Boundaries set, but advice needed on how to support husband
December 6, 2015 11:48 PM   Subscribe

In laws, aging, health and "expectations" from parents of adults - how do I navigate this situation with setting boundaries/supporting my husband in the face of manipulative in laws? (Snowstorm warning...)

Lots of background:

We are a happy, healthy and very in-love couple in our late 30s/early 40s. We are very happily married. My parents live in another time zone and we have a positive relationship with them. My in laws live on the other side of town and this relationship is rather toxic. I find them to be extremely difficult people and have worked to distance myself from them as best I can while trying my best to support my husband and support our marriage. We have been to individual and couples therapy and what we do right now works - we visit with them together every few month and my husband sees them probably every other week on his own. He is easily frustrated by them, but also still has a sense of loyalty to them. I have explicitly and numerously discussed with my husband that our relationship with his parents is his to manage, I am not their child and I will not be pushed around by them. We are in understanding and agreement with each other.

Specifically, my in laws show signs of mental illness - completely narcissistic and manipulative people who do not have or respect boundaries and can be downright mean to others around them as well as with one another and very loudly. They are highly inappropriate and rude to everyone and seem to think that others exist to solely benefit them (I won't go out to dinner with them because it is humiliatiing with how they treat waitstaff and my parents will no longer invite them to family gatherings due to them insulting my parents house, life, cooking and friends). Both my MIL and FIL negatively comment on my weight to my face and ask very uncomfortable personal questions (like the state of my personal/women's health, ask me about my sexual health, offer unwanted critique of my clothing, home, job, life choices). It makes me really uncomfortable. My defense is always to push back or tell them that these are personal things and none of their business, but they continue to do this every time I see them. My husband does the same, but oftentimes they do this when he is out of the room or if they happen to catch me alone. They completely undermine our marriage and they treat my spouse as if he is a boy rather than a man in his 40s with a wife, homeowners and a couple with many shared interests, a solid friendship and financially in a fantastic place. We need nothing from them, so my husbands attempts to foster a relationship is purely because they are his parents. They call his cell phone morning noon and night about things like a loaf of bread on sale or what color they think we should paint our house. Sometimes he answers, sometimes not and he has been at the receiving end of a temper tantrum because he didn't answer his phone at 11pm because we were sleeping and not readily available to hear that someone got a urinary tract infection (!!!). They pull out all stops with being bossy until my husband snaps and tells them that he and I will make our own decisions, Thankyouverymuch and the whole cycle repeats.

My husband hates this but feels conflicted - he feels obligated to spend time with them because 'they won't be around much longer' - they are in their late 70s and in horrible shape health-wise. Boatloads of medications, diabetes, obesity, medical drama. However, he gets frustrated at all of their unsolicited "advice" and needless lecturing on what they think he and we should be doing. He claims that he tunes it out and just lets them talk/sputter out, but I worry that this may fuel their incessant attempts to meddle in his life. I Sam not going to tell him what to do because they are his parents, but if my parents even thought about pulling this crap, we probably wouldn't be on speaking terms.

The Situation:

Recently my FIL's health has taken a turn for the worse. Very long story short, he milks this for all its worth and makes demands on others to do everything for him, despite having some ability to do these things perfectly well himself or hire someone. My MIL enables all of it so talking with her is not an option. As a result whenever we visit together (which isn't that often - really every few months because we feel this behavior pushes us away) "spending time" with them always turns into "doing a laundry list of random errands and home maintenance projects", staying twice as long as planned while my FIL barks orders at my husband. I no longer attend these visits and my husband is ok with this. However, if my husband also defers to not visit for the same reasons as me, he is hit with a steaming pile of guilt e.g. "But we did all of these things for you as a kid..." This makes my husband upset and he knows that this guilt is being used as a weapon against him. We have read the emotional labor thread together.

Anyway, with the current decline of FIL's health, MIL has been having a whale of a time taking care of him as he barks orders at her as well. We considered hiring a helper or aide to off load some of the pressure on my MIL being at his beckon call, but are concerned that this will only enable FIL to do nothing himself. They do need help around their house but are not ready or at the point to move to assisted living.

Advice Needed:

MeFi, what I am REALLY worried about is a conversation I had with my husband this morning. He is proposing that he go to their house for an hour or two each week for dinner and to help with house chores. He said that I have zero obligation to go and I can choose to be involved or not. I told my husband that I'm concerned that this is going to open a floodgate of them wanting more out of him, although he seems to think that this will put an end to the whining of "We never seeee youuuu!" and cut down on the phone calls. I completely disagree. I told him that I'm not feeling great about this but I will try to support him as well as our marriage from home. We agreed that our first priority is our home (we are undergoing MAJOR house renovations) and I am concerned that his parents will manipulate him into spending less time on us/home under the guise of them being old and not taking care of themselves. I am worried that when we work on having kids in the next year that this could really cause tension and distraction from him being a father and unnecessary stress on us, and even more negativity from them because there is no way in hell that we would let them watch a kid with that much open medication around their house and difficulty with moving quickly or paying full attention. Plus we are already dreading all of their crappy parenting advice. I told my husband all of this and we agreed to proceed with caution.

Am I correct in feeling really worried about all of this? I am sure that I'm over analyzing this but I'm worried that they will want two days and even more time. I'm worried about them becoming dependent on him and continuing to perpetuate this toxic situation where they just continue to bash me, be mean to my husband and just rip on and our marriage, dogs, life and home and incessantly call us and demand things. What can I do to support my husband? I will listen and talk him through this stuff, but really want no other involvement. Is my gut wrong? Have you dealt with a similar situation and what helped you to maintain healthy boundaries? What else am I not even considering?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You said it's up to your husband, not you, to deal with his parents and I fully agree. Now that he wants to try doing that, it looks like you want to decide how he should do that, which looks like a contradiction to me. I'd say let him try this out and don't make him feel guilty about potential and yet unborn children, that seems to be more his parents' style.
posted by meijusa at 12:01 AM on December 7, 2015 [37 favorites]

Would you let your husband go to say, frisbee club for an hour or two every week? I totally get why you're doing this, but the majority of your worries about this are - at this point, at any rate - about things that haven't happened, rather than things that have.

It might help put some of your anxieties at ease if you outline to your husband what you are worried about, and ask him to develop some strategies with you, on how to prevent that happening, and what steps he can take, if it does start to happen. Nothing is predestined OP, set yourself and your hubby up for success. If they want more than two days, set up what he and you will do when this situation arrives. If they grow more dependent on him (and likely they will OP, they are old), think about how you can resolve his desire to support them with your desire for a present husband.

At the same time, dude, I get that his parents suck, but they are his parents, and they are legit only going to get sicker and/or die soon, he wants to spend time with them, and forgive me, you do sound a little jealous at points in this question.

I totally get how frustrated you are with them, but maybe you could consider working on fostering some more empathy for them, and by extension, your husband, and how you can support him, supporting his parents. I get that it's hard for you; I'm sure it's even harder for him, dealing with them and attempting to juggle your stress and anxiety around that relationship, too. Their judgment sucks when you get it, how much more would it suck when their son - who undoubtedly loves them more - gets it? He can't help loving them, and this is a family commitment he wants to make because he cares. I know it sucks, but they are part of your family too. This doesn't mean you have to act like him, but I think you should - with restrictions - support him in this.

People who have had pretty great parents sometimes don't appreciate how tangled and hard things can be with more difficult parents. Best of luck OP, I think this might work out better than you think; the trick is for him to set the boundaries and enforce them. Don't take on your husband's burden, but don't prevent him from taking it on, either.
posted by smoke at 12:52 AM on December 7, 2015 [6 favorites]

You've expressed your concerns, which are valid, and it sounds like he's taking them seriously. Until new concerns arise you need to trust him and let the worry go. They're his parents, it's on him, all you can do for now is be supportive.

If he hasn't thought of it himself, you might suggest that he specifically avoid telling them that he plans on making it a weekly thing. He doesn't need the "but you said you'd be here every week" guilt trip if it doesn't work out.
posted by MoTLD at 1:37 AM on December 7, 2015 [5 favorites]

Let him do it (you are not his parent after all, and it is his burden or prerogative to take it on) and if they want more, more, more, well, that's when boundaries get enforced. But don't jump the gun yet. I completely get that it's annoying but keep the distance that works for you and your husband gets to choose his own distance, or involvement as the case may be.
posted by Jubey at 1:38 AM on December 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

While I can see why you're worried -- every point of access they have, they use it to ask for more (and to bash you) -- I also think your husband's idea could be a good one. If he can clearly define an amount he's willing to offer ("two hours a week" or whatever), and if he can defend that limit, it could help inoculate him against guilt and create structure for what currently seems like a completely sprawling set of demands.

In discussing this, I'd try to focus on your feelings, I.e., you're afraid that this weekly access will let them pull him away from you. By discussing your feelings (which are valid) instead of the rightness or wrongness of his plan, you may be able to avoid triggering defensiveness and hopefully find some relief from the level of worry you're experiencing.
posted by salvia at 1:45 AM on December 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

This sounds rough. I think you should let your husband deal with this.

What else am I not even considering? Please don't read this as, "Did Kinetic not read one word I wrote about how terrible these people are?" I did and I feel your frustration jumping off the page.

What you're not considering is how filled with hostility you are towards these people, and how that is affecting you and your marriage and in time, your children. Yes, they may act in horrible ways, but you have choices in how you choose to filter their demands and awfulness beyond, "I'm washing my hands of these two; honey, it's your problem." And I get why you're doing that, but imagine how great it would be if you could somehow support your husband and make them your mutual problem to deal with in a way that didn't make you uncomfortable.

This will not be easy, but I suggest trying to view these two people through a lens of compassion. Feeling this hostile towards these admittedly awful in-laws is no good for anyone.

But it's especially no good for you and you can work on reframing every call, every demand, every stupid thing they say through a calm and compassionate filter of, "I am sad that they approach life with so much horribleness. They must have had terrible lives that they can't enjoy a snowfall or The Sound of Music or ME. It must really suck being them. I'm so sorry they live this way. and I feel compassion for how terrible it must be to be them." Or something like that.

If you don't start considering reframing this from hostility to compassion, this anger is going to eat you up alive. Don't let it do that.**

**I'm saying this as someone who had a MIL who was rough (nowhere nearly as rough as yours) and I dealt with her through a lens of anger. Eventually she died and in the ensuing years, I've come to recognize that I could have dealt with her so much more gracefully if I had just looked at her with less, "Why is she such a pain in the ass?" and more, "It must be really terrible feeling as miserable as she does. I'm sorry for all her pain."
posted by kinetic at 2:59 AM on December 7, 2015 [26 favorites]

I'm sorry that your in-laws are so terrible, that must really suck.

Allow your husband to manage his relationship with his parents. If you extracted out all the emotions you have around the situation, you will see that his going over there to help them for an evening every week is perfectly appropriate for older parents and their child.

I totally get the whole loud and obnoxious thing. As folks get older their filters fade. I too cringe when dining out with my parents, even my dad, who is a mild and lovely man, will say shit that just makes me want to crawl into a hole. But the point is, even if they were bad when they were younger, they probably weren't THIS bad, and your husband loves them and wants to help them.

You have a perfectly functioning relationship with your in-laws and your husband. You are with them only insofar as you can stand them, he does the heavy lifting of dealing with them on a regular basis. Thank your lucky stars!

You came here and vented and we agree, they are terrible, horrible people, and if your husband had a brain in his head, he'd cut them off completely. Except, that they are his parents and he loves them, and it's not going to happen.

Your husband is honoring your wishes and your boundaries and not giving you static about how you choose to interact with his parents. You should do the same for him.

Be the blessing in your husband's life. Make it easier for him to be with his folks and help them as best he can. Vent about this to your friends, support his decisions about how he chooses to help his parents, give him a massage when he comes back from their place tense, angry and disgusted.

This is part of getting older, we'll all need to help our parents at some point and the last thing we need is our partner making it harder than it already is.

As for your future children, I have a weird piece of anecdata about that. My friend had her baby a year ago. Her parents are VERY much like your in-laws, only they made my friend their family scapegoat. She was barred from Christmas, they never called her, they said hateful things to her, they are and were nightmares. When they discovered that she was pregnant, they did a complete 180, now everything is about her baby. We threw the birthday party for the baby last week and here come my friend's parents like they owned the joint. Once there was a baby in the picture, suddenly they were bending over backwards to be a part of it. It's disgusting really, and I don't know if I'll every forgive them for how terribly they've treated my friend, but for the sake of the baby, we are gracious.

The point is, that when you have a baby, things may change for the better.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:59 AM on December 7, 2015

Once a week for an hour or two sounds reasonable. Are you concerned he will not enforce his boundaries and it becomes longer and more frequent until you are barely seeing him yourself? Because I think it is fair to make that explicit based on their past behaviour: "if you are gone more than two hours every week then we will stop the weekly visits and you will have to do something else to assuage your guilt." Are you concerned he will be hearing nasty things about you? Then he agrees to give them one warning "please don't say those things about my wife or I will have to leave", and then follow through on leaving (if he never comes home early he isn't maintaining this boundary). Is he giving you an equal amount of time devoted to you and your needs every week? If not, he simply doesn't have the time to give to his parents. Does he comes back from visits with them and complain about the visit? Because that has to stop; he picked up this burden, and he has to carry it instead if passing it over to you. If he cannot resist complaining to you then he can't handle the visits.

It sounds though like your husband, despite the professional help, HASN'T been good about setting and enforcing boundaries in the past and your worries are based on his past behaviour. It is completely fair what is different THIS time. But at the same time, he will never learn to set boundaries if he doesn't try. So tell him it is a two week trial, and that if boundaries get trampled even more - he is late coming home, the phone calls increase, he is stressed by their behaviour then the experiment is over.
posted by saucysault at 4:34 AM on December 7, 2015 [8 favorites]

Anyway, with the current decline of FIL's health, MIL has been having a whale of a time taking care of him as he barks orders at her as well. We considered hiring a helper or aide to off load some of the pressure on my MIL being at his beckon call, but are concerned that this will only enable FIL to do nothing himself.

Well, he's already doing nothing. They are in their 70s; health challenges will only continue to grow more severe from here on out. Even though this health scare was not so bad and your FIL is just milking it, the fact is, they can't do as much for themselves as they could before.

FIL is already dependent, to the point of you guys considering hiring in-home help. I personally think you should hire the help to take the load off you guys/your husband, because I agree with you and your husband helping personally is going to be frustrating. But . . . they are HIS parents.
posted by chainsofreedom at 5:39 AM on December 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

If you're not, you need to be back in couples therapy ESPECIALLY if you are considering having children. It's fine for your husband to expose himself to their nastiness if that's his choice, but to make your kids someday sit through this toxicity (and overhear their mother being treated poorly) is not okay.

I would proceed with caution. I am frankly not optimistic about your husband's idea; people who are already manipulative and treat you poorly will not change, and will push on the "two hours a week" boundary because they can. Because they already know that guilt works. But if your husband wants to try it out, I would do so with very clear expectations : anything beyond two hours a week, once a week (except total emergency) will cause major problems in your marriage. I would also be clear that the day/time is subject to change based on YOUR family's schedule.
posted by nakedmolerats at 5:44 AM on December 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

I think you are overestimating your FIL's abilities to "do things perfectly himself" and your MIL's abilities too. You say these people aren't in good health. Healthy 70-somethings need help around the house; one's who are unwell even moreso. Its hard to imagine when you are younger (and to disclose I'm even younger than you, but I see my grandparents struggle despite being mostly healthy and active) but every chore is a chore. Lack of mobility, less energy, pain etc. make easy tasks harder and the health issues you describe are serious in people who are pushing 80. That's not "medical drama." The idea they need help changing light bulbs, cutting the lawn or making a bed rings very true. There comes a point where you stop visiting your older relatives to be entertained and start visiting to be of use. Your husband has decided that his parents are at that point. He's right based on the little you've described.

You sound very angry when you talk about your in-laws. I'm sure they're rude, manipulative people, but they are still his parents and if its his responsibility to manage the relationship with them, you've got to let him call the shots. He wants to help them out as they get older; that's a very reasonable response. You seem to know where your boundaries are and the things you're worried about are maybe in the future things. Let your husband manage this relationship and if you do actually have an issue, that's when you speak up. But you need to start to accept the fact that the older his parents get, the more support and time they will need. Whether that comes from your husband is going to be up to him but their needs are only going to grow.
posted by GilvearSt at 5:45 AM on December 7, 2015 [5 favorites]

We considered hiring a helper or aide to off load some of the pressure on my MIL being at his beckon call, but are concerned that this will only enable FIL to do nothing himself.

I dunno, this sounds like a pretty good plan to me. Is it really reasonable to expect that your in-laws would be self-sufficient if only you kept a hard line in terms of how much help you give them? It sounds to me like someone needs to step in and give them some support, and better a professional with some emotional distance than you two.

I agree with your concerns about your in-laws pushing boundaries with your husband, but let him give it a shot and hiring an aide can be the backup plan.
posted by fox problems at 5:49 AM on December 7, 2015 [5 favorites]

Wow, we have the same inlaws.

Just some general predictions and advice from someone who has been there:

- The cluster b personality disorders are not mental illness. They are maladaptive behavior patterns that are very difficult to quit. Count on your in-laws dying with their current behaviors thoroughly intact.

- If you are considering children prior to your in-laws shuffling off this mortal coil, get back into couples counseling and stay there. Like until the youngest is school age. I am 100% serious.

- I am a nurse who works in geriatrics, and there is no reason not to hire some in home assistance. The "it will just make fil more dependent" thing is a non reason. Talk to a social worker if paying for it is a problem.

- I would strongly caution your husband to start how he means to continue. If he thinks it is going to be okay for him to just quit spending his evenings with mom and dad once you are pregnant/parenting, he is delusional. If he thinks that anything is going to prevent them from playing the guilt card, he is foolishly optimistic.

You have all my sympathy. My ils and my own parents are toxic, horrible people and hope is not your friend in this scenario. My former husband and I could not have cut contact with our garbage families without each other, but even then it took a lot out of us. This is a long road for both of you. Take care of yourself while you are on it.
posted by Athene at 6:55 AM on December 7, 2015 [9 favorites]

This is one of those cases where you have answered the question yourself. You support your husband - just like your title says. This means backing down over him wanting to spend time with his parents and pull your focus on how to emotionally be there for your husband - because it sounds as though he'll need some strong emotional support from you over this.

There are some great practical solutions to your questions from other folks in this thread, so my one piece of advice would be to maintain your own boundaries, but be there for your hubsnad to unload once he gets home from seeing his parents. In my experience, some people get even harder to handle when they become elderly and unwell. Keep that in mind too.

Good thoughts heading out to you and your husband. It's a hard situation.
posted by kariebookish at 7:21 AM on December 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

They are actually going to die soon, that isn't just something they made up to fuck with his head or an excuse he is giving you. That's real. They are going to be awful and annoying temporarily and then they will be dead forever. Your husband will remember for the rest of his life how he treated them in their last years, which has nothing to do with whether he misses them or whether they were good people.

I treated my mother as an adult human who could improve herself if she was yelled at enough until she reached her 70s, and after that cut-off point I said, this is it, she is not ever going to get any better, let her believe that our relationship is basically ok if she wants to. The truth serves no purpose but to distress her in the face of the fear of death, and there is no more pleasure in distressing a parent who is too old and afraid to fight with you effectively. It's not less sadistic just because they deserve it. To treat declining elderly parents well, you have to treat them as equals while giving up the childish expectation that they are still strong enough to behave as equals, strong enough to grow and change, as people do when they have years enough of life ahead of them to make it a good investment of their energies.

If you haven't had awful but not abusive parents, you won't have spent time imagining how awful it will be to have to pretend to forgive them when you don't have a choice about it and when you can see how badly they need to believe you aren't faking it. The smart move is to pretend NOW when you can detach. Don't underestimate what a consolation it will be to your husband, during and after their deaths, to know that he behaved well and did more than he had to. Everybody will tell him that he did, whether he does or not, and it's very distressing to be told that when you know it isn't true - let him make it true.

p.s. - a UTI in an old person is not worthy of a (!!!) incredulity response for them thinking it's important medical news, I don't know what that's about. One of my mom's UTIs led to her doctor calling to tell us the cancer had definitely metastasized to her brain, without waiting for the scan results to come back, because he was so sure her behavior could have no other explanation. That's what they can be like. Mismanaged diabetes will also produce erratic emotions and behavior when it doesn't lead to coma and death. If you can afford a home health aide for them & want to do it, for christ's sake get one, why punish your MIL because you think your FIL doesn't need the help?
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:59 AM on December 7, 2015 [18 favorites]

The two hours a week plan actually sounds pretty reasonable to me, but so do your concerns about it becoming three or four or five hours, or FIL just offloading everything he doesn't want to do.

My suggestion: maybe your husband could tell his parents nicely but firmly, "I have two hours to spend here this week. What are the most important things you need done?" and force them to prioritize. And if there is something FIL could do but wants to pretend he can't, then firmly point out that exercise and self-sufficiency is healthy and life-prolonging, and strike it from the list. And if they turn abusive, he could say, "How about we leave this until you're in a better mood for it?" and leave the house.

Other people here seem to treat your question as arising partly out of jealousy, resentment, or pettiness. Given your description of your parents' toxicity (and I've known people like this), I can believe 1) that they do not have his best interests at heart, but that you do (along with those of your own marriage, which always comes first) and 2) that nothing will ever be good enough for these people, or just...enough. If your husband's problem has always been setting boundaries and dealing with filial guilt, it's something he needs to address in the interests of peace of mind for both of you. (He sounds relatively well-adjusted, for all that. I'm honestly amazed, as the people I've known who grew up in that kind of situation have turned out to be doormats.)
posted by tully_monster at 8:11 AM on December 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Whoops, that should be parents-in-law's, not parents' toxicity. Editing window closed on me.
posted by tully_monster at 8:17 AM on December 7, 2015

Also, to reinforce what queenofbithynia says, a recurring UTI in an older person should be taken seriously, and sometimes even her doctor doesn't take it seriously enough. I know of one case where the infection was caused by a diverticular fistula, which ended up in major surgery for bowel resection. I am still really, really pissed off at the doctor who didn't look more carefully at this and blew off the patient's concerns (and discomfort).
posted by tully_monster at 8:29 AM on December 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

My grandparents were like this toward my mother.

For the last few years of their life, my father visited with them first once a week, then twice a week, then almost daily, all while fielding phone calls. They were old and sick and scared, and my dad wanted to be there for them. My mom supported my dad with this, while managing only occasional care/phone duties so as to keep her sanity.

As their child, I knew they were both sacrificing to do the right thing and respected them enormously.

Two hours a week is nothing, and you are right, it is just the beginning. Support your husband during this trying time and do not make him choose between you and his parents.
posted by samthemander at 8:37 AM on December 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Re: queenofbythnia -Okay, yes, they are going to die, but so are we all and no one knows when. On the daily, I give insulin and dip urine for utis in the extremely, often frail elderly. Modern medicine, particularly pharmaceuticals, are nothing short of miraculous, and someone in ill health in his/her 70s can *easily* hang on another 10 years, sometimes more. This coincides with the time frame that op and her husband are looking at starting a family. (And they are a couple in early middle age. You certainly can't blame them for not wanting to adjust the babymaking timeline.) Taking on the health care and adl responsibilities of aging parents while rearing very young children is a shitshow even when the parents are not toxic disasters. The attitude that they are old and ill and crazy and will die soon so we should humor them is... problematic. At best. For everyone involved, including the op who has the right to want a full partner and coparent. Now excuse me, I'll be rereading the emotional labor thread.
posted by Athene at 8:38 AM on December 7, 2015 [11 favorites]

The attitude that they are old and ill and crazy and will die soon so we should humor them is... problematic.

Definitely it is. The attitude that they are old and ill and crazy and might not die right away so their care is not our worry is also problematic. Life is full of problems. (And yes, round-the-clock application of modern medicine can keep people going for a long long time, but this is one batty old parent taking care of another without professional help, at least so far, with 'lots of open medication' and 'difficulty paying attention.' They might move to a medical facility before something bad happens, and they might not.)

I have always encouraged people to cut off their families if they show any sign of wanting to, adults do not have to be trapped in involuntary relationships with blood relatives they dislike and I have no patience with endless complaining about relatives that could be solved by not seeing or talking to them. But in this case, he doesn't want to cut them off. I am not suggesting that it is obligatory to be good to bad people, only that it is sometimes a heroic virtue rather than a sign of being a doormat or co-dependent. It doesn't follow that something is misguided just because it is depressing and unpleasant. The OP has no reason to do any of this stuff herself; he shouldn't ask her to participate in their care and it sounds like he hasn't. If I were her I'd never see them. For that matter, if I were him I might not do what he's doing. But it's not a wrong choice for her husband to give them the proposed portion of his time, and especially it's not wrong because it's hard for him. I fundamentally do not believe that him feeling a moral obligation is a thing to be fixed.

Because it is always my first instinct to abandon horrible people, I am keenly aware of how acceptable it now is to say it's ok to do that and how rare it is to say that it's ok not to. Both are true. It is OK for him not to abandon them.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:31 AM on December 7, 2015 [5 favorites]

Because it is always my first instinct to abandon horrible people, I am keenly aware of how acceptable it now is to say it's ok to do that and how rare it is to say that it's ok not to. Both are true. It is OK for him not to abandon them.

Exactly this. He still wants to be in their life. Maybe because he loves them, maybe because he feels responsible, maybe because he thinks its what a good person would do. It really doesn't matter because its his choice. The relationship is his to manage and he wants to be a part of their life, at least for now.

The reality of being a part of a seniors' life is that they need help some times. Part of being in an aging parent's life means helping out and doing chores. Your husband is okay with that so you need to get okay with that. If a point comes where he wants to disengage, you need to be okay with that too. They are his parents.

I probably was not as sympathetic as I wanted to be in my first answer, so let me say that it is horrible and stressful when negative people take up your time. Its totally draining to think that your family time will be eaten by people who are rude to you. When people don't care about boundaries, relationships are always stressful. Still, as long as your husband wants to be in his parents' lives, that's what you've got ahead of you. Take care of yourself, take care of your relationship, you need to put your immediate family first (like in an airplane with the oxygen masks) because its hard to deal with sick parents when they're angels and absolutely draining when they're not.
posted by GilvearSt at 9:43 AM on December 7, 2015

OMG, this is so easy to deal with! When I tell you how easy, you're going to dissolve into fits of laughter and glee! Are you ready?

This is an Administration Problem. Stop treating it like a personal problem, start treating it like the logistical and administration issue it is.

- You forget these people exist, you do not see them socially, you no longer know them. Take a break, maybe indefinitely.

- Husband assigns them a silent ringtone, sees them only at the agreed to times. He's free to hire help or otherwise manage their care or extra support for them such that it does not interfere with your shared marriage, relationship, or household duties.

- Husband now refers to his weekly visits as "going bowling."

That's it. You, OP, will stop thinking about them, worrying about what they say - etc. etc. etc.

If your husband needs someone to talk to about them he can see a therapist or get some kind of elder care social worker on the case. If he starts acting out in your marriage, you deal with it in therapy. YOU NEVER MENTION HIS PARENTS AGAIN. If you have a complaint about his behavior, tone of voice during a disagreement, or any other such thing you will stay on topic and only discuss the concern. YOU NEVER MENTION HIS PARENTS AGAIN.


Stop treating them like they are part of your family. They are not. Who cares about their bullshit advice or if they talk smack about you?? Let them. You don't know them, so you do not care.

If your husband can handle and mitigate difficulties from his folks appropriately for the next year, consider starting your own family with him. Otherwise, this sounds like chaos and you should put on your own oxygen mask first.

I know you want to support your husband. You've got to stop. He's not fully dealing with how wrong it all is because you are sharing the burden. Also, he's used to this. Also, they might act better without you around. If they demand heaps and heaps of his time.... deal with the fact that he is checking out of the marriage. If he thinks it is important to be checked out of the marriage over his relationship with bowling, than maybe this is not the marriage for you?

I know that is a scary idea. It's just, the level of control you've been previously applying makes me worried for you. Stop with the controlling. It's like you are being your in-laws, but from the opposite direction. For your sake I hope you married the right man and he can parse this situation. In the meantime, this situation is starting to make you look really bad and you deserve a break from this madness and you should step away. Leave this to him. From now on, he's out bowling. Get it?

(Then go and hug your nice parents for me. You're so lucky you have them!)
posted by jbenben at 9:45 AM on December 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

told him that I'm not feeling great about this but I will try to support him as well as our marriage from home. We agreed that our first priority is our home (we are undergoing MAJOR house renovations) and I am concerned that his parents will manipulate him into spending less time on us/home under the guise of them being old and not taking care of themselves. I am worried that when we work on having kids in the next year that this could really cause tension and distraction from him being a father and unnecessary stress on us, and even more negativity from them because there is no way in hell that we would let them watch a kid with that much open medication around their house and difficulty with moving quickly or paying full attention. Plus we are already dreading all of their crappy parenting advice. I told my husband all of this and we agreed to proceed with caution.

This sounds like an excellent plan for right now. Give it some time to see if it works. If it were me, I'd propose giving it three months -- his parents are likely to push at the boundaries at the beginning and may indeed ramp up their requests, but if he can maintain his boundaries, they'll (ideally) back off -- with the option of your husband being able to call it off at any time before the three months are up.

It sounds like your worries are absolutely reasonable, but they are all about things that haven't happened yet, and some of them are about people that don't even exist yet. You have a plan. Give it a reasonable deadline (I don't think two weeks is reasonable; I would think in terms of months), and then re-assess the situation as it stands then.
posted by jaguar at 10:17 AM on December 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

In case that wasn't clear: I think you should be able to say, after three or more months, "Hey this isn't working," but you have to wait until the agreed-upon deadline (unless something super-egregious happens -- actually happens, not might happen) to do so. Your husband should be able to call it off earlier, however, as it's his plan.
posted by jaguar at 10:18 AM on December 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Husband needs to turn their demands into reasons it is time to hire help.

They really are declining physically and you could be more charitable. It's scary when suddenly you can't do stuff for yourself, see clearly, lose physical strength. Facing the aging is very very scary.

Bottom line, husband needs to prepare them to accept help. He can not be their primary caregiver AND help oversee the marital home renovations AND maintain a healthy relationship with you AND become a parent. It will be impossible and your marriage will break apart.

You need him to automate his care of them so you can get a break from their dysfunction. They are toxic. Time to call in professional caregivers so that your marriage can stay healthy.

And seriously, let the professionals deal and stop interacting with your in-laws. Just fade on them. They don't care about you anyway. Focus on positives and let this hassle fade from your view.

Best to you. Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 3:53 PM on December 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

I just want to throw in my 0.02 on this because I disagree with basically everyone in the thread. For what it's worth, I think you are right and sensible. (But I reallyreallyreally hate behavioral patterns of giving into everything and never asserting boundaries and doing it one's whole life. It's a personal pet peeve.) Yes, you do come across as a little jealous, but so what? You represent the future, healthiness, the next generation. They are terrible people who are robbing the young of resources and NOT EVEN CARING. I mean, yes, being old sucks, but it's not like it comes as a surprise. Parents who plan to rely on their adult children for eldercare without any gratitude whatsoever also really bother me.

I feel you. I just wanted to say that. I wouldn't blame you at all if you threw a fit, laid down the line, hired someone or made serious steps to put them in a care home. Especially since they're such nasty people.

I think others are right that perhaps you should let your husband try it his way first though. He will likely fail and learn the hard way. But that may be what it takes.

Good luck.
posted by quincunx at 5:14 PM on December 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

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