs around the house, Hubby has helped him move house countless times. Hubby obviously loves his mum she is the only biological adult relative when he was a child that he had regular contact with. Hubby has also been the one to help his mum many times practically and financially with no thanks from stepdad.That's not to say that he approves of her behavior towards her daughters in law or older brothers. He has complained t me for year about it. But we put up with it. And I felt sorry for my mother in law having to put up with the abusive behavior of her drinking husband. But Its difficult for me to maintain a relationship with her if she is nasty to me. It is complex and that is why I am feeling hopeless about the situation

Also as i have said The in laws do not provide us with any practical support or financial. They don't look after our kids. Our kids are in paid childcare or before and after school care when we are at work. MIL hs looked after our kids at our home without FIL less then a handful of occasions . This has been made clear to us from them as a big imposition. MIL has made it clear that she is too busy looking after her two daughters kids. FIL and SIL have also voiced their disapproval. SIL stated to me that it was not "natural" for MIL to be looking after our kids as she was not my mother and that she would not ask the same of her if in my position.

The only relationship we have had with them is on a social matter.

Hi Katie

Its all a bit confusing for me. Perhaps someone else can assist. We are predominately people with mental struggles here and in your situation where it reads as quite complex I'm of little help.

However, you MIL has been with her man fir a long time. Its her choice to remain with him, bullying and all.

Just as its you and your gasbands choice to distance yourselves if you find them toxic.

What I've suggested us that there is bullying and there is nasty personalities etc a wide spectrum of what is seen as unacceptable but could be merely quite different characters.

So determine the degree of effect this mans behaviour has on your children and go from there. Without knowing your husband step dad it's impossible to judge.

Tony WK

Thanks tony for trying to assist. I understand you are a volunteer and I appreciate that.Maybe this was the wrong forum for me to try and get support. I did try this website because it was also targeted towards individuals supporting family members, friends with mental illness. And this forum was also titled " Relationship and family issues". I am trying to find a way to support my husband with this difficult family problem.

I did feel defensive because I felt that I have to prove the type of "bullying" or emotional and verbal abuse that hubby and I have experienced and explain why we remained visiting his family . I don't feel I was trying to find a solution to why my In laws decide to remain together or try and end their relationship.

I did feel pressured but I don't think it is helping me to try and prove that we have both received ongoing and long standing emotional and verbal abuse from some members of his family. My children are both very young and basically have very little interest in approaching their"grandfather" in a social setting as he does not show any interest in interacting with them. This does not stop him from making jokes about them at their expense for hubby and I to hear. So luckily the "effect" on them at the moment is hopefully at a minimum. They will only get older and more aware.

In your first response to me you stated:

"These situations are complex. Although your husbands step father has a history of bullying your husband still visits him. The bullying could be tolerated so it can't be too bad. Also when your children visit them your husband tolerates the "bullying"."

Unfortunately the nature of abusive relationships are complex. Many outsiders do question why people remain in this cycle of abuse and often blame the victims for poor choices or perceive the emotional or verbal abuse "can't be too bad" to be tolerated. Victims of abuse don't leave relationships for many reasons: Believing the abusive behavior is normal(accustomed to the abuse), Social pressure, finances, low self esteem, culture, disability and Love- at times the abusive partner can be very charming. I am now more aware of the abusive nature of this relationship and I do hope to help support hubby and protect our kids in this complex situation.

Community Member

Hi Katie,

that sounds like an awful situation. If I were you I would not allow the children to be alone with them, as they have by the sounds of it, displayed to you that they are not stable people. Your children are too precious to risk their safety and well being with people that you do not trust. If the grandparents would like to see their grandchildren they could come to your house to visit, that way it will be on your terms. Stick with your instincts and dont let anything think that you cannot or should not feel the way you do.

Hi Katie

I understand your defensiveness. Yes you posted in the right place. Unfortunately when we only get one side of a story it makes things hard. An interpretation of "bullying" is the point in question.

If I or anyone else assumed that the actual bullying was extreme (based on the sole claim he is bullying) and issued advise eg to keep your kids away with zero contact...while the actual actions/verbal act of the bullying isn't known to us then I could be condemning a person for his mere manner or loud voice and so on.

I agree with firsttimemum to go with your own instincts as a parent or better still inform others of your boundaries. That's no easy task so it better your husband does this as you could be portrayed as the evil in-law.

For what its worth any act he carries out that is not to your happiness to you or your children is best confronted on each occasion, step by step.

I hope you have some option now

Tony WK

Tony WK

Community Member

Hi Katiemumof2

There are so many competing peoples needs here that I’m not surprised its doing your head in! There is the need of your husband to have some sort of relationship with his admittedly dysfunctional family of origin. There is the need of your husband to bear witness to his children having a relationship with his parents ( esp mother) and visa versa. There is the need for your husband to remain healthy and well in himself . There is the need for you to remain emotionally healthy and with boundaries that feel safe to you. There is the need that you feel to be a good wife. There is the need that you feel to be a good mother and promote extended family relationships to your children. And also there is the need to protect your children from bearing witness to or being subjected to bullying or abuse. I don’t think I’ve even covered all of them!!

So how do we begin to sort them all out ? I feel that the best place to begin is with you and your husband together as a team . Sit down and work out the list of needs and then which needs and important to you both. Then work out which needs might be important to one of you but less so to other. See if can commit to supporting one another.

Once you have worked this out, then you might begin to settle on plans and strategies that allow you together as a team to work on ways that you as a couple / family can look meet the shared needs. 

Lets take an example ... if it is a shared need/value that children have contact with their grandparents, then you can discuss what this might look like . Does this mean that we visit as a family once/ week or  month ? Does it mean that they come here ? Does it mean that you take the kids there on your own ? If so, what behaviours should you be on the look out for that we do to tolerate for our children and that it is agreed they will need to firmly removed from if it occurs ? Does he think he could do this ? How ? Would he overt what he is doing ? or simply make an excuse and leave? A thorough discussion can help to make you feel that you are together on the same page and that he is your ally. I feel that usually people are much better at dealing with their own families “crazy bits” but also they can have blind spots too. So , having this sense of agreed boundaries that respects your new family’s values might be important to both of you. 

I absolutely respect your attempt to place boundaries around this family’s behaviour. It is ok to say “ how you choose to behave to one another is your concern , but how you choose to behave  to me or my kids becomes my concern” . Meaning…I think it is wise not to try and change them , but it is absolutely your right to decide which behaviours you feel ok with. This family definitely has a very different idea about what is ok and what is not !!! My advice is that you cannot be responsible for their behaviour, but you be responsible for your own . So behave to them with grace and kindness. 

Model to your children how a rational ,calm and loving woman behaves, Show them how to place boundaries in a way that is firm but not aggressive. Thus if someone is openly rude or hostile to you, make sure you and your husband have agreed that you simply have “ code word” that is your “I’m out of here” word. You don’t “tell them off” or try and tell them how wrong they are, or awful they are being . You just leave. You are just are very simply showing in a firm way , that if they want your families presence in their lives , it comes with the responsibility to behave. Later , when things have calmed down , it might be time for words ( but maybe not)

Hopefully after a few episodes of this, they may get the idea and settle down… Either way , you walk away with your dignity. You do however try again next time as you need to respect your husbands needs for continued exposure to his family no matter how “crazy” they are…

There are books by Harriet Lerner - The Dance of Anger , or The Dance of Intimacy that cover some of these issues. You might like to look at them or seek help from a couples counsellor of you guys are getting too bogged down.