How to Cope with Toxic Family Members and Have a Happy Family Life
Did you know you can enjoy a happy family life, even if there is a toxic family member in the mix? Maybe you have a supercritical mother-in-law or a sibling who won’t let old things die. Perhaps you have a cousin who blows in and out of town and causes huge tumult in their wake. These toxic family members can be dealt with.
Toxic Mother-in-Law Example
I had a male patient who accomplished quite a bit with his toxic mother-in-law. 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; and played the 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 speak the language, 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 he felt that they had a good relationship. He felt guilty because he was frustrated with the amount of time she was consuming from his wife.
Recognizing the Toxicity
First, I helped him see that it was his wife deciding to spend all of that time with her mother. The discussion actually needed to be with his wife. His initial idea was he needed to criticize his wife for doing this, but instead, he was 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.
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.
How to Curb the Toxicity
Much to his surprise (which happens a lot), his wife understood him. She was surprised and glad to hear it because she didn’t know he felt that way. She ended up making a lot of the 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 then 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 Carribean alone for Thanksgiving, but when we get back, we will have a post-Thanksgiving leftover feast at your mothers.”
The patient found clever ways to get around the toxic behavior. His relationship grew with his wife, and all of his symptoms went away.