Growing Increasing Resentful of Husband's Guilt Towards Inlaws

iVillage Member
Registered: 09-19-2011
Growing Increasing Resentful of Husband's Guilt Towards Inlaws
Mon, 09-19-2011 - 4:52pm

I have been married to my husband for close to 6 years. He has a different relationship with his parents. He is the parent-like figure and they seem to be emotionally dependent on him.

First a little background: my FIL was a "functional" alcoholic for all of my husband's childhood. He is an only child. FIL stopped drinking when DH was about 20. DH describes his childhood as chaotic, oppressive, unstable with constant turmoil and fighting between his parents. His parents are still married to this day. They are both in their early 70s, in good physical health and live about one hour away.

DH is very loyal to his parents and feels responsible for their well-being. He says he feels sorry for them and it's pity that he feels. Both are a little needy and dependent on him, and when something goes wrong (something breaks, TV bulb goes out, you name it) they go straight to DH for help. I always just shrugged this off as being his family's dynamic and never could put my finger on why their relationship bothered me. DH reminds this is because he's an only child and it's his job to take care of them. I don't mind helping anyone out who is older and needs assistance with physical tasks. They are able to take care of themselves physically. I feel like whenever we visit and it's time to leave that they will just be sitting there waiting for us to come back to visit again. Not really any friends or hobbies to occupy their time.

We now have a couple of young children and I noticed that their need has evolved into "needing" to see the kids. I feel like we do our best to accommodate reasonable visits - usually a whole day visit every 2-3 weeks. I recently realized that it's the guilt that my husband feels towards his parents that really bothers me. The strange thing is I rarely see FIL or MIL (well MIL does a little guilt trip whenever we have to leave after a visit) really put a big guilt trip on DH. On occassion there are small guilt trips, because I remember after my DD was born, FIL would call and say how much they missed her and DH would want to go down there the next weekend to visit because he felt bad that they were missing our daughter. I would feel a little miffed since my parents never played that card and as a result they get to see their grandkids less often (my parents are very careful about respecting boundaries). Anyway, I digress.

I noticed how much guilt my husband carries around for his parents. I don't know why I couldn't put my finger on it until now. I feel my resentment growing over this situation and my resentment is with DH. His parents are needy and I wish he had healthier boundaries. I notice the guilt seems to especially surround his dad who was the alcoholic. Whenever his dad asks for anything, it's my DH to the rescue. It seems like he can never rescue him enough. He so desperately wants to please this man, but it's an unattainable goal. A few nights ago, he brought up the possibility of moving his parents closer. He made the comment, "they just want to see their grandchildren more often" (as if they never get too).

iVillage Member
Registered: 04-19-2004

I think an important step would be for you to encourage your dh to attend counseling for children of alcoholics.

Community Leader
Registered: 01-03-2004


ALANON.ORG. Your FIL may have quit drinking but he's still an alcoholic and your husband is still the adult child of an alcoholic. Codependency and enabling are still happening here even though FIL isn't tipping a bottle any more.

Alanon is the sister organization to Alcoholics Anonymous. It is the organization that can help you and your husband deal with the impact of his father's alcoholism on him and your marriage. Seek out the nearest chapter and talk to a leader. You will find invaluable support and many revelations here.

One thing you'll learn at alanon is this: When a person quits drinking (or doing drugs, etc) they need another "addiction" to take their focus. Some people take up fly fishing, exercise, cooking, writing, etc. It seems your in-laws have made their son their "new" addiction and/or they feel guilty about how he was raised while his father drank.

Like I said Get to them ASAP. It will make all the difference in the world!

iVillage Member
Registered: 05-27-1998

Your husband is exhibiting classic ACOA

Avatar for deenow17
iVillage Member
Registered: 10-12-2004
How often would you like to see his parents? once every 2 to 3 wks doesn't sound often to me but then I'm a grandparent. When my 3 kids were small we spent most Sat or Sun's at my ILs home. They loved to see the kids & since my parents were far away so rarely saw them & Mom isn't into kids so didn't care. I believe in the extended family support to raise kids. The visits dropped off as the kids got older & had several activities. My ILs have been gone 15 & 20 yrs but my kids still remember those times with their grandparents & in hindsight I would do it all again but find a way to include the activities and the weekly visits rather than let them drop to once a mth like we did. We saw our 4 yr old grandson last night for the 1st time in 2 1/2 wks, I don't know who was more excited. We used to see him once a week but it's harder now he has started school full time. His long days make for early nights.

As others have said, your husband is just continuing with the trend created in a child of an alcoholic. I know, I'm an only child of an alcoholic mother. My earliest memory is of taking care of my Mom who did quit drinking when I was about 30 for 20 yrs. She is drinking again now. I know what I'm doing as I have been in counseling. Frankly I made the decision to change my behaviour then something happened that's too long to go into here & I'm back taking care of my parents and feeling guilty. So DH & I have talked it through several times and he is trying to understand what I'm going through, my feelings & needs in this situation rather than getting angry at me. In return, I'm trying listen more to his feelings on this subject. I have learned that there are certain things I must do for my parents to be at peace in my life. DH doesn't like it but he is learning to understand & accept.

It isn't easy & the only child issue makes these things tougher as there is no one else to take responsibility but you. The dynamics of an only child & their parents tends to me very different from what I have observed between my friends with siblings. There seems to be a tighter link between parents & child with those I know who are only children. I'm don't mean we care more but we seem to be more aware of our need to focus on our parents. Maybe because there was no one to compete with, it just seems that we automatically expect to take care of our parents as they age.

Good luck, try to talk with your DH & counseling for both of us is a great idea. But also try to understand that he isn't hurting you on purpose & this situation with him is very complex. Not sure what his childhood was like but mine at 6 involved putting Mom to bed by 7 then making my own lunch, having my bath, getting my clothes out & putting myself to bed as Dad worked until 9/10 most nights. I was lucky in that Mom didn't start to drink until she got home from work & so she made dinner most of the time but I could cook kraft dinner & grilled cheese sandwiches by age 6. I didn't let my kids near the stove on their own before they were 10 but you grow up fast with an alcoholic parent.