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.
If 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.
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…