Sooo...anyone else marry into dysfunction?

My wife’s family is pretty dysfunctional. Her now-deceased mother was ‘padded cell, electro-shock therapy’ loonie-toons. Her father is somewhat paranoid. She has 6 siblings of which 2 brothers and one sister are normal. That leaves two brothers who have ‘issues’ and one sister (who happens to be married to my brother) who is a little ‘out there’. I have a few wacky nieces and nephews who have issues including one who was on heroin for a few years and another who keeps having babies with a known sex offender.

We moved away in 1977 and haven’t lived within 300 miles since then. Otherwise my wife would have been caught up in all the drama as she was more the mother-figure back in the day. We listen to the drama and say “no” to the money requests. About 3 times a year we visit.

When I married, my wife told me that her parents had lavished attention on her sister, giving her money, loans, cars, and other stuff and paying for her college “so she didn’t have to work” while my wife paid for her own college by working crap minimum wage jobs and was rarely given anything of any value. And whenever the sister messed up, my wife was the one who usually got punished for it, even if she hadn’t done anything. I assumed these stories were a little exaggerated, probably embellished by someone who grew up in a house with a mom who was a little off kilter, and by someone who was a little insecure. I met her parents and they seemed like nice enough people, so I was a bit suspicious.

Then I met my SIL. I can say without reservation that my SIL is the most spoiled, horrible, annoying, disgusting human beings I’ve ever had to meet. When we all met for Christmas she started ordering everyone–her parents, her husband, and even me included–around as if she were the CEO of some Fortune 500 company. The slightest thing that went “wrong” in her eyes was met with screeching and howling and demands that it be fixed immediately. Her husband was showing me some things he’d gotten for Christmas and SIL marched up to him and told him how “inappropriate” it was that he was “showing off” gifts to other people and that he should stop immediately. (Chickenshit that he is, he complied at once.) We went out to dinner and everything was wrong for SIL: couldn’t get seated at once, table was in the wrong part of the restaurant, food took too long to get there, food wasn’t good enough, food cost too much (as if she were paying! Not a chance of that!) And all through this day-long tantrum, her parents waited on her hand and foot as if she were royalty. My stepson finally broke down and asked me, “Is there anywhere else we can stay, like a hotel or something?” Unfortunately at that time of year there was nothing available in that area…

I have not spoken to my SIL since then, about six years ago. All through that time, my MIL had been talking about retiring to Arizona to be near relatives. Two years after the Christmas from Hell, MIL let us know that they were moving…but not to Arizona. Nope, SIL had convinced them to move closer to HER, so that they could run errands for her because “her job was so busy and she was not able to get everything done around her house.” Yes, SIL had convinced my parents-in-law, who had dreamed of moving to AZ for years, to serve their golden years as her footmen. It was then that I realized that my wife’s stories might not be exaggerated…they might even be toned down!

Needless to say, my wife has not spoken to her sister since then, and holidays are all the better for it.

There’s a certain amount of poetic justice in that. After all they were the ones who created this monster, they should be the ones to deal with it. That’s terrible but true.

Excellent strategies and advice!
I only wish Id seen this when the MamaDrama and dysfunction was truly an issue for my sister and I, but we made it thru somehow and our parents are deceased.

DH’s family is a quagmire of dysfunction too but he managed to escape it by moving far the fuck away and limiting contact to phone calls which he strictly limits. I was privy to a particularly hair-raising event between one of his sisters and him: the sister is 50 y/o, has never married and lives at home with her widowed mother since she lost her job and has never managed to find another one. Mother goes to the doctor with Sister and controls her life in every way, which Sister doesnt object to. Anyway, the incident involved Sister not wanting the Father (who was dying of cancer at the time) to be “allowed” to come home, since it would involve “odors” from his illness/medications/and whats worse: Other People Being in Her Environment. She claims to have Multiple Environmental Allergies in spite of nothing ever panning out on allergy testing. Co-dependent Ninnies. I dread ever going to visit them and listening to their OTT nonsense and weirdness.

Both my wife and I are from families that are, in their own unique ways, extremely dysfunctional. We have Narcissists, Borderlines, Passive Aggressives, etc. All with their own brand of lunacy they inflict on themselves and others.
We see some member of extended family every 2-3 years and never more than 1 or two at a time. Some still get cards on holidays. Some, including immediate family we haven’t seen or spoken to in more than a decade.
It took my wife a while to get over the "But they’re family . . . " meme but once she was willing to say “No, damn it, no one has the right to treat me like that.” things went pretty smoothly.
The bottom line is that once you reach the age of 18 your obligations are over. Treat your relatives just like any other adults. If you like them and get pleasure from their company, then have a relationship with them. If they are a curse then say goodbye, and mean it.
I know it can be hard for some people but ultimately it is your responsibility who you interact with. If someone is a blight on your life, be they a new acquaintance or your mother, then stop interacting with them.
The tricky bit is for a married couple to both accept this conclusion at the same time.

+1 to sleestak’s and elbows’ outstanding posts, and my sympathies to them for having had to learn those coping skills.

I’ve got a younger brother who acts out as described by some here, and the only way to deal with him without going nuts oneself is to practice these skills. He’s going through one of his periods where he’s basically not speaking anyone at the moment, so it may be a fairly drama-free Christmas. Even if it isn’t, I’m a fairly safe 1500 miles away.

People have a difficult time with this because many of them desperately want their family relationships to conform to some particular expectation they have in their head. They will continue to try to create these scenarios and then get upset when they don’t work out as they expect (and instead work out as anyone familiar with those people would expect). For example, continuing to try to have a “perfect Thanksgiving” every year and yet continuously being surprised that once again it turned into a shit show.

It isn’t always that easy.

For example, I’d happily never see my wife’s sister again, but she has two little kids who are my son’s first cousins - and he is very fond of them.

I can’t shitcan her without impairing my son’s relations with his cousins.

They will not go to strangers. Although I don’t want to do it, we would take them in if it was necessary.

Agree. When someone gets sick/injured/nearing death’s door the whole issue of trying to do the “right thing” (whatever that means to you at the time) comes up. Caring for my mom when she started to circle the drain and eventually became too ill to care for herself was left at my feet since Im the executor/oldest/closest in geographical proximity. Im glad I had the chance to mend the relationship … partially anyway. As well as I could at least.

Just to be clear, even that is a choice. You have no legal obligation to reconnect with an aging relative who is in failing health. I understand someone making the decision to do so, but there is no requirement outside your own desire to be there.

My parents live about 25 miles away but they might as well live on another planet. It took too long to get to this point, to finally say, “Hey, enjoy your crazy, but I’m done!” and it’s probably the best decision I ever made.

I’ll tell you what my husband does wrong. First, he minimizes the seriousness of my decision. I’m the caretaker, the one my mother expects to come to when she’s old and frail and unable to live alone. She’s never wanted to live out her days in a nursing home and, when I still gave a fuck, I would have happily provided for her as long as I could. That will never happen now and I mean it, damn it, but he says things like, “Come on, you’re just mad. You know you won’t make her go to a home.” Which is another thing: don’t say stupid, though well-meaning, things that make it sound like her fault. I’m not “making” them do anything.

My parents constantly stressed us out with the favors and the bitching and their made up problems, and the bitching about my siblings, and more favors, and the bitching from both of them about each other… I don’t really have any advice for while you’re still IN the dysfunction. Just get out. You’ll both be happier people for it.

I highly recommend this book - The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner.
The title doesn’t really do it justice. It’s about understanding the unhealthy patterns in your relationships and defining boundaries for yourself.

I think really everyone should read this book, but for anyone struggling with a dysfuntional relationship it might help you to define the things that are in YOUR control.

(I mean any relationship, not necessarily a significant other. Also, ignore the whole “women’s guide” thing. Men can benefit too).

The first part of the OP reminded me of the situation when I married my first wife.

My family was rational, loving, supportive, and rarely if ever raised their voices about anything. My first wife’s situation growing up was a dad who was a corrupt policeman with a hot temper, the kind of guy for whom the phrase “my way or the highway” was invented. Though she never talked about it specifically, I’m sure there was a tremendous amount of yelling and screaming in her household, accompanied by physical abuse, in her formative years.

The rest of the OP doesn’t apply directly — her parents divorced, and her mom was a wonderful and very giving person. (Although her sister, also a nice person, married a loser who is the worst kind of bigoted racist, blaming all of his own shortcomings on those who dare to look different from him. They’re currently living rent-free in a house owned by my ex-wife and collecting welfare, while the husband curses “our n****r president” [an actual quote from him]).

But what DID apply was the legacy of my first wife growing up as she did. Nothing in my own family experience prepared me for the irrational mood swings and violent eruptions of temper that were visited upon me, often the result of perceived misdeeds on my part that were at worst very small and more often non-existent. And yes, it occasionally came to physical assault (ALWAYS initiated by her, NEVER by me).

I dealt with it mostly by biting a hole through my tongue for 10 1/2 years. And finally, it just wasn’t worth trying any more to salvage anything.

So regardless of the dysfunction involved, my advice would be to make sure someone you marry has fully escaped it with his/her reason intact.

As the daughter of a truly toxic person, these words resonate with me. Because I still hear her running dialog in my head. And I do have a fear that the chaos is genetic and I will not be able to control it. My rational mind knows this isn’t true. But fear is never rational.

Years spent surviving in a toxic and abusive environment do take a toll. I try to be cognisant of when I am reacting out of fear and emotion rather than with thought. I have learned that I have certain triggers, and I will shut down emotionally and get really passive aggressive as a defense. Learning the triggers has helped but there are times when it’s helpful for my partner to tell me I’m doing it again.

My family is dysfunctional, but at least we’re honest about it, for the most part. We know we’re fucked up and even have a rich, dark sense of humor about it. Maybe individuals deny their own dysfunction, but collectively we all concur we’re a big mess. But it’s not too terrible all the time either; Christmas was a drama-free day. No eye rolls, no screaming, no crying (well, happy tears), no drunks. It’s just that you never know when it’s going to erupt into a free-for-all, what’s going to be the trigger.

My ex’s family appeared to be normal. I was so relieved to be part of a normal family that I missed warning signs. They were so much more screwed up than my family. At least my family doesn’t hit and we’re upfront about ourselves. The ex’s? They lie, cheat, steal, but then pretend YOU’RE the one who’s wrong. They’re insular, not close-knit. When I didn’t fit in, I thought it was me. Now I realize that even if it was me, it’s because I’m not a freak like them. So you can be not normal, but marrying into a different dysfunction can be pretty shitty too.

It does give my family now an abundance of new things to laugh about.

That’s along the lines I have never cut off completely any of my worse relatives.
Re. being like them, I keep being told how much I am like my mother. Not that we have similar voices, or similar coloring, but how much like her I am. I treasure the few times someone has told me “you think just like your father! :eek: :D” and that one time the seamstress pointed out that we have the same measurements but completely different shapes. Being like her is my biggest fear, the reason I didn’t have children.

Recently one of my brothers earned himself an earful, but I will deliver it once we’re in the same room and not over the phone. He said my flat’s location “does not make sense”: like Hell it doesn’t! Evidently Mr. Golden Boy doesn’t quite comprehend the value of being able to tell Mommy Dearest “I’m going home”, I’ll have to remind him of that time I came back after a 1-week trip turned into more than 2 months and Mom’s greeting was “oh, you’re here? You’ve got a pile of ironing this big. I don’t care when you do most of it so long as it’s before Saturday but I need the orange blouse for tomorrow.”

Being able to put physical distance between me and those relatives is just great. If I do manage to buy Grandma’s flat, the work on it will be a sort of cleansing ritual of all the shit that’s gone down there over the years; my aunt refuses to go there because she gets flashbacks.

Sort of. I love my Mom in law, she is way nice. I love mrAru’s half brother and his really neat wife. I love my niece and 2 nephews, for kids of 18-23 they are pretty neat. I even like his sister, though about 4-5 years ago she was in some sort of program for her degree that had her interviewing felons, and she somehow ended up in a relationship with a guy who really sets my teeth on edge. I can deal with the pair deciding that they are some variety of vegetarian that has a religious thing against garlic/onions/alliums. I really don’t mind all his tattoos, I have tattoos myself. He has managed to drive all 3 kids away, the 2 boys live with their grandfather and the daughter has moved in with my mom in law. He sits around the house while my sister in law works seriously long hours as a nurse in a physical rehab hospital, and expects her to do all the shopping, cooking, cleaning and was demanding my niece clean and mow the lawn/yardwork before she moved out. I do not see why some guy who refuses to work can’t do the damned cleaning, cooking and freaking yardwork. I feel it is just a matter of time before he goes back to dealing and ends up getting her arrested and her house confiscated under the whole drug trafficing laws.

Heh, my family is disfunctional, but in a manner I’m familiar and comfortable with, and even find funny - it drives my wife batty though.

Essentially, we are all introverts and incapable of communication to the highest degree. If my family is all gathered in the same house, chances are each of us would end up in a different room, doing different activities and ignoring each other.

An example of disfunction in action: many years ago, I worked for my mother in her business (making ceramic sculptures). Her studeo was in the basement. My dad had a closet full of useful tools. Sometimes, my mother would need a tool - so she would just borrow one from the closet.

Obviously, my dad found out his tools were being used. He did not like other people using his tools, reasonably enough. In a normal family, I suspect he’d have simply asked my mother not to use them. In our family, what he did was put a padlock on the closet.

Well, my mom did not want to buy a new set of tools. Again, in a normal family, I assume she would have simply asked my dad to use them. Instead, she asked me if I could break into the closet without it showing. I figured out that we could simply unscrew the hasp of the lock arrangement, use the tools all day, then screw the hasp back on.

This worked for a long time, but eventually I got careless and failed to replace the screws before they got visibly “stripped”. Obviously, my dad found out we were entering the closet. Again, in a normal family one would imagine some sort of angry scene. Not in ours. We came in one day to see he’d bolted the hasp on.

Again, my mom asked me to put on my thinking cap and figure out a way to break in. I did - by removing the pins holding the hinges on. My dad never figured that one out.

When my dad absolutely had to communicate to me, he would literally write me a memo when I lived at home, and attach it to my door with a stickpin - “Re: Marks in High School. Marks are not satisfactory this term. Please improve same, and document efforts to improve, with said document returnable May 22”.

We sort of split the difference. I married into a pack full of passive aggressive low-grade assholes with a few more obnoxious ones. He married into my very nice family with very nice people and one goddamned fucking sociopath. (Er, not me!)

It’s complicated by the fact that we live very near mine and an hour and some away from his. And I haaaaate going to see his but I try to be nice about it but he totally sees through me. And he’s so sweet about doing stuff with and for my parents. And maybe one day we’ll get to murder my half-brother.

It’s all about to be a lot more… relevant, since the grandchild is due in August. I am not sure what to expect but I am both concerned (because of course everything’s going to be a lot more heightened) and smug (because if we’ve learned nothing from Game of Thrones we’ve learned that whoever has a solid heir as hostage gets to call the shots.)