Rude In-Laws Respect No Boundaries

Reader’s Question

I have been together with my husband for 10 years and married to him for 7 years. We have a problem in that his parents are extremely controlling and critical. Both of their adult children are in their thirties but they don’t treat them as if they are.

I am a very independent person who left home at 18, moved across the country, and have always really enjoyed my independence. I love my parents and over the years have cultivated a good adult friendship with them but keep boundaries with them. On the other hand, my husband’s parents have caused many problems over the years for both their children and our marriage. His mother is an abusive alcoholic woman, and his father is a workaholic who buries his head in the sand about the problems caused.

Over the last many years, our life has been stressful, to say the least. My husband’s father bought a business he knew nothing about, and my husband and I have really run the business for the last 5 years with no plan to get the father out even after asking numerous times. We feel the stress of the situation contributed to illnesses that caused my husband to collapse last year. He was diagnosed with a serious life threatening disease, and has undergone many procedures. My in-laws have been outright abusive to both of us despite this. They actually started augments with my husband when he was lying in a hospital bed. They have walked into our house if we don’t answer the phone and yelled and screamed at us. One of my husband’s surgeries was brain surgery. He had to undergo this surgery shortly after experiencing another abusive tirade form his mother. The last straw was recently my mother-in-law walked into our house while my husband was extremely sick in bed and started yelling at us and became physical with me when I asked her to leave. His father subsequently phoned the house and made very abusive comments.

How do I handle these people? They have also treated my brother-in-law much the same way. Please help. There has already been so much damage done at their hand, and they respect no boundaries. My husband wants to sever ties, but he cares too much about appearances and public perceptions about the state of our family relations. How do I get his parents to at least respect our boundaries?

Psychologist’s Reply

While it’s not possible to make a completely accurate assessment of your situation, some things you have reported raise some definite red flags about boundaries and true independence. You are quick to point out the abusive and controlling conduct of your in-laws and how they don’t respect boundaries. Yet you also acknowledge that you and your husband, despite his infirmities, have been carrying the load for a business that was purchased by and rightfully belongs to your father-in-law. Boundaries can never be established for one party only. Similarly, true “independence” requires that you be able to function in a manner where you don’t place yourself in a position to have to endure constant abuse so that you can maintain your livelihood. You and your husband will need to solidify a commitment to yourselves and to each other, not only for your survival and prosperity, but also so that you set and enforce limits on the kinds of toxic interactions you will endure. Despite your protests to the contrary, it doesn’t seem like you’ve observed boundaries or set limits. While your in-laws make a convenient scapegoat for all your problems, in the end you have no power over them and power only over your own choices and how you define your life and relationships. You may have left home at a young age and tried to carve out your own course, but true independence is more than rebellion and challenging the influence and control of others. It’s probably time to stop focusing on what you have no ability to control. Doing so will only anger, frustrate, and eventually depress you.

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