Not all of us are born into Toxic Families, some find their way to a toxic family by finding a victim or survivor as their significant other. These partners are confronted with in-laws that are far from normal. So how do they deal with that? How can you balance a relationship, retain you own emotional health and be supportive of your spouse? It can be quite a juggling act.
Realizing the Truth about your Toxic In-Laws
T and B have been together for over 8 years. These days B is no longer in contact with her parents, but it has taken the couple a long time to find ways to deal with their behavior and the damage B has suffered from the emotional neglect she was exposed to as a child. “About the third time I met my in-laws I noticed that I could not sit in the same room with them. I was thinking: There is something about you that I don’t like. There is a horrible energy. And I used to feel guilty, I thought is it right to feel that about someone’s parents?”
When the couple first got together though, B did not live in the same country as her parents, so the contact was rather limited. It was not until they moved back to B’s home country, and stayed with her parents, that T really started to observe odd behaviors. “I started seeing things that I have not seen since high school. Like people acting out, gossiping and plotting things. I found the way the family operated was very strange. There was always this infighting with her sisters, and talking about their parents. And there is always one person that is the scape goat.”
In the Small Details
The really weird stuff started happening after about 6 months of moving into B’s childhood home. “I stayed out with my friends from work sometimes to watch sports events together. When I would come home, I would get strange looks. I felt B’s father was jealous, because I was out with other men, something he did not seem to be permitted in his marriage”. The strange incidents just piled up. “It started just with small things. Sometimes on the weekends her father would come ask me between 10 and 11 in the morning, if I wanted a beer?”
Over the coming years, the couple became the main focus of B’s parents scheming. To the extent that they interfered in their jobs, their home and the relationship with T’s own parents. The actions were always quite subtle and when confronted they were explained as results of cultural or language barriers. Over the years T and B became more and more aware of the games that were played at their expense, and increasingly confronted B’s parents with their behavior.
Eventually the whole situation became unmanageable, and B came to the difficult decision to cut all contact with her parents.
Partners are a Filter of Reality
“T has been a life saver” says B, “I have always had a very troubled relationship with my parents, but T was able to see their behavior through a filter of reality”. This allowed B to see her parents’ behavior in a new light. T agrees with her, he too feels that he was able to help B see things from a different angle. “Luckily B was aware that there were issues, and that made that we were able to talk about things quite openly and honestly”. It is this point that T identifies as the deciding factor to the success of the couple’s relationship. “If B had not been able to acknowledge and see her parents’ behavior, I don’t think I would have been able to stay with her.”
Three Important Tips
For T there are three important tips for a partner to consider:
- Look out for your partner. Their parents may be trying to manipulate, stress or harm them. As an outsider, you have a different perspective on the situation.
- Talk with your partner, validate their story and encourage them to interact with other survivors who can relate to their issues.
- If your partner is not open to communication, you may need to consider that your own emotional health is at stake. Like in any situation you need to assess whether the situation is manageable for you.
Want to find out more about this, check out the podcast on this issue.