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VERY difficult relationship - DH parents - advice please(42 Posts)
SO, relationship with my in-laws has been highly problematic for many, many years. They were horribly disapproving of me for a very long time, behaved terribly to the point where my DH essentially cut contact with them. He hasn't seen them for over three years, and every infrequent interaction he has had with them since - over email - has been very fraught.
Without meaning to bore you all with details of what they have done, DH really struggles with this. On one hand he is the first to say they are hideous, on the other hand he seems to think he can change them and finds it so hurtful that they are so full of hatred towards us. There came a time where I offered - and it made me sick to do this - to remove myself entirely from the whole situation - i.e. they could continue a relationship with him and our DC, but without my involvement. They threw this back in his face, sent me abusive emails etc..so awful.
Problem is, DH can't seem to really accept the situation. It makes him so sad, and he is constantly trying to 'sort things out' - though it baffles me because he really dislikes them, and I won't engage with them anymore (entirely understandably). They will never change, but this is hurting him so much - and in turn, this is affecting our marriage, because he finds it impossible to communicate calmly about it, and I feel distraught, because I think - why are you grasping for the affection of people who won't give it to you, and people who have been so hateful towards your wife?!
I want to be supportive, but at the same time - I know what MY boundaries are, and what I deem to be acceptable in terms of how people treat me, and while DH is of course more emotionally tied - how can he want to engage with people who have treated him/me/us in this dreadful way?
Not sure what to do. Anyone who has been in a vaguely similar situation, I'd really appreciate your advice/experience...
How is he constantly trying to sort things out if he is nearly NC with them? I'm not doubting what you're saying, just trying to understand what he is actually doing - is he second guessing himself and dwelling on what's happened, getting into a negative spiral?
I would imagine he has spent his whole life trying to win their approval and so even when he rationally wants not to, it's not easy to cast aside a dynamic that has shaped or even defined him.
Ideally I think he needs some counselling to help him break out of the habits of a lifetime. This is the book I think often recommended on MN for people trying to break free of toxic families. I'd start him with that if nothing else.
Has he got siblings? If so, how are things with them?
Thanks for the replies.
Okay - so tribpot, yes he does get into a negative cycle of thinking sometimes, but most of the time - as he puts it, he manages to 'blank it out'. We are very lucky in so many ways - our marriage is strong and happy, we are blessed with our lovely DC and wonderful friends etc etc - all in all we have a great time the vast majority of the time. Yes, I think the family has been quietly fairly screwed up for years - DH went to boarding school from a young age, his mother is very very immature and narcissist etc - no terrible problems like violence or abuse but a lot of stuff that isn't right tbh. In that vein DH is very 'english' and wouldn't be hugely into the idea of therapy...
Imbroglio - interesting you ask about siblings. DH has one brother, who he was never close to - they are very different. The brother always struck me as quite jealous of DH, and the current situation was worsened by the brother 'bad mouthing' DH and me to the parents. So now DH has no contact with his brother either! In a very vile way, the parents have now said that they blame ME for the breakdown of this relationship (just as an example of how nuts they are...)
Ultimately, it's just very hard to be sympathetic to DH trying to 'resolve' stuff with people who have made it so clear they don't really care that much for him. I am worried he is going to hurt himself even more than he already is hurt, and I'm also worried about the impact on our marriage. I can't go back from the things they've said and done, whereas I think DH would sometimes very gladly brush everything under the carpet and play happy families, just to make himself feel better...
Sounds awful. 'Losing' family like this is extremely traumatic, so it's not surprising that he's unable let it go. His brother is probably just as desperate for attention and approval and is using the rift to get attention.
I'm not sure I can suggest anything useful other than to say that your husband isn't the only one that this has happened to. There are plenty of people who post on here with similar experiences.
Some parents just don't have a clue how damaging their behaviour can be.
Thanks Imbroglio - yes, it's just heartbreaking. I look at my DC's and think 'over my dead body' would I ever behave like this! Even if I was so utterly dreadful - which I don't think I am! - there is no way I would cut out my lovely son and grandchildren, which is what DH's parents have done.
The thing is, while I get this is DH's issue, in a way, I can't help but feel frustrated that he's setting himself up for yet more hurtful behaviour. Latest thing is that he wants to go visit them to 'sort it out' - but I don't see how he can come back from everything. Moreover, it feels like something of a betrayal towards me - his parents blame me for the breakdown of their relationship with him (because that's the easiest option for them) ...how is this okay?
Well he chose you, so they'll have to suck it up. And he's continuing to choose you. I imagine they would have been just as vile to whoever he chose. It's almost certainly nothing you've done or said.
Thanks Imbroglio - but this is the thing: yes, he chose me, and we have a great marriage but why is he so hellbent on attempting to resolve things with people who are so full of hatred towards me? He has spoken up to them about it, cut contact, they don't change...and yet he still can't let it go. It feels like a betrayal tbh.
It's not a betrayal of you, but I can see exactly why it feels like it is.
If his mother is narcissistic, then he's been brought up in an environment where everything revolves in one way or another, around her. Even if she did something for him, it would ultimately be about her. This is to the extent that his existence was tied to hers in a way that a healthy parent wouldn't have done, and not allowed to detach from in the way, for example, teenagers start to do.
You are a major threat to her, because you are the important woman in his life. And quite honestly, based on what you've said, it's AMAZING that he's sticking by you, stuck up for you and has had a period of NC with her/them and his brother. Many people in his situation can't, because defying the parent(s) is in effect a threat to their own existence.
If therapy isn't his thing (for now at least), take a look at the book recommendations on the Stately Homes thread. One in particular, Toxic Parents by Susan Foreward may be a good one for him (and you).
Agreed that it's not about you, although I can totally see how it feels like it is. That sounds really hard, especially when you would behave in a different way to him, but yet you have to let him make his own choices.
I know you said it's not his cup of tea, but counselling really might be the answer here, if it's continually causing problems. You could do just one session, either on his own, or even together for moral support if he wants it and see what he makes of it. Worth a shot, even if he decides he never wants to do it again - typically people find it much less intimidating than they expect, and miles more helpful.
I have a different perspective on this. My DM is very difficult. My family have a reasonable relationship with her because we accept that she is very limited in her ability to relate to others. We limit her ability to damage us by having good boundaries and self esteem. We know her behaviour is unreasonable, unkind, and occasionally bonkers. She is however, my mum. Also an elderly woman.
My siblings have a much more volatile relationship with her, often going NC for years at a time.
It is painful for all of us. I find tolerating her behaviour less damaging, especially for my DCs, than my siblings' route.
Has he done any research into family dynamics like scapegoat and golden child, beam lets and I am pretty sure there is a websites for both sons or narcissistic mothers and fathers.
If he wants to 'sort it out' then maybe suggest he reads these first.
The stately homes thread have a long list of sources on the first post. Have a look and pass them on. Tell him it's to help him better understand them and give him strategies on how to talk to them. Especially as everything he has tried so far hasn't worked
Hopefully it will start the healing process for him and help him understand it better
Pickle - I've been no contact with my DM for almost 20 years. There is no 'volatile relationship' because we are no contact. I would argue that it is because I have good boundaries and a high self-esteem that I've been able to protect myself and my DCs from her ongoing crap (which some of my siblings continue to live with - their choice, no judgement here). Without knowing more about the OP's MIL and her behaviour it's wrong to suggest that being NC is more damaging to her DCs than putting up with MIL.
I have no useful advice OP, just much sympathy. I think you have to let DH sort this one out in his own way. If you keep reminding yourself that it definitely isn't about you but about him, it will help to reduce the impact on your relationship. So they blame you - meh, so what, you already now they're crazy and so does DH. No way I would let them badmouth me in front of my DCs but otherwise, who cares what they think/say.
He desperately needs counselling.
I know a bloke with similar parents. He didn't go to counselling for years and years throughout all the drama. When he finally did go he realised he should have gone years ago, that's how helpful it is.
Unfortunately it can take years to fully break contact. No one wants to do it and we try so hard maybe with periods of no or low contact, hoping that the other party will come to their senses, not realising that they probably never will. I really feel for you , horrible situation.
I'd agree that counselling would be brilliant but I don't think there's any way I could get him there. This is, in a way, an illustration of the whole problem - while he is very much able to say that they have behaved terribly, it's almost as if he thinks he can change them.
The dynamic is very screwed up - it got to a point last year where they were behaving so hideously that DH told them they had burnt their bridges with him and he was cutting contact, but then months later, he got back in touch with them to try to resolve things. Every attempt he's made since has been met with coldness and disdain from them. They really don't seem to love or care for him at all tbh...
But DH seems to think he can change them. I get that it's very difficult for him, but I worry that he's setting himself up for more pain. I also feel very uncomfortable about them having any sort of relationship with our children given how toxic they are!
And also - no, I know this isn't about me (I couldn't give two hoots what his parents think of me - it's clearly the easiest path to blame the DIL for the breakdown of their relationship with their son).
But it becomes about me when DH is becoming so fucked up about it - he finds it impossible to talk about it without either shouting at me or starting to cry about how upset he is. I am becoming VERY sick of the impact his shitty parents have on him and therefore, us...
Then buy him the book Toxic Parents. That's actually what triggered my friend to finally go to counselling cos it wasike he was reading about them. It shocked him.
I've heard a lot about the Toxic Parents book on here, and have no doubt it's brilliantly supportive and useful. However, unfortunately DH is the kind of bloke that wouldn't dream of reading a self-help book, or going to counselling. In essence he would rather believe that he can sort things out - or if he can't, exist in something of a state of denial!
I'm sure I'm making him sound very out of touch - he isn't in pretty much all other areas of his life! He's a very affectionate husband and dad, the kind of bloke who is brilliant in a crisis, very kind-hearted and supportive to others...but when it comes to therapy or self help stuff within his own life, he just wouldn't do it.
In many ways the situation is so frustrating, because he can't seem to manage his emotions around this. He can't seem to accept his parents for what they are, and seems to swing between hating them and then clambouring for the affection, despite everything. Meanwhile, I have to deal with all his moods about it (when he gets into them). He cannot seem to handle any of this on an adult level at all, and it's affecting our marriage...
How about telling him you should both give them one more try but that he has to agree that this time has to be the very last time or you will need to rethink your position in the relationship.
It's unlikely that they will change so when they start their fuckery, you hold him to his agreement and if he renages you start packing, let him know you are serious.
This could go on for years and it's a very unhealthy way to live, it will eventually bring you both down to rock bottom.
If it's affecting your marriage and you two can't talk about it without shouting or crying happening then you need outside help.
Would he go to someone with you to discuss the impact it's having on your relationship? You'd be surprised, sometimes the most reticent people can end up reluctantly attending a session if someone close to them says it's important.
Does he recognise that it's affecting your marriage? What's his solution? Keeping doing the same thing over again and expecting a different outcome is the definition of madness...
OP, regarding counselling don't accept no for an answer. For all your sakes you need outside experts to help DH break the cycle he has been conditioned into since birth.
Why don't you let him get on with what he wants to do? He clearly wants to reconcile in some way with them, but can't because he feels you will disapprove and be angry that he is overlooking how awful they have been to you. I think you are of course perfectly entitled to say you don't want to see them, but you should allow him to move on with them if he wants to as they are his parents, however shit they might be.
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