Living

Out-laws

I have a strong marriage but my relationship with my husband's family is hostile. I think it's beyond repair, so I want to divorce my in-laws. But I don't want to force my husband to cut ties with his parents and I would like my children to continue seeing their grandparents. How can I do this?

You sound very healthy on several counts. For starters, you have taken enough abuse and are calling a halt to it. Secondly, you and your husband have maintained a solid relationship throughout this ordeal. Congratulations on avoiding a minefield that many couples fail to cross. Thirdly, you are thinking of your husband’s continued relationship with his parents and your children’s enjoyment of their grandparents, which shows that you know there’s more at stake here than just your feelings. You sound surprisingly non-vindictive while still trying to find a solution to the problem.

Often when mentally stable people experience ongoing problems with their in-laws, it is because the in-laws are troubled in some way and have a disturbed family dynamic. A spouse who joins the family is labelled “bad” if she refuses to follow the unhealthy family pattern. Your husband didn’t have a choice. He was dependent on his parents as a child and forced to mould his behaviour to make the sick family dynamic functional. It never really works but it allows people to limp into adulthood. When a normal adult marries into the family, he or she blows its cover and reveals how sick it is. And the most disturbed family member isolates and vilifies the normal “intruder” for disrupting the established family system.

Team up
Since you and your husband have such a strong relationship, I would suggest you work together on this and decide exactly how the relationship will function. It is important that he deals with his parents by letting them know that you will no longer be seeing them or having them over.

I suspect your in-laws will kick up quite a fuss. Refuse to get involved. Melodrama and guilt is the bond of the disturbed family, while love is the bond of a normal one. It is best to simply opt out.

Set ground rules
Your husband must make it clear right away that his parents will still have a relationship with him and their grandchildren but not with you. He should tell them that he and the children will continue to visit them in their home but they will not be invited over to his home anymore.

Your husband must also tell his parents that you are his top priority and that he will never allow them to utter a bad word about you to him or to your children. He also needs to spell out that when it comes to holidays, you come first. The two of you will decide the date and location of your holiday meals and celebrations and your in-laws will have to work around your plans.

Adhere to the rules you establish. Don’t criticize your in-laws in front of your husband or your children. Your husband will only be hurt and anxious if he has to divide his loyalty.

Clinical psychologist Dr. Catherine Gildiner is in private practice. Too Close to the Falls (ECW) is her memoir.