Sooo...anyone else marry into dysfunction?

Alright, let’s say for the sake of argument that I come from a completely normal immediate family. No abuse, physical, verbal, substance, or otherwise. Everyone is loving, supportive, respectful, etc. Disagreements, while rare and occasionally heated, are just disagreements. Other viewpoints are considered, no one gets nasty, things get worked out. Everyone is just regular. This isn’t to say that my extended family doesn’t have its special people, they exist. However, there exists a certain threshold for bullshit and once someone exceeds the limit, they get voted off the island. I haven’t talked to some aunts or cousins in years and/or decades, and I assure you it is for the best.

I assume that other people come from families like this?

Now, my wife’s family. Holy crap. There is a certain penchant for drama that I can’t begin to understand. My wife and I have been together nearly ten years, and still I am having trouble coming to terms with the shit her parents pull. It’s a huge cause of anxiety for the both of us. For example: The dad has not had a steady job since I’ve known him, and has been riding unemployment forever. (Despite really loving Jesus and voting Republican.) He will occasionally get a job, then find an excuse to quit two to three months later. Rinse, repeat. He asks us for money, because they’re going to foreclose on the house if they don’t pay the bills. $5000. After discussing the fact that we’re never going to see the money again (despite assurances to the contrary), we give it to them. The next time we’re over to their house, they have a brand new 52" HDTV. When my wife called him to try to explain that this is not, in fact, cool, he berated her and called her names. Shit like this all the time. The mom giving my wife the silent treatment for some percieved slight. The dad getting drunk at family gatherings and saying stupid shit. The brother in his late 20’s who still lives at home and literally does nothing but play video games.

Does anyone else deal with this? What do you do? I swear to god, my wife and I…it’s just too much anxiety about the next time they ask for money, or what the dad is going to say the next time he gets shitfaced, or who they’re going to be mad at next and for what. It’s just too much. How do you deal with this? I am unprepared.

Hi honey!


Seriously, though, yes, my wife married into my dysfunctional family and after 10+ years, we finally just said “to hell with it” and moved away.

It was a great decision and we’re doing quite well. :slight_smile:

If it makes you feel better, my wife is the one that married into dysfunction.

Seriously, her family all gets along, treats each other with respect, and can politely disagree with each other. My family is nothing but a headache.

Don’t give them money. Ever.

I saw a sign for sale at Cracker Barrel that said “Remember, as far as anyone knows we are a nice normal family.”

My wife has a dysfunctional sister, whose relations with her abusive boor of a husband cause her, and thus me, no end of anxiety.

I really had no idea such people existed. I’d gladly flush them down the toilet, metaphorically speaking, except for the fact that they have two lovely daughters who are my son’s first cousins, and he’s very fond of them. I have to care, for their sakes.

Where to start on their litany of fucked-upness? First, I guess, with a disclaimer of sorts: I know that the sister is an abused woman, and I know that it is very common for abused women to be unable, for various reasons, to leave their abuser. I know that, and because I know that, I’ve put up with a lot, over many, many years.

With her, it’s a roller coaster: first she’s calling the cops on him for trying to kill her; the next thing, she’s made up with him, and she’s lying to Children’s Aid about him living in the house - and getting steaming mad at us for not inviting him to family events. One day he’s an abusive asshole and the cops have arrested him again, and taken away his guns (he’s a gun nut, naturally); the next, he’s just misunderstood, and WE are the bad guys in her eyes for dumping on him - by sympathizing with and helping her.

One day, she’s dead broke and needs cash to feed her kids; the next, she’s off on a trip to Disneyland with them, and with him, and if we bring up the whole ‘living in poverty’ thing, suggest that maybe expensive holidays may be a bad idea when they are so deep in debt, we are again the bad guys. What, can’t she have a little fun? Then, we find out he’s blowing thousands on cocaine. Which may explain his unpredictable outbursts of malicious, murderous bad temper, not to mention them never having cash to pay their debts, and the fact that the house (which her parents gave to them) is now line-of-credited to the hilt. We have stopped giving them hand-outs, but they still squeeze her parents. Her mom, who is more Catholic than the Pope, has even gone so far as to get on her knees and beg her daughter to divorce this man - to no avail.

Then there are the phone calls at 2 AM. Then, there is the KIDS calling the COPS at 2 AM. The kids are royally messed up, and who can blame them? They have a parade of exasperated social workers and Children’s Aid workers through their house and are constantly in and out of various types of hearings. My worry is that the Children’s Aid authorities will lose all patience with them and initiate proceedings to take the kids, and what then? Her parents are too old to take the kids, her brother’s family is too poor, and that leaves my wife and I - and the last thing in the world I want to do is to inherit two messed up kids, not to mention the emnity of these people.

If he killed her, it would not be a big surprise to anyone.

I didn’t think I was marrying into dysfunctional - until my husband and his mom had a falling-out. (Long story.) He said he just had to distance himself from his family for a while, but for me to please keep visiting her for coffee and not ignore her myself. I was fine with that, I’d go over occasionally and she gave me a birthday card with $ inside, for which I mailed a thank-you note and said that I would save the money for the expo when I did a marathon the following month. After the marathon I dropped by for a visit and to tell her what I bought with the birthday money.

Long story short, she FLIPPED OUT on me. She started by saying that it hurts her when I visit because her own son is not talking to her. I said “Okay…I understand…” and she said “No you don’t understand because YOU DON’T HAVE CHILDREN. You will NEVER understand.” She then called my husband and I “selfish, spoiled brats”, said I hurt her feelings, said I hurt my own mother’s feelings (not even close to true), and told me to get out of her house and not come back. <-- that’s the condensed version of the tirade.

The whole time I’m giving her a pass because she was having serious health issues and was very stressed out about her son not talking to her. I was backing towards the door apologizing (“don’t engage the crazy”) and not getting upset myself.

Then she said “Wait. Take this.” - handed me our wedding photo, which she’d had beautifully framed - “I don’t even want your picture in my house anymore.”

Now that’s calculated to hurt. I walked out the door, went home and through tears told my husband what happened, and he was like “Well I guess that’s it. That was her final way of hurting me.” (You hurt me, you hurt him.) We haven’t spoken to his parents since.

It’s very sad because they never seemed to have a problem with me before. They were kind and generous, and seemed to genuinely like me. Oh well.

Yep, sure did. My experiences leave me wondering: Why do some people see a loving family and think, “Hey, I know just what to do! Let’s manipulate / control / throw tantrums / deliberately do hurtful things, b/c these people really love me and I can &^%$ them up! This is particularly cool since I’m a grown adult and ought to know better!”

I’m never sure how far I can opt out of the crazy without treating my spouse badly, so holidays and alcohol go together like peanut butter and jelly for me now. Mother-in-law re-arranging the place cards to force her adult kids, who hate each other, to sit next to each other? Pour me another one, brother, it’ll be a long night. Stepson demands daddy’s house / truck / money, then throws a tantrum and refuses to see him at Christmas b/c we couldn’t deliver? Time to stock up on the vodka and spend Jesus’ birthday in a blur as my husband sits at the window like a lost puppy!

Honest to Pete, I’d rather spend Christmas at the bus station, but I do love my spouse and will sit there and hold his hand through the $%^&storm that is every holiday. I just can’t do it completely sober anymore.

Yup. Abusive father-in-law, abused mother-in-law who refused/was unable to take assistance offered to her to get out (including literally being driven to a divorce lawyer’s office by one of her kids, twice, only to be talked out of it by her husband), screwed-up now-adult kids with various combinations of alcoholism, drug abuse, ‘Stockholm syndrome’ (siding with their abusive father because he has the power and their mom barely protected them), depression, PTSD, and various personality disorder issues. Fun stuff. My husband loved his mom (and most of his siblings) enough that we only cut them off for maybe 6 or so months.

I love him, but damn, dealing with them has not been a picnic. I have a very average, loving, mellow family. Meanwhile he could never imagine what it was like to eagerly await one’s dad getting home from work; he always feared it.

That’s one thing I’ve learned I absolutely cannot deal with (hurtful on purpose), and largely the reason I have an ex-wife. Sadly, without that introduction to dysfunction, I wouldn’t be doing nearly so well with my current in-laws. I just can’t fathom how grown adults (older than me, even!) act like children, and think it’s acceptable.

What you’re doing here is called “enabling”. You are protecting her parents from the consequences of their bad decisions. Why would anything change as long as they don’t have to face those consequences?

I used to be a believer in the whole “family is family” thing, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that life is too short for me to have time for toxic people’s bullshit. I don’t need extra stress in my life.
My parents were wonderful people (not perfect, but they were generous, good hearted people). When my parents were alive they served as a buffer between myself and the craziness in the extended family. Since my folks are gone now, I’ve had to deal more with my aunts and uncles, and I’ve come to realize just how toxic and dysfunctional some of them on one side of the family are. I have made a conscious choice not to allow the toxic ones into my life in any meaningful way. I treat them the way I would treat an odd stranger: polite, but detached. Their problems are not my problems.

Learn to say no, or put yourselves in a position where no is the default answer. I moved a 12-hour drive away from my dysfunctional parents, and it was the best thing I ever did with my life. It wasn’t easy, but I’m so so glad.

Sorry to hear about your situation. It is a bitch.

What you need to do first is sit down with your wife and discuss the situation and come up with some rules. The rules should be a list of what is acceptable and what is not. These may be fluid and change over time.

For example:

Loaning money: Not acceptable. Or, if you decide to make a loan, the money goes directly to pay the bill, not to the parents. If they are late on the mortgage and you decide to help, you get the loan info and make the payment yourself. And consider that the money spent/loaned will never be repaid.

Repeat this: always consider that the money spent/loaned will never be repaid.

Verbal abuse: Explain that it is unacceptable and that you will walk away if it occurs. If it occurs, walk away.

Physical abuse: The cops will be called. Period.

The thing about these types of relationships is that you cannot change the fucked up people. So you have a choice, deal with it or set boundaries on what is acceptable.

To do so you will have to create the list of acceptable behavior and the rules. Once that is done you will have to talk with each person in the family and explain the rules and the consequences. No physical/verbal abuse. No freebies, loans, etc. Tell them exactly what is acceptable, what is not acceptable and make it exceedingly clear that you and your wife will end the relationship if the rules are broken.

It sounds harsh but it is the only way things may change.

You might also suggest some counseling, definitely for you and your wife, preferably with the whole family. I doubt whole family counseling will happen but you never know.

The only way to stop the dysfunction is to not participate. The family members will keep on doing the same shit over and over again. You know why? Because it is working! Dad got a new 52" t.v. and the mortgage paid. What is not to love about that? And all he had to do was yell a little bit. Perfect, for him.

Your wife’s family is causing both of you stress and anxiety. Families are supposed to be about support, love and caring. If you offer support and get hate in return, it is time to cut off the family. If their behavior is not acceptable and they will not change their behavior your only choice is to live with it or cut it off.

I had a situation with my sister a few years ago. My sister went off on my wife at a holiday party at our house. It was ugly. There had been other issues with my sister as well. When my sister brought my wife into it, that was it. I sent my sister a letter and stated that what she did was unacceptable and would not happen again. I let my sister know, in no uncertain terms, that if she wanted anything to do with either my wife or I, she had to stop all the bullshit and act like an adult. I set the boundaries. I laid out exactly what she needed to do to be a part of our lives.

I didn’t talk to my sister for almost of a year. Now we get along and there have been no further bullshit.

I imagine that your wife isn’t going to like my solution very much. However, if you both want things to change this will probably be the only way to make anything happen.


They would go into foster care if nobody else can care for them - and considering the number of cases of domestic violence murder-suicides where the kids are killed too, that would be preferable than keeping them in this situation. :frowning:

I married into extreme poverty that I had no idea even existed in this country to this extent. 7 sisters all badly damaged from years of sexual abuse, abondonment, poverty, starvation, cruelty from othe rchildren etc. I have to say that I grew to love them. It cost me a lot of money over the years and I was often the target of misdirected anger and eventually got divorced. But I don’t regret any of it.

I always thought my family was messed up until I met my wife’s family, then I realized that my family was like yours: supportive, loving, and normal. Still, over the years my wife and I have been very careful to set boundaries and to stick by them and now I would say we have normal relationships with all of them. It took years, some of them refusing to talk with her parents, until we reached the stage we are at today. Today, her parents (the main source of drama) don’t dare to pull it with us because they know we will just call them on it and walk away. They still manipulate my wife’s sisters on every occasion but we actually have a good relationship with everyone and avoid 99% of the drama. It was a lot of hard work to get here.

While we don’t have the money problem, I do have to echo others above and tell you to NOT lend them money. If you really must help them, pay their bills directly and only do this if they will truly end up on the street. Realize you will never be paid back and will never have their respect if you do pay their bills. IMHO, YMMV, etc…

Mine was the drama filled dysfunctional family. Here’s a couple of things that helped us get through 30 yrs so far;

  1. I cannot stress enough how important it is to move out of their orbit. For me I had already left to a new city when hubby came into my life. But I am astounded by the number of people who just stay, in the same town, subjecting themselves and their families to the same Mama drama/dysfunction they constantly bitch about. I like to tell them, “You’re not a tree! Move!”, it need not be far, just to the next village will help. If you want the water in your pond to calm, you have to be willing to act.

2.When being asked for money, always plead unexpected expenses, braces for the kids, other in laws need help, losses at the track/in the market, whatever you can think up. Then finish with, I can let you have $300, or whatever you’re willing to throw into the bottomless pit. In my experience, they won’t be able to resist the ready cash. They take it, and they lose the right to bitch you never help/share, whatever. Who can truly work up any steam that someone didn’t give you ‘enough’ free money. Even the best mooches know better. It goes without saying you should never lend them money you can’t afford to never see again.

3.‘I’m sorry, I’m just not comfortable doing that!’, this phrase is your friend. Do not expand further, stick with it. (My older brother called me once and got pissed I wouldn’t ask my sister for a loan for him! Wha?)

  1. If the dysfunction is on her side, part of your job is to hug it out, when they start making her crazy like. One of the most powerful things my hubby learned to do was, after hanging up on a brother cursing me out Christmas Eve because I was unwilling to step in with his ex so he could see his kids. He was an ass and deserved to not see his kids, I can assure you! He was screaming at me that I didn’t care, and cursing a blue streak! How festive. I hadn’t spoken to him, at the time in probably 10 months! I was standing beside the phone, terribly upset, near tears, with no outlet for my anger. Hubby stepped in, hugged me plenty and just kept reminding me, “You’re not like him. He’s not like you! He has no right to do this to you!” These are important and powerful words, in a way people not from dysfunction find difficult to understand. The deepest, unstated fear being triggered is, ‘I am this too!’, ‘This is I me too!’, that’s exactly why they have the power to disturb by their actions, I swear.

  2. The most important of all, if you do nothing else, never ever go near them without an exit strategy that you are willing to deploy at the drop of a hat. Discuss it before hand, what you’ll say, how you’ll smile and beg off, without any signal of discomfort or discussion. Our secret signal was that head waggle that East Indians make sometimes as they talk, it meant, "You wanna go?, a simple head nod in reply and we were making our apologies and out the friggin’ door! All of this could be done in front of others, mid nonsense, as it were, with no one being any the wiser. The beauty of this tactic is it is unimaginably empowering. You deploy this once and I promise your world will change. Tolerance for their bullshit will soar once everyone internalizes that they have a trigger they can pull. That they have all the power now. Suddenly that which quickly got under one’s skin, rolls off like water off a duck.

I wish you great good luck, this is not an easy thing to wrestle with, ever. And remember your spouse struggles additionally with guilt that you’re being subjected to it too. It doesn’t hurt to remind her you have broad shoulders and it doesn’t upset you in the slightest. (Even if it does.) Only in that you cannot bear to see her suffer so.

Yes. One recent campaign from MiL is that she’s planning on retiring abroad because we keep the children away from her and are turning them against her. My side of it is that we chose a beautiful name for our daughter and MiL told us it’s a boy’s name and will turn her lesbian and made up her own alternate name to call our daughter. Our youngest started calling her sister that incorrect name and we correct her, and now they both correct MiL and ask her to use her correct name.

Some years ago we had some credit card debt and MiL was adamant that she needed to lend us money to pay off the debt. Mrs. KJdS wasn’t comfortable with it and said she had to talk to me about it. We both agreed it was a bad idea as the amount was in the neighborhood of six months’ living expenses and knew we would never pay it back. We even told her as such. MiL insisted. We insisted back. MiL pushed. We pushed back. MiL gave us a check. We gave it back. MiL insisted it was a gift to pay off the debt, we insisted if she gave us a gift we would use it for our own purposes and not pay it back. She agreed, we took the money and tied it up in our long term strategic financial plan. Our finances are pretty darn good now, so MiL is demanding that we make periodic interest payments on “the loan.” Um, NO!

There was a reason I didn’t introduce my husband to my family until three months after we got married. He didn’t believe my stories, said no family could be like that. Then he met them. Walking out of my parent’s house he said,“my god, I’ve married into a John Waters movie” and apologized for doubting me. We have always lived many hours travel away from them, and some will never have my address, just in case.

One thing I would add to this excellent advice is that the only justification your boundaries need is what you are comfortable with and what sort of relationship you want to have. I’ve seen people bend themselves into pretzels trying to be “fair” to the toxic person. When you grow up in a toxic space, you get used to making excuses for the other people, and you can carry the excuses forward. I am talking about rules like 'Well, she can’t help X, so I can’t hold it against her, so it’s not really fair to . . . " or “This part isn’t really her fault, so I can’t expect her to stop it, so I will have to tolerate . . .” This isn’t about fair. It’s about having a functional relationship, and for that you have to set boundaries that you CAN function within.