I have been with my husband for 4 years. We got married at City Hall 2 years ago and had the big party last year. At first, we clicked because we thought we really shared the same values and vision for the future. We used to joke and brag about never fighting for the first year we spent together. We moved from Europe to the West Coast really quickly, we traveled a lot, supported each other in our career growth. We were really making each other better.
I was very career driven and an overachiever before I met him, A bit naive and idealist also. I grew up with Disney movies and was always surrounded by kind-hearted people. He taught me to relax, got the travel bug, to look for hobbies and interests outside of work. He pushed me to go after my business ideas and go all-in.
I think what I brought to him was unconditional love. He comes from a dysfunctional family, so at first he always thought every kind or caring attention was a way to wait for something else in return, I believe I taught him to trust. I have been supportive of his work, music (he composes), and family/friends. It is important to me to celebrate all that’s good in someone’s life. So I surprised him with “congrats for the new role/promotion/track” gifts, balloons. I researched experiences and music instruments that would make his eyes smile. Same for the people in our lives, I always spend time trying to see if we can make their life better, sometimes a small thing goes a long way.
Anyways. We had a good dynamic. Then his family (and some of his friends) came into play.
I don’t mean this in the casual, don’t-get-along-with-the-mother-in-law way. I mean really scary, toxic scary, immoral scary.
I have spent the first years of our relationship asking for healthy boundaries. Nothing crazy just “you don’t call the shots when and where we go places”, “you don’t speak badly about my wife, ever”, “you are not entitled to my time”, “you either support my marriage or be silent”. That’s it, nothing fancy, no crazy expectations.
MIL: she cheated on dad, took away his kid (my DH), made him live with 5 different guys, scared him into thinking it was the end of the world, made him feel responsible for her well-being (guilting) … he was going straight back home because otherwise mom is alone, when his dad died she showed no empathy and told the kid she hoped it will bring them closer
SIL1: she was abused when younger, she is 40 and single, her only relationship was with a dying man of the same age of her father and it was an open relationship, he was cheating on her. My DH is the only male constant in her life.
SIL2: she has a partner with whom she has a kid, he is 15 years older than her, they are on and off and don’t always live together, the MIL disrespect the BIL in front of his kid and badmouth him behind his back, the SIL does not care
Here are a few examples of their behavior:
01) His mother and sister disagreed about us splitting our time between both our families, They demanded we’d split, and they’d get him alone instead. In my family they could not wait to meet and spend time with the love of my life. Them? “You see her all year, it’s our turn” or “It’s not right, you don’t have to be glued with your other half, and we’re your family not them, you belong here”. I was really shocked. Not just by them, but also because my DH was NOT shocked but “flattered” and he “got their point”. We had a fight and he told them we’d stick with our plan. But he warned me “when I am there. I owe it to them to be theirs. I cannot be distracted by you. They’d feel betrayed.”
02) Weird moments in his family. We were both sitting in the sofa, my head on his shoulder, we were enjoying a break from all the business and relaxing. My SIL arrives sits close to him on his other side, puts her head on his other shoulder (inches from my head), and whispers in his ear “let’s elope, let’s go for a walk just you and I, now, ok?”... weird … later that evening, he told me he had back pain so I was giving him a quick massage. All of the sudden both MIL and SIL jumped off their chairs and got to us, they kind of pushed me inelegantly, then pushed each other to get to massage him … weird .. eventually none of them won and they ended up giving him a four hands massage … weird...
03) His entire family bullied me into playing a game. I know it sounds trivial. I asked my husband to be excused because playing Charade makes me uncomfortable, he asked as a favor that I make an effort because it’s his favorite game saying we’d team up so I don’t have to act. Then his sister threw a tantrum, she did not want to be matched with her mum. My DH turned to me and said “do you mind if we do random teams?”. Of course I did. I said so. My BIL attacked me “don’t be a baby”. I said no again. My DH forced my hand. It was torture. I was paired up with my MIL who was very unkind. I had tears in my eyes the whole time. I should have just walked out.
04) SIL was instilling doubt in my DH mind. When he told her he was happy to have found an extraordinary person with a fresh perspective on love. Her answer was “if you’re her first long term relationship, aren’t you scared she’s going to cheat on you at some point, she will probably want to be with other guys, don’t you think?”. Later in her relationship he told her he’s in love and her answer was “Of who? Her? Are you sure? It did not sound like that the other day”
05) One month before the wedding party, I organized a trip with my parents and MIL + her boyfriend. I thought it might be easier to bond over experiences in a neutral place. WRONG! We overslept the first night (after a 24hr journey from San Francisco to Marrakech). My MIL knocked and hit on the door for 10 minutes like a crazy person. Really, I was scared to go out and see her face. On the way back, my DH was telling her travel stories, one is that his wedding ring slipped in the ocean, it was slightly too big, he lost weight and too much sunscreen … whatever. She said “You losing your ring is a sign, I wonder what this mean”. I was shocked again.
06) We had our honeymoon before the wedding party. We got an angry email from my DH’s cousin. She wanted the boyfriend of her 17 years old daughter to be invited to our small wedding, neither of us ever met him. She said we owed it to her, if he was not coming they’d boycott the wedding, and she just had a heart attack so surely we do not want to cause her stress. And the cherry on top, MIL intervened and sent a letter “she asked me to talk some sense into you, you’d better do right by her, or beware of the consequences”. I ran away. Really I wanted to cancel everything. I was sick and tired of this bullying. But my DH he blamed me “why do you care, the easiest with them is to let them have their way, it’s the best path to peace, if you pick a fight then it means you are bringing drama into our lives and you don’t care for our happiness”.
07) Our wedding to my IL was the opportunity for them to be spoiled. They did not offer to help, not once, they only complained. We had the wedding on a 17th century boat on the Venice Canals, we served gourmet food, it was beautifully decorated, there were gifts for all the guests, amazing scenery, great music. But no, they were unhappy, people did not come to them, the dress code was not fitting, they did not get the best table, they did not feel special and who knows what else. The other guests’ feedback were that we were so cute, they took pictures, our vows were beautiful, they were so grateful to have been part of the experience … you know, those kind of things.
08) The day of the wedding my SIL sang a love song to my DH, eyes locked, dramatic gestures. She died her hair flashy red and was wearing a tight gold gown. Most people were not feeling really comfortable with that scene. I honestly did not care at the time, but looking back it was a bit weird.
09) After hosting our guests alone because he was attending the selfish issues his sister had, I was upset, I asked why it was happening all the time, couldn’t he tell her now is not the time. But instead of telling me sorry, he told me I was to blame for making a big deal out of it. He left me alone at the hotel for the next 3 days. He spent it with his friends and family telling them a very twisted version of the story. Instead of telling them my family is damaging my marriage, I keep breaking my word which drives my wife crazy and I refuse to set boundary which she finds unhealthy and unsafe. He told friends and family (~10 people) that I was actively trying to cut him from his loved ones, that I was calling his family toxic and unhealthy, that I did not respect him.
10) His family and friend advised him to dump his wife (remember, day after the wedding). They called me manipulative, narcissistic perverse, possessive, mentally ill, oversensitive, drama-queen. They brainwashed him, made him doubt me, who I am, what I am about. He really bought their portraiture of me. Suddenly I was this evil jailer with irrational behaviors. It got very nasty. MIL sent a message “don’t be fooled by your manipulative wife, beware, and talk to me and your sisters more”. A friend sent this text “I told you so. It’s for the best. Most important is to not talk to her, avoid her at all cost, pack your bags, leave her, don’t look back. You’ll find someone better in no time. She won’t if that can make you feel better”.
11) Back home, I asked DH to call the 10 people (~16 by that time, all of them gossiped and betrayed his confidences) to nuance and set the story straight. He refused arguing he still does not know what’s true and who I am anymore. So I took matters in my own hands and wrote a letter to MIL and SIL explaining the context: the red flags, how it contrast with what I know, how I asked for boundaries not cutting-off, how Florian kept betraying me and how it drove me to say strong words I regret during private conversations with my husbands. He asked them not to answer unless it’s to make peace, but of course they did not listen and they answered with ugly letters.
12) The MIL letter was so delusional it was almost funny. She accused me of destroying two families (mine included), of having a sense of grandiosity, of wanting to cut my DH from his family to make him enter my family by manipulating like cults do (I am my own cult of one person!). And the best of it all, she said if my DH was conflicted it was because of me, because we made the choice to live abroad so it’s on us if sometimes there are “misunderstanding”. She said I was icy cold when I kissed her, I later sent her a photo showing me kissing her with a big smile. Because she could not counter argue she just replied “go get treated!” LOL.
13) The SIL letter was something else. It shattered me. She asked if she could “lecture her and set her straight”, apparently my DH gave her the greenlight. He does not remember doing so, so she could be lying. So her lecture was “toxic, unhealthy, those are the words you used, let them resonate, do you realize how violent they are and what a storm it must have triggered in your husband’s mind and heart” …. I used those words in a private conversation with my husband and yet she acts like she has the power to judge (and retroactively I was not wrong, the labels were quite accurate). Then she went on “a couple has a right to their privacy, yes, except when there is emotional abuse, then you have no more right to your privacy” … and that stuck with me. Then she accused me of being possessive and not wanting to share my husband - funny cos’ they’re the ones who asked “without her” or “just you and I”... I only asked for boundaries so that our relationship is not always hijacked.
14) The cousin was the most ugly character. My DH told him I was having panic attacks and had suicidal thoughts and really scared. A normal person would say oh no take care of your wife, any way we can reassure her it’s going to be ok. But he’s not normal. So his advice? She is perverse narcissist, she is manipulating you so that you stay. In case she actually commits suicide you should be covered, so document everything, build a case that proves she is unstable and it is not your fault. Eeeew.
15) After months of sabotaging our marriage behind my back, they kept badmouthing me and trying to convince DH to divorce, he decided to put a stop to it. He flew to France, met with them, try to get them to stop. His mother kind of got it, his sister had a new theory, if his wife was traumatized, depressed and off-work it is because she was already before, they did not play a role in my fall. He insisted that she’d stop and apologize. He gave her three reasons: (1) because it was genuinely not your place to comment on our private life, insulting and sabotaging is not right, (2) because I am asking you as a favor to do this to secure my happiness (3) because my wife, a human being, is suffering, and you can ease her pain by telling her she has nothing to be scared of anymore. SHE REFUSED. SHE SAID SHE STANDS BY WORDS AND ACTIONS. …. And worse, she went one step further, she sent another email: “you speak like your wife now. I am not responsible. She is ill, she has lost control. That has nothing to do with me. You and her together you are putrid. Your love story is an illusion, a farce, fake. Your wedding was a dinner game conceived to make us look bad.”
After 10) I got diagnosed with PTSD (flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, agoraphobia, mental fog). It was really hard for my DH to deal with. Sometimes he was nice, sometimes he was just leaving me suffocating on the floor and going to the other room. He told me it was the best coping mechanism he had to not get angry at me.
After 15), my DH cut off contact with MIL and SIL who refused to stop. We found each other again, I was almost healed and ready to go back to work. We were able to enjoy the present, to make plans, to enjoy vacations together. We were in couple therapy and were making progress but my DH’s guilt was too strong and he initiated contact behind my back, then told me, then told me he wanted to divorce me so that he could have them back. I collapsed, I ended up in the emergency room again. And then decided to go spend the next 2 months in my family to recover.
I get that he doesn’t like to confront the fact that his parents/best friends are horrible people who have no sense of moral and no empathy. It’s really hard to admit that the people you love are awful. He needs to think they *really* love him unconditionally. He does not see that acting entitled, demanding, forcing, bullying, guilting … is being a “taker” not a “giver”. I have never witnessed any instance of anyone of his family doing anything that was selfless, that was only to make someone else happy. Never. Unless they got something out of it: ego boost, validation, attention.
Since then there has been a lot of back and forth. I still don’t know where we stand. If I should give this a try or not. It seems that my DH is going through major therapy to undo all the damage his emotionally abusive parents have done over the years and gaining understanding of the dynamics at play. Maybe a life with his family being contained to his world, and me (and future kids if there are kids) being shielded and not exposed to their toxic behaviors at all … is possible? Do you know of any happy marriage where only one spouse is in contact with one set of in-laws?
I’m not really sure how to react to this. I’ve really put forth an effort to be nice to his family and friends. I’ve put a point in being a good host, gave them privacy with DH so that they have their own time, prepared tailored experiences, cooked for them, was always joyful and caring. I was being very patient, polite, caring with them. I would not even react when they disrespected me to my face, I’d go as far as sending thank you note even when they hosted me horribly, I’d spent hours researching the perfect gifts for them for each birthday and Christmas, I asked questions and showed interest in who they are and what they value in Life. The only wrong thing I did was to vent privately to my husband, asking for his help.
Before the insults, I was flawless but they’re starting to wear me down, I have snapped and acted out of integrity twice. I have felt really ashamed of myself. The truth is, after years of gaslighting, I needed feedback and reassurance that what I was living was not normal and that I was not crazy. I have posted my story on my facebook page, I have sent an email to the entire family quoting all the horrible things they said to me. I was telling myself it was to warn the others, but really I did it out of frustration and rebellion about the perceived unfairness of the world (I think). I immediately sent a follow-up saying I was sorry and it was not my place to do this. But still. It was too late, and it did not make it any less wrong.
What my therapist said was that to protect my sanity and mental health I needed to have zero contact with his toxic family. From there, I have two options. Either leaving and starting from scratch in a toxic-free environment, or staying with zero exposure (not direct, not indirect) with the crazy women of his family. She said option 2 is only an option if my husband and I are a solid team (which was not the case until now). She advised that I go home and assess the situation: is my DH willing to invest in his therapy and working out his unhealthy bond with his unhealthy family, is he willing to team up with me, is he willing to agree that neither me nor our kids (if any) would ever have to be exposed to toxic people.
Option 1: I feel that leaving is abandoning him and I really want him to be happy. I want him to have a shot at building a healthy and happy life surrounded by loving, caring, supporting people. I have been raised in a family where people have marriage that last a lifetime. I don’t believe in divorce. I believe love is stronger than everything. I believe in hope. I believe kindness always wins. In a way, leaving would be a little like renouncing some of my strongest values.
Option 2: I realize that staying is making the choice to let go of some pretty big ideals: letting go of having two loving set of families around us, letting go of raising kids in a toxic-free environment, letting go of having a partner I trust 100% to have my back (because he’d always be in abuse recovery mode and would sometimes make mistakes and betray me). I get that I can’t change his family, and I get that trying and hoping for them to grow and become “kind-hearted, good people” was a lost cause that was only draining me. But what matters the most is the family you create, right? And if the both of us grow from this experience, if we both decide to invest in reinventing our relationship … then we can create a family unit we’d be proud of. After all, even when I was still in touch with his family, we were only seeing them 5 days a year, that leaves 360 days that could be non-polluted. Right?
If option 2 was to work I have worked out a few conditions I would like to present to DH to be sure this would be a safe option for me:
1. We are both committed to go back to couple therapy once a week
2. Both of us undergo individual therapy once a week
3. He has limited contact with his family and tells them nothing personal about our lives.
4. He does not tell me anything about his family, their thoughts, their lives … nothing (I should be able to pretend they don’t exist)
5. He will never force me (or future kids if any) to be exposed to them unless SERIOUS behavior change is observed and they apologize, make amend, etc. Even so, they would have only a few hours in a neutral zone.
>> what do you think of those? Should I edit those? Add to those?
My DH suggested we live apart for at least 6 months to a year, see each other a few times a week, possibly with couple therapy, and then reassess. What should I think about this? I think I have reached a point that either we are really working things out, or we part ways. But I am not sure I have the patience for a half-way solution. We would have to break our lease, both move to different apartments, all of that for a very slim chance that things work out.
>> what do you think? Has any of you tried such an arrangement and what was the outcome?
If we were to stay together, how likely is it that our *future* kids would be impacted by his toxic family. I grew up in a happy family where family members care for each other, everyone supports each other, difference is celebrated, newcomers are welcomed with open hearts. I want my future kids to have that.
>> Do you have one side of the family that’s toxic? How do you deal with it? Do you choose to try to get the kids to have some sort of a relationship with the toxic family? Or do you shield them? If you do, how do you explain it to them?
If we stay together, it’s likely that my husband will still struggle with the reality that his family members are terrible people and do not love him unconditionally. When he has those struggles, he gaslights me, blames me for being the crazy one who *reacts* to their *bad actions*. My reactions are louder than their actions to him. I rationally know he is blaming me to protect his reality and I am not crazy, insane or mentally ill. But sometimes, in the moment, I doubt. There are times when he says those delusional things it feels to me like my brain is hurting, like I cannot process information anymore, because it makes no sense. For instance, he’d say “Your mother also told you to divorce me, it’s the same as my mother”. Except, his mother told him “leave your wife, come back to mama” the day after the wedding. My mother told me “leave and save yourself when I was on the verge of comitting suicide after 6 months of emotional abuse from my inlaws”. How he could even think a mother trying to split up her son’s marriage, and another one trying to save her daughter’s life is even comparable … is beyond me. I feel like we’ve been over this situation so many times that it’s impossible to have a sane, rational conversation about our respective situations without bringing up all our years of baggage around this issue.
>> How can I protect myself when he says those things that make no sense? I have tried logic reasoning and it does not work, it results in endless conversation that only get him to say even more delusional stuffs.