Should You Visit Family Members Who Are Hurtful?

A reader asked if she should visit her in-laws even though she hates them. These tips on how to visit in-laws and family members who are hurtful are inspired by her 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.”

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

Tips for 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 severely physically or emotionally abusive family members. I’m focusing on in-laws and family members who are 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!

Tips for Visiting Hurtful In-Laws and Family Members

Tips for Visiting Hurtful In-Laws and Family Members

“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 in-laws’ or family members’ own 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.

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.

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

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Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen
Welcome - I'm glad you're here! I can't give advice, but you're welcome to share your experience below. I'm a writer in Vancouver; my degrees are in Psychology, Education, and Social Work. I live with my husband, two dogs, and cat. We are childless, & have made peace with it. It helps to love Jesus :-)

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13 Responses

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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

  7. 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.”

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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!

  11. 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!

  12. 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.

  13. 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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