I can't even believe I'm posting this . . . (after all these years)

iVillage Member
Registered: 07-24-2001
I can't even believe I'm posting this . . . (after all these years)
Tue, 04-23-2013 - 8:22pm

Background: H and I have been married for 21 years.  H is from a very dysfunctional family who has never really been accepting of me or my children from a previous marriage.  My MIL was extremely over-controlling of all seven of her children.  When I started dating H, he was only living and working in the area (we worked together) because his mother had given him "permission" to work 2 hours from where she lived until he could secure a job closer to her home (she had FORBADE him to work out of state - where he found a job that he really wanted).  

So obviously there were some pretty big red flags from the get go.  

H assured me that he could contain his family, and we got married.  Being married seemed to trigger something in H, and he did a complete reversal with regard to his family - and started to see himself as a victim torn between me (and my young girls) and his family of orgin.  Suddenly he started to believe his mother, and fall for all of her "divide and conquor" stuff - thinking he should go on extended family vacations where my girls and I were not included (even though his siblings families were included).  

Needless to say, we developed maritial issues over this.  We sought marital counseling, and luckily found a great therapist who immediately saw what the real issues were.  He started working solely with H.  Eventually, he recommended (strongly recommended - to the point where he said he wouldn't continue to work with H unless) H cut ties with his family unless they could adhere to three basic boundaries.  According to H's T, H's family was dysfunctional at best - more likely highly abusive,and H didn't have the tools at that time to contain them or appropriately process what was going on.

The three basic boundaries were:

1) H wouldn't talk to one family member about another (so no more of the siblings calling to say how "hurt and disappointed" their mother was with him.  When H would receive these sort of communciations he would respond, "IF Mom is upset with me, she is perfectly capable of picking up a phone to call me herself.  Now what can I do for YOU."

2) H would no longer accept communications at his place of employment.  He would only respond to personal communications via his personal address or home phone, or in person at his home.

3) H would not accept (or acknowledge) any invites to famiy events that didn't include his wife and children if his siblings spouses and children were included.

Not suprisingly his family violated every boundary, immediately and repeatedly (even refusing to include me - or our children (at this point H considered my children to be his since they had no contact with their biodad) - to his sister's wedding, I suppose in an attempt to really "up the stakes".  

And when H didn't budge on these boundaries, his family (his ENTIRE family) cut all ties with him - saving him from having to cut ties with them.  

This went on for about 7-8 years.  We'd hear through the family extended (aunts/uncles/cousins) that his mother was telling people she didn't have contact with H because he was a "skid row homeless drunk".  That she didn't even know how to get ahold of him. Whatever.  Typical weirdness.

About 7 years ago, H decided to attend a family reunion (he found out about from an uncle).  It included extended family, not just H's immediate family.  It went well.  And H decided he would like to attempt to reconnect with his family this way.  He would still insist on the three basic boundaries, but also only see his family with others around (since he didn't trust his family one-on-one).  This went well for a few years.  And then he decided he would see individuals in his family, but not all at the same time (so he'd visit with his mother, or a brother . . . but not attend family functions like Xmas, etc)  This worked well too.

And everyone was respectful of the three basic boundaries.

Then this Xmas he decided to attend his immediate family Xmas party - which was A LOT of people, since his siblings children were growing up and having so/spouses and children of their own now.   

And he asked me to go with him.  So I did.  It was fine.  Everyone who talked to me (not all did, but then I didn't seek them out to talk to them either) was polite to me - moreso than they had every been before.

Still, I was uncomfortable (not terribly so, since I really don't have a lot of social unease).  I mean why in the world would I want to be in the same house with these people?  They have been perfectly awful to me for years and years.  Our children are now grown and out of the house.  Neither has ANY interest in this family.  The few memories they have of them was that they were rude, judgemental and intolerant of them when they were children.  

Honestly, I haven't taken much that they have done/said to/about me personally over the years.  They truly don't even know me.  They hate me for reasons all their own.  I've always said, "I don't mind my MIL disliking me.  I just wish she would know me well enough to dislike ME for who I am, and not who she thinks I am".  

But it's clear his family has gotten the message . . . if they want my H in their family . . . they have to behave . . . and, at least, be polite to me (which is always all I really wanted from them).

So now that they are doing this . . . everything should be good, right?  Well . .  I'm just not "feeling" it.  I wish they would all just stay away.  I mean how meaningful of a relationship can H really have with his parents given all that's gone on over the years?  

H wants to pursue a relationship with his family - though truthfully, H is very, very shallow when it comes to these sorts of relationships (for example, his work often takes him RIGHT by his parents home, but he never thinks to stop by to say "hi" unless I ask if he plans to).  But I don't know if I can.  I just don't care enough about these people to try.

What the heck is wrong with me?

Avatar for tobermory
iVillage Member
Registered: 01-29-2001

I was in a very similar situation -- didn't see my in-laws for nine years, they got the message. However, while you should be invited to EVERYTHING, you don't have to go. I go to weddings, bar mitzvahs, and large things of that nature. Other than that, DH and DD go without me, and that is fine. I don't like them, they don't like me, there is really no reason for us to spend time together.  If they fail to invite you to something, he doesn't go. You can make it that simple.


Community Leader
Registered: 01-03-2004

I don't think anything is "wrong" with you. It's understandable you resent how your in-laws and extended in-law family has treated you and your children over the years. It's very hard to act like nothing is wrong (or was wrong) and pretend everything is Ok when it's not.

For the record, I feel for your husband, too. All these years he's tried to get the "approval" of a mother who wouldn't give it, and by extension, his siblings and their spouses, and what they did was "go along to get along" with Mama so THEY didn't get blackballed. Honestly, I always wonder how anyone has the time to "manage" other people's lives to the extent people like your MIL did/do! 

I think it's OK to set boundaries with how often, when, etc. you have contact with H's family. Since he's following the therapists advice and not accepting an invite unless you are invited also, you should stick to that agreement. Otherwise, if he shows up without you, his family "wins" that battle.  I think the best thing you can do is sit down with your husband and agree on certain opportunities to see his family, i.e. specific holidays (alternating) and certain family gatherings, i.e. family reunions, etc. but not every single graduation, wedding, baptism, etc. You might agree to Christmas this year and Thanksgiving next year, one wedding, one graduation, one baptism this year; one family reunion the next time.

I admire your tenacity in coping here. It's a monumental task when dealing with control freaks like your MIL. I'll tell you to pay attention to your H's siblings, too: one of them will step in and "take over" MIL's role when she's gone. Count on it.

Avatar for jamblessedthree
iVillage Member
Registered: 10-23-2001
I could have written this post! A lot of the dysfunction from DH's family has carried over into own, Who would have known this before we got married? Certainly NOT me, Lol. I was the naieve one b/c I took the vows that we became one more seriously than the divided way he remained. We will celebrate our 21st Anniversary this June, Over the years I've been less bothered by his own family simply by removing myself from them. Do you have kids? Do not put them in the middle of your own angsts with your inlaws is my only advice there and while I truly believe inlaws unfairly treat me and my own children too I will not stoop to the levels they have. There is nothing wrong with you, If you are not comfortable around your husband's family do not accompany him to events/reunions and such! That's what it's come down to with my own inlaws.



iVillage Member
Registered: 05-19-2008

I feel so badly for your spouse - 7/8 years of no contact and all the horrible things these people have said and done to their own child.  I can't even imagine what the justification is in their own brains.  But, I am glad that he was able to get the help he needed to make sense of it and to know that this is their dysfunction not his.  

This concept of him wanting to re-connect with his parents.  I understand this.  No matter what, we do have a bond with our parents and while it isn't good in this case it is a bond none the less.  Part of me feels that it is something he just needs to do and is more about acceptance than about love etc.  What I mean is that he probably just feels that he's set the boundaries and he's shown them exactly where his heart is, where is loyalty is and how deeply he is hurt by their behavior.  So much so that he'd completely cut them out of his lives for so long.  No, they will never accept any fault and he knows this but he probably also knows deep down that they are living with this truth.   As a child, he probably just wishes he could have some relationship even as minimal as it is.  I personally think that is okay as long as he maintains the boundaries he set in place so long ago. 

If he stops by their home or if he doesn't I wouldn't think you would / should ever even think or worry about this. This is something he should do on whatever level he wants to do it,  as long as (again) he maintains those boundaries regarding how they treat him and his family.

You've lived so long without these people so of course there will not be any strong feelings etc.  I wish it could be different for you but unfortunately these people chose to allow this to happen.  Not much left in your power except to move forward in positive ways and to accept that they are like this and would simply rather live alone than to make an effort for the sake of a relationship with you and their DH and grandkids.

It saddens me so much because I feel that in 7 more years I will probably be in your exact shoes.  I know that these people that are part of my DH's life are so stubborn as well that they'd rather be like your inlaws than just attempt to make an effort for the sake of family.  But, I also realize that they tied my hands a long time ago (like your inlaws did to you).  No one ever wants this outcome - distancing yourself completely from such close family relationships, but when your choice is the hurt and heartache that comes with their bullying and abuse, you simply do not have a choice.

iVillage Member
Registered: 09-23-2003

Oh honey, the more you try and analyse this, the harder this will be on you.  You are entitled to your feelings, regardless of what they are.  If they were mean to you (which they certainly were), you don't forget immediately, if ever.  Believe me, I will never really get over what IL did to me.  Granted, I rarely see them. 

If H wants to have a superficial relationship with these people, he can have at'er.  By no means does that translate to you.  If he wants to invite them over, great, as long as you are not responsible for the visit.  These are your feelings, and they are yours.

I don't think, knowing what I know about your "stuff" that H is the type to decide that now you HAVE to be all tight with these people.  As long as this is still true, l;et him do whatever.  As long as he remembers that they are nuts, all is good.

On a more "me" side, my girls are in a baseball tourney this weekend.  MAYBE the IL will come.  Normally they blow me off.  As it turns out, xH and his new friend have issues.  Perhaps IL are starting to see that I may not be so bad.