How do you handle in-laws who ignore you – or are hurtful? These tips for visiting miserable relatives 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 ignore you or get under your skin in the worst possible way, read Toxic In-Laws: Loving Strategies for Protecting Your Marriage by Susan Forward. It’s a bestselling book on balancing in-laws and marriage. There are no quick tips or easy solutions for dealing with abusive, toxic, or hurtful in laws. You need to learn strategies that are effective, and apply them to your relationships.
Here’s my reader’s question: “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 dealing with toxic people. “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. My in laws ignore me and I’m tired of it.”
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 for coping with hurtful in laws who ignore you, and tell me what you think.
If you find that your family is negatively affecting the way you see yourself, read How to Love Yourself When You Don’t Feel Good Enough.
4 Peace-Loving Ways to Embrace Miserable In-Laws
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. Thy don’t have a problem with ignoring their in laws and family members because it’s a deliberate choice they made.
My sister is the same way. She hasn’t spoken to my mother for over a decade, because my mom is mentally ill and my sister doesn’t feel like talking to her.
Those are personal choices. I wouldn’t choose to ignore my in laws or family members, because I believe that not seeing eye-to-eye with your family members or in-laws doesn’t mean you should 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.
In this article, I’m not talking about physically or emotionally abusive in laws or 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.
1. Do your best to live in harmony – for your own peace of mind
Find ways to rise above your in laws’ behavior, and don’t let it affect your mood or spirit. If you have kids those miserable family visits can even be teachable moments. You might use those negative, toxic comments and behaviors to teach life and relationship lessons. Discuss how to live a meaningful, happy, healthy life – and how to handle miserable people without letting them wreck your day. If you don’t have kids, take a deep breath and be thankful that you aren’t the miserable in law who is ignoring you.
If your difficult mother-in-law refuses to visit your home, 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 in-law or ignore her; you need only verbalize your belief that people shouldn’t be judged by the size or shape their homes are in.
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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 your daughter to do the same for you one day.
Even more important: if you live in peace as far as it depends on you, then you can sleep with a clear conscience. You can’t change your family members, but you can learn how to deal with difficult parents.
2. Put your emotional health to work
“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”)!
You need to decide what’s best for you and your marriage. 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 your husband wants to see his mom.
3. 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 love, you’ll be less hurt when they do and say mean things. If you can see through their behavior, you may not find it hurtful if your in laws ignore you.
Put down your hurt and thoughts that “they shouldn’t be that way.” For example, 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 peace-loving way to embrace hurtful in laws who ignore you is to think about and discuss how they were raised, what hardships they endured, and how they coped. Talk to your husband about his family’s past. You might even try talking to your hurtful in laws.
4. Focus on what your in-laws do and 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. Your in laws may ignore or hurt you, but they raised your husband.
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 tips on visiting family members or in-laws who ignore or hurt you, read 6 Tips for Toxic Relatives – How to Handle Family Problems.
What do you think of these tips for visiting family members or in laws who ignore you? Comments welcome below…I can’t offer advice, but I welcome your thoughts.
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If you need relationship help, get Mort Fertel's 7 Steps to Fixing Your Marriage - and FREE advice, no strings attached.