Direct Answers – A Beat Down


My mother and father-in-law will be celebrating their 50th anniversary this year. Both have a history of emotional problems for which they never received treatment. My husband is one of three sons, and he was trained to feel responsible for his parents’ happiness.

Naturally, this made it difficult for him to be my husband and properly father our children. It also set us up for financial disaster three years ago. We went into marriage counseling. I chose to stay married to him because he truly is a good man. We finally cleaned up our marriage and his career is taking off.

As my husband set boundaries with his parents, they have become extremely upset. In an effort to regain control of him, they played on the emotions of their other two sons. This caused rifts between my husband and his brothers.

Because my parents and siblings all died prematurely, I supported efforts to get together with my in-laws, the aunts, uncles and cousins. It’s not the best, but I thought it was the right thing to do…even if dysfunctional.

Recently, my in-laws indicated they wanted their sons, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren to spend a week with them in cabins for their 50th anniversary. My husband strongly opposed this week-long immersion event, and I tried to negotiate a partial week, with us staying at a nearby hotel.

My in-laws believed it was all or nothing. For a week I received angry phone calls from the brothers and sisters-in-law. They accused me of destroying their close-knit family. When my husband followed up and emphasized this was his choice, they backed off.

Without telling us, they chose to cancel the entire event since we wouldn’t be attending. My father-in-law attacked me, calling me a hypocrite and saying he couldn’t stand to be in the same room as me. My husband listened and responded with “I hear what you are saying,” then politely ended the conversation.

My in-laws live too far away for group therapy, yet close enough to pick up the phone and do serious damage. Our children don’t feel comfortable left alone with them. I’m not sure how to salvage this wreck.

~ Tess

Tess, you think of your husband’s relatives as family. Think of them instead as a motorcycle gang. They come riding into town on their Harleys. On the back of their denim vests is a patch which reads “Born to Make Your Life a Living Hell.” When they arrive, the only sure thing is that they will start fights and break the furniture.

Bravo to you both for going to counseling and righting the ship. But your husband had to go into therapy to understand what his family is. Your father and mother-in-law spread dysfunction to their kids, and now they want to spread it to their grandkids.

Your husband told his father “I hear what you are saying.” Undoubtedly, he learned that communication technique from your marriage counselor. What the counselor didn’t tell him is that technique does not work with motorcycle gangs.

This family bonded on values you don’t have and will never share. It’s their normal, and if you don’t break the cycle, you will leave it to your children to break the cycle. Do you want that?

If any family members want to come into your lives, that’s fine, but only if they adhere to normal standards of civility and courtesy. Whenever they call, hear the roar of the engines in your ears and remember who you are dealing with.

~ Wayne & Tamara

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Wayne & Tamara answer as many letters as they possibly can.

Direct Answers -Relationship Advice



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