How to Cope with Toxic Family Members
Have you ever wondered how to cope with toxic family members? Maybe you have a supercritical mother-in-law or a sibling who won’t let old things die, or perhaps a cousin who blows in and out of town and causes huge tumult in their wake. These toxic family members can be dealt with.
You can enjoy a happy family life, even if there is a toxic family member in the mix.
I’d like to provide an example of a male patient who accomplished quite a bit with his toxic mother-in-law and learned how to cope with the toxic behavior. His mother in law wasn’t the stereotypical toxic mother-in-law, but that didn’t make her any less toxic. She was very much the victim, she played this role of not being able to do anything for herself, even though she was a very capable woman who had accomplished quite a bit in her life. His mother-in-law suddenly started playing the role of “I can’t do anything for myself, I can’t make a phone call, I don’t know how to use a computer…” She had all of these excuses, that were actually not true. Which then elicited her daughter to feel very compelled to help her.
My patient’s wife was spending a lot of time with her mother, at the expense of my patient. The patient felt very guilty because he liked his mother in law and had a good relationship but he felt frustrated with the amount of time she was consuming from his wife.
First, I helped him see that it was his wife making the decision to spend all of that time with her mother. The discussion actually needed to be with his wife, which he finally got up the nerve to do. His initial idea was he needed to criticize his wife for doing this, he was just open with her and said, A. He was envious of her relationship with her mother because he did not have a good relationship with his mother, and B. He opened up about how he missed her and he missed their social life growing because of the time she was spending with her mother.
Much to his surprise, (which happens a lot) she understood him. She was surprised and glad to hear it because she didn’t know. She ended up making a lot of changes on her own. His wife set up a schedule to see her mother while he was at work, or on a business trip. He was finally able to say no when his wife would offer to bring her mother on all of their trips. He would say no but add a yes. Such as for holidays, he would say something along the lines of “No, we’re going to the Caribbean for Thanksgiving but when we get back we will have a post-Thanksgiving leftover feast.”
The patient found clever ways for how to cope, and how to get around the toxic behavior. The patients’ relationship grew, and all of his symptoms went away.