Should You Visit Family Members Who Are Hurtful?

    Should you visit family and in-laws who you don’t get along with? These tips for visiting in-laws and family members who are hurtful are inspired by a reader’s question on my article about difficult parents.

    Should You Visit In-Laws and Family Members Who Are HurtfulIf your mother-in-law, father-in-law, or other family members get under your skin in the worst possible way, read Toxic In-Laws: Loving Strategies for Protecting Your Marriage. It’s a bestselling book on balancing in-laws and marriage.

    “Should I continue to go to my in-laws’ family events at their home, for my husband’s and daughter’s sake, even though I have grown to despise these people?” asks M. on my article about parents who interfere in love relationships. “My husband agrees they are miserable, but his preference is to see them a few times a year and ignore their rudeness. He sees their unhappiness and jealousy. But the healthier I have become the more I see the toxicity.”

    There are no “right” answers to this question. You have to decide what’s best for you and your family. My thoughts about spending time with family members who are emotionally unhealthy are based on my experience with a mom who has suffered from schizophrenia my whole life. I don’t believe in cutting off family members unless they are abusive…but different people see things in different ways. Read my thoughts, tell me what you think.

    If your in-laws are getting in between you and your partner, read How to Stop Your Boyfriend’s Mother From Ruining Your Relationship.

    Visiting Hurtful In-Laws and Family Members

    My friend and her husband refuse to visit her family members because they have political arguments that she’s not interested in. She doesn’t “get” them, so she refuses to visit them. My sister hasn’t spoken to my mother for over a decade, because my mom is mentally ill and my sister doesn’t “like” talking to her. I think these women are selfish.

    Just because you don’t see eye-to-eye with your family members or in-laws doesn’t mean you get to ignore their existence! I’m not saying you have to live with them or visit them every Sunday afternoon…I’m encouraging you to visit or talk to a hurtful or toxic family member once every few months.

    Note that these tips aren’t for physically or emotionally abusive family members. I’m focusing on in-laws and family members who are merely irritating, crazy-making, critical, negative, judgmental, and even miserable.

    If you are being harmed (not just annoyed or hurt) by anyone – family or not – you need to do anything you can to protect yourself and your children.

    Live in peace – for your children, your spouse, your self

    Those family visits are valuable “teachable moments” for your kids! Use those negative, toxic comments and behaviors to teach life and relationship lessons. Discuss how to live a meaningful, happy, healthy life. If you don’t have kids, reflect on these life lessons with your partner, friends, or other loved ones.

    For instance, if your toxic, difficult mother-in-law refuses to visit your home (yay! be grateful), talk to your daughter about the importance of accepting other people’s lifestyles and showing compassion and love no matter how a person lives. You don’t have to criticize your hurtful mother-in-law or refuse to visit her; you need only verbalize your belief that people shouldn’t be judged by the size or shape their homes are in.

    And, remember that your daughter may one day marry a man who doesn’t like you, who doesn’t want to visit you! By honoring and respecting your in-laws – even though they are hurtful – you’re teaching her to do the same for you one day. Hopefully.

    Even more important: if you live in peace as far as it depends on you, then you can sleep with a clear conscience. And sometimes you have to remember that you may be wrong about your family.

    If your in-laws or family members are interfering in your love life, read How to Handle Parents Who Interfere in Your Relationship.

    Put your emotional health to work – take it out of its box!

    “My mother- in-law always criticizes us, and rubs in the fact that they had more at our age and we are a major disappointment,” says A. “Their other children are divorced, out of work, and are always asking for handouts – yet they get all the approval. My husband and I are treated like second class citizens.”

    Ouch – I would hate that. Yes, it would hurt me to be compared with other family members and come up short, to be treated like a second class citizen.

    Being emotionally and spiritually strong doesn’t just help you identify toxicity and problems quickly, it gives you the strength to cope with those problems.

    What’s the point of being emotionally healthy if you turn and run from in-laws and family members who hurt you? Don’t just say you’re emotionally healthy (“talk the talk”). Prove it (“walk the walk”)!

    I may not say this if you visited your hurtful in-laws or family members hourly, daily, or even weekly. But I think it’s better for an emotionally strong, healthy woman to visit a toxic mother-in-law a few times a year than to avoid her altogether – especially if her husband wants to.

    Be a unit, a loving couple who joins forces to slay (or at least live with) the dragons!

    Be aware of your family’s hurts, wounds, mistakes

    There’s something about family that drives us crazy. Family members get under our skin and make us angrier, more frustrated, and more nuts than any other people on earth (except maybe our own children).

    If you can see your family members with compassion and even (gasp!) love, you’ll be less hurt when they do and say mean things.

    visiting hurful family members

    Should You Visit Family Members Who Are Hurtful?

    Instead of being angry that my mom has never offered me any type of support in my life because of her mental illness, I focus on how sorry I am that she is who she is. I can’t resent her when I feel compassion for her illness, wounds, and mistakes. She is who she is.

    Parents, including in-laws, have wounds that make them act in hurtful ways to the family members they love. They don’t behave in loving, caring and supportive ways – perhaps they can’t.

    One tip for visiting hurtful family members is to think about and discuss how they were raised, what hardships they endured, and how they coped. Talk to your partner; try talking to your hurtful family members. What’s the worst that could happen?

    Focus on what your in-laws did right

    “I have been married to an amazing man – their son – for 25 years,” was one of the first things my reader said. That statement alone shows that her in-laws did at least one good thing with their lives: they raised a loving, kind, compassionate, faithful man! There’s a lot to be said for that.

    Very few people – including difficult parents – are bad through and through. Give them credit where credit is due. Focus on the good, and shake off the bad.

    For more practical, specific tips on visiting family members who drive you crazy, read 6 Tips for Toxic Relatives – How to Handle Family Problems.

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    What do you think of these tips for visiting hurtful in-laws or family members? Comments welcome below…

    17 Responses

    1. L says:

      Just today I got an email from my sister-in-law who lives
      in another state. I invited her to Thanksgiving and was
      looking forward to her visit. My husband, her brother,
      was too. I was getting the house ready for her to come.
      She was going to have her dog with her and would need
      a place for him to stay so I offered our back yard. I did
      all I could to welcome her. Her past emails have been
      cordial and even friendly. But two days ago I got this
      intuition that her motives for coming were not good. I
      prayed about it and asked God to show me if what I felt
      was valid or not. In no way did any of her previous emails
      indicate that she had bad intentions. There was nothing
      unusual about her emails nor were they angry in any way.
      They were quite pleasant so I asked God to show me why
      I was feeling this way. This morning I got up to find 2 emails
      filled with venom from her, angry at me and her brother for
      what she thinks we are doing to her manipulative mother,
      who calls her (she lives 500 miles away) to tattle on us, even
      though we do everything we can to help her and it’s never
      enough. She lives hundreds of miles away so
      we are the only ones living close by to help THEIR mother.
      The more we do for her (the mom) the more she complains about us.
      We have bent over backwards for her and yet we are insulted
      and verbally abused by her. But my sis-in-law only hears one
      side. She thinks because my mother in law is elderly she gets
      a free pass. However, my mom-in-law has acted this way since
      I met her almost 40 yrs ago. Now the M-in-law is trying to turn
      our grown kids against us. (They however are ‘on to her” and know
      what she’s doing). My sis-in-law is very jealous of what she
      perceives to be our “perfect life” which of course is not the case
      at all. We have a good marriage, for which I am grateful, but
      we’ve been through some hard times like everyone else. I just
      don’t complain about it to her. Now she said in one of her emails,
      that she doesn’t mind “ruffling the feathers” of our family when she comes,
      whatever that means. I just know it’s not good.
      And therefore, because I prayed and asked God to show me
      what she was up to, without any real reason to do so except a
      “knowing” inside, He did. We must have boundaries to live in
      this world. I told her she could not come and if my husband wants
      to meet with her, that’s up to him. But she is up to something,
      and I won’t allow her to come against my family like that. It’s too
      bad because I really was starting to like her, in spite of past issues.
      I had totally forgiven her and felt like she was a “sister” to me.
      She just proved that she has not changed. I will still pray for her
      and continue to care about her. And I’ll probably in many ways
      miss her. But I’ll not allow her into my personal space again. The
      bible says “As much as it is up to you, live at peace with all people”
      It seems to me that He was acknowledging that some people
      would not cooperate but if you’ve done all you could to keep peace,
      and they refuse to live at peace with you, you can’t make them
      change if they don’t want to.

    2. 30 years of battering says:

      I did exactly what this article has suggested for 30 years. I have a happy marriage. My husband is the product of very narcissistic parents and older sister. He has all sorts of baggage. He has a very low self esteem, very insecure and extremely immature. However he is a wonderful father and husband. I chose to stay and try to make my in-laws like me. For YEARS I did anything I could to please them. They never say things in front of him, instead they complement me, “you are so pretty, what an amazing cook, such a talented lady, etc. etc.” Then behind my back and I am terrible mother, terrible wife, pathological liar, I dress wrong, I talk wrong, there is nothing I can do right. They spread this to other family members and their friends until I have felt so isolated and unable to really connect with anyone in his family or their family friends. I have had people who have never met me give me the total cold shoulder and be down right rude to me over these comments. Yet I had the attitude that if I took the higher ground and had class that my true self would shine through. Honestly it has just made things worse. The happier my husband and I are over the years the more they hate me and are jealous and petty. The nicer I am the more they seem to take shots at me behind my back even though they must know that people tell me what is said. From the day I met my husband at the age of 16 this has been going on. It has become a very bad habit for them because I have not called an end to it. I have stood up on occasion but never really stood my ground in a forceful way. Because they are so careful around my husband it has become difficult to defend myself. Any time I have stood up for myself they call me over sensitive and that they can not say anything to me, in front of my husband. This leaves him in a very bad position. Does he believe his father, mother and sister? or his wife?
      The final straw for me was this past Christmas. My son is 12 now and is much more aware of what is going on. He told me that when I walked out of the room that my sister in law called me a derogatory name. He told her to “zip it” and she told him that she was just teasing and made a big goofy joke about it.
      This is the progression of you taking the higher road. Toxicity is not happy just hurting you but they want to hurt your children as well. It is a total destroy package. They will try and destroy you to the core, meaning the relationships you have with your own children. There is nothing lower except actual murder to me. My husband, son and I have a very good, strong relationship but my son being exposed to his family members belittling and disrespecting his mother really is the final straw and it is 100% my fault for not either walking away from these people at the very beginning of my relationship or drawing a very defined and strong line in the sand as soon as we were married. These types of people, and I believe they are really narcissists to the core, can only think of they own wants and needs, they will destroy anything and everything that they can not control or they are jealous of. You can say that it will not effect your marriage but this is just a fallacy. resentment builds if you continue to ignore or live with it and it spills over into your otherwise wonderful marriage. Please take it from me. First talk with your partner about it and if he truly loves and supports you he will go with you to confront these people. Tell them that this is unacceptable and if the back stabbing or bad behavior does not stop immediately (They have the will power if they choose to stop the bashing) that you both and your children will not longer visit them or accept visits from them, Period. Nip it as strongly as you can without acting like a jerk. Focusing on the rights/good that they have done will never forgive or undo the wrongs these people can do to your family. Often times these types of people will offer money, gifts, be very charming to keep the cycle going for them. They enjoy this drama very much. It makes them feel powerful and gives them a high. If left to it’s own or given just a little line it will grow into the destruction of your marriage and the respect of your spouse/children towards you. I am sure each person is different and there are levels of evil but the people I have dealt with are very wealthy and very well respected in their community. True Narcissists are extremely charming to the outside world. I love my husband and my son but if I had it to do all over again I would have ran like hell when we were dating. It destroys your own self esteem and chips away at your self worth over time until you really have no idea of who you really are. You are left feeling that if you died tomorrow that there would be more people in this group that celebrated your demise then not. That is NO WAY for any person to live or to be treated.

    3. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen says:

      Thanks for your thoughts on visiting family members who are toxic and hurtful! I really appreciate your insights and feedback.

      The awesome thing is that we are free to make our own choices. I would never refuse to stop speaking to my mom or sister or any family member, unless they consciously chose to hurt me or others.

      You may feel differently, and that’s fine! We can’t all have the same opinions – and each family is different. If I lived in your family, maybe I’d have a different opinion on visiting family members who are hurtful or toxic. But I live in my family, and I have my own ideas.

      May you find positive, healthy, uplifting ways to cope with your family issues. I wish you peace, joy, and all good things as you sort through your own thoughts and feelings about your family members.


    4. Rena says:

      Encouraging toleration of any type of abuse is monstrous and irresponsible.

      I personally have been dealing with a sick/enmeshed/bullying nest of vipers. Their sickness and our toleration of it for years has caused me to have to see a therapist for almost 3 years, in order to establish boundaries. They have caused marital problems, countless anxiety attacks, sleepless nights,a stressful pregnancy, and YEARS of suffering to both my husband and myself. My husband took up smoking and has been stressed out of his mind as a result of his family. He is finally in therapy on his own and has followed advice to disconnect from them until they can get help themselves.

      These people do not respect boundaries. They do not give common respect. They make hit and run comments, are intrusive, and are often times, downright ABUSIVE- despite the clear fact that we have done nothing but try to please them.

      Our therapist(s) have suggested we cut them off entirely. Our friends, who are acquainted with them, have suggested we completely distance ourselves from the drama.

      I CANNOT imagine anyone encouraging me to visit with these people/continue to take the abuse.

      I truly hope no one takes these suggestions to visit family members who are hurtful seriously. It has the potential to influence some suggestible person who is perhaps wavering with the decision to protect him/herself from seriously toxic people, or continue to endure abusive behavior. For some one who has suffered abuse at an early age, I find this article not only horrendously offensive, I find it immensely triggering as well.


      Under NO circumstances should you tolerate ABUSIVE BEHAVIOR. Regardless of being FAMILY to either you or your spouse, these people are not entitled to a free ticket into your life if they treat you in a way that causes distress and emotional upheaval.

      This article is poor advice by some one who sums up the complexities of family dysfunction poorly, gives substandard and dangerous advice, and advocates for allowing children to witness fighting/toleration of abuse.

      Please seek therapy if you are involved in an emotionally abusive relationship with in laws or family. You have the right to boundaries. You have the right to exclude these people from your life.

      You have clearly started your journey to protecting yourself by searching “toxic in laws” to gain insight. Keep looking- there is excellent advice out there. Therapy will help. You deserve better!

    5. Bella says:

      I don’t exactly understand the logic that is driving this advice. The people who do not expose themselves to unhealthy social interactions are selfish and the people who use these interactions for the sake of “teachable moments” for their children are not selfish? This is not well thought out advice based on biblical, psychological or even logical principles. This is condoning unhealthy behavior for the sake of unrealistic “teachable moments”. If your children only visit you later in life because you exposed them to unhealthy social interactions then you are really doing something wrong. Sorry. This advice, although seemingly well meaning, lacks substance and insight. The author might do well to explore her own biases against the people she called “selfish” for doing what feels healthy for them.

    6. Christina says:

      I can’t agree here at all. You’re promoting the idea of visiting with people who are miserable to you? I don’t get it. Your advocating for going back for more? Holidays with negative people who, rather than enrich your life, drive you nuts?

      Are you seriously suggesting its healthy for a child to see their parent in an abusive situation and take it in stride? Its very dangerous to suggest that people put up with emotionally abusive situations.

    7. Charlie says:

      If someone (no matter family, or not) is verbally or physically abusing you (or worse–someone you love deeply) then you should leave. Bullying and abuse should NOT be tolerated by anyone. This article is enabling her behavior.

      What kind of example would be set, when someone is being verbally or physically abused in front of theri children? They should sit back and tolerate it–because this is what “family” is like? What statement does that say to our children? Leave. Don’t visit family members who are hurtful.

    8. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen says:

      Thanks for your comments on how to visit in-laws and family members who are hurtful! I really like to hear what people think of my articles.

      If you’re having problems with difficult family members and in-laws, l wish you peace and joy and restoration of your family relationships.

    9. Lee says:

      I agree with this article. I have in laws who are miserable but I know it means a lot to my husband for us to see them once a month. They gossip and give dirty looks to me. I am a strong person and just blow it off. If I truly cared what they think, it would hurt me. That is the key- not caring and needing approval from these strangers. If someone is directly insulting you, yes, avoid them. Dirty looks and snarky comments can be blown off easily if you only see these people here and there. Heck my husband hates them and I spend time alone with his mean mother because then we got our visits over with. That is what we do as married people. Suck it up.

    10. Abused by inlaws says:

      Its really painful to be abused by the family of ur husband only because their brother or child loves u, actually y are interfeering into ur relationship, like me i wont accept that rubbish dey busy swearing at me for not having de baby infact i wont steal other peoples baby n the baby is the gift frm God n wat Ive noticed with the inlaws their problem is that money is everything. If u can stop doing ur things with ur husband money n give that money to dem ull c dey will love u

    11. Stephanie says:

      I don’t agree with you at all. Forgiveness does not mean you have to continue to subject yourself to the abuse. No one should be obligated to have contact with those who seek to destroy your well being. There is nothing healthy, rewarding, or healing in doing that! I am the victim of 25 years of emotional abuse. I’ve tried every thing in the book….sitting down and expressing my feelings–result: was told I was imagining things and being too sensitive, limiting visits–result: guilt trips and accusations of being selfish and uncaring. The only thing that will keep me sane is no contact. I’m cutting the ties. I believe I’ve earned the right after 25 years of trying to make it work “for the sake of family.”

    12. Worst Advice Ever says:

      This is the worst advice ever given. While I applaud your sunny attitude on the matter, reality and trusting your own intuition and feelings is of the utmost importance when dealing with our relationships. Especially when children are involved. What does it say to children who watch their parents get belittled, insulted and put down constantly by relatives? It sends the message of “they get a pass because their family”. I’m sorry but showing compassion begins with yourself first. I highly encourage anyone who is in a toxic relationship to dare greatly and let your feelings be known, and if the aggressor cannot make changes then it’s time for you to do what is best for yourself. How can we be good parents when our spirit is being constantly attacked and wounded? You can’t, trying to deflect constant negative behavior by unloving or mentally ill souls is exhausting. You won’t get special treatment in heaven for letting people crap on you, sorry. Be a strong positive force and fill your life with those who uplift you. Not those trying to bring you down to their level. I find this article very judging. I can talk the talk because I have a mentally ill parent and inlaws with major narcissitic\codependancy issues. To knowingly let my kids be in these environments with people like that would be child abuse. Don’t be critical of your sister author….she is stronger for being able to put herself first, and we are nothing to the world if we are not happy inside. Setting boundaries is love, and if it means the hard boundary of no contact, then it does. It’s love for yourself and for the other person. This is a touchy matter and your approach is judging while the advice you give borders on dangerous, especially with children involved. It can take one nasty comment to a child to cause a lifelong issue or trauma.

    13. leave says:

      No matter who is doing the emotional or physical abuse, it is unacceptable. I come from this type of family and the more my other siblings kept in regular contact with my parents the more they became like them; it is unavoidable.
      Cutting ties is harder to do, that is why most people don’t. Maintaining and accepting the abuse just because it is family is absurd, to me at least.
      Sustain your own identity, seek others who are sane and carry on with your life.
      Live long and prosper.

    14. Laurie says:

      If your family member refuses to go to therapy, then I think you need to focus on what you can change: yourself and your responses to them. Who they are and what they do is up to them, and you need to let their hurtful behavior go.

      I think the main reason you should forgive hurtful behavior and keep visiting hurtful family members is that you’ll be more emotionally healthy. Forgiveness is for YOU, not for them. The hard work of doing everything you can to be okay with them will make you a better, happier person in the long run!

    15. truthbtold says:

      So, when you ask a family member to attend therapy WITH you because you want to work on the relationship, and they refuse, your just supposed to go “Well, I tried” and go running back for more abuse, put-downs, and chaos? Why subject a happy life to so much pain? Who is number one in your life because it apparently isn’t you or your children!

    16. What? says:

      Absurd. Abuse is abuse regardless of who is dishing it out. Knowing that they are wounded does not mean you should subject yourself to the abuse. You are on the fringe of reason for thinking otherwise. If people, including family, are abusive, you must cut them out of your life for good. That is teaching your children how to protect yourself from abusers and showing your children that they should never accept abuse from anyone, even family. Difficult relationships may be workable but most abusive ones are simply not.

    17. Hmm says:

      I don’t have a spouse or children – just parents who put me down and compare me negatively to others. I have asked them to change their behaviour but they don’t. Why should I bother forgiving them, accepting them or turning the other cheek? I really don’t see why I should do all that hard work for nothing.

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