Help managing relationship with a violent family member
November 6, 2018 10:03 AM   Subscribe

I need help making it clear to one family member that our decision to sever contact with another family member will not change.

My father in law (call him Mark) is a drug abuser who has been very violent towards his family in the past. He has attacked both my brother in law and my mother in law (call her Mary). The police have been called on him. Shortly after my wife and I had a son, we decided that we absolutely didn't want Mark in our son's life. We discussed this decision and our reasons with Mary and with my brother in law. Our son is now two. For the first year and a half, this went relatively ok - Mark moved to live with his parents in another city. Recently Mark has come back into Mary's life. Mary is also a drug abuser and Mark is manipulative towards her. They are now living together again. Prior to Canadian Thanksgiving, Mary told my wife that the one thing she'd really like is for us all (Mark included) to spend thanksgiving together as a family. My wife and I were shocked that she asked and we told her that it absolutely wasn't possible. We ended up spending thanksgiving with my brother in law. He told us that Mary had made a comment to him along the lines of "I wish Mark and [my wife] would just get over their differences." So, that comment sort of makes me think that Mary thinks that us not wanting to be around Mark is a temporary thing that we'll eventually "get over". I don't think she grasps that this is permanent and will likely never ever change. I don't know what to do about this. It's stressful when Mary makes comments about us all spending time together or that we should just get over things. We also worry that she will try to "accidentally" run into us with Mark there while we're out.

I want to write some kind of email clearly explaining things that we've already tried to make clear to her. But I'm struggling with how exactly to say it.
posted by NoneOfTheAbove to Human Relations (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Dude, if you've had the conversation with Mary in person, no email is going to convince her to respect your boundaries.

You (or your wife) might do well to have ONE more in-person conversation on this topic, but it should conclude with "we will not discuss this issue again".

Please recognize that Mark is putting BIG TIME pressure on Mary to figure out how to get the rest of the family to absolve him of his poor behavior. This is what addicts do. While she is living with him and using with him, she is between a rock and a hard place. Don't hate on her for it, but you don't have to enable it either.
posted by vignettist at 10:15 AM on November 6, 2018 [21 favorites]

Speaking as a member of Al-Anon, I would encourage you to let go of the idea that you can ever get Mary on board with your wishes. Especially since Mary is also a drug abuser. I would encourage you to consider attending some Al-Anon meetings if you have any issues at all around holding boundaries or around the desire to control these uncontrollable people we find frequently in our lives. You might also consider making a Plan B and Plan C for potential problems you imagine cropping up. Some of them may involve Mark, such as what you will do if you run into Mark with your family. Some of them may involve Mary, such as how you will respond if she wants to babysit your son alone given that she uses drugs.

People who use, just like everyone else, get to have their feels. Of course Mary wishes that things were different. So do you. I honestly do not see how writing her a letter will change her desires or your desires. It might screw up the situation with your brother-in-law, however. So consider staying out of it until and unless something other than a feeling or expression actually affects you and you family. This stuff is stressful. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 10:17 AM on November 6, 2018 [11 favorites]

Since Mary is also a drug abuser, you're not going to make any headway in getting her to understand your ironclad decision that it's permanent. As it comes up, say: "I'm sorry, Mary, our decision not to see Mark is permanent. We feel unsafe around him since he has been physically violent to you and brother-in-law in the past."
posted by Elsie at 10:18 AM on November 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

Hi Mary --

We hope you know how much we love and value you. We hope you also understand with 100% clarity that regardless of how we may feel about Mark, we have made the decision to sever all ties with him. He will not be allowed in our lives or our son's life, now or in the future.

I know you respect our right as Child's parents to make decisions we believe are in his best interests, and we'd appreciate it if you could show your respect for our decision by not making comments about us seeing Mark, which will not happen.

Much love,

None of the Above

(PS: This will make no difference to Mary but may make you feel better about the crystal clarity of your boundaries at least.)
posted by DarlingBri at 10:21 AM on November 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

Thank you all. I think you're all right - I keep thinking that there are some magic words that I can say to Mary to convince her to respect our decision. But, the reality is that it will probably do nothing. Thank you for helping me see that.
posted by NoneOfTheAbove at 11:07 AM on November 6, 2018 [11 favorites]

Right - this is what they mean when they say you can't change someone else. This boundary is only about you and your behavior (and your wife, of course). It has nothing to do with what Mary thinks of it, if she's on board with it, etc. I really like Bella Donna's ideas to come up with responses for all types of situations concerning this, I think it'll help you stay confident with your decision to stay away from Mark.
posted by dawkins_7 at 11:16 AM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

You can set a clear boundary that she will understand: "We will revisit this issue only when you and Mark both have one year of sobriety." She'll understand that right quick, and if there's any further pushing at you, you can just respond, "Do you have a year of sobriety?" and shut it all down.
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:47 AM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

I think the boundary you're missing here is that when you have a family member who is a drug abuser who refuses to respect your boundaries and keeps trying to get you to spend time around someone violent, the violent one isn't the only one you need to seriously consider interacting with less or not at all. Actual violence is not the only thing that makes a person unsafe.
posted by Sequence at 12:12 PM on November 6, 2018 [11 favorites]

Sometimes cutting off contact with one person requires cutting off contact with secondary people, ESPECIALLY when those secondary people don't respect your boundaries with regards to the first person. It sucks but that's just the way it is.
posted by Brittanie at 10:01 AM on November 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Sometimes cutting out a family member is the best thing you can do for yourself and your kids. It is painful, but you can do it. Holidays can be especially difficult. Be strong! You and your child’s health and safety depend on it.
posted by metasunday at 9:07 PM on November 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Parents set rules for the sake of their children. Often these rules go beyond what they would establish for themselves. This is actually for the parent's benefit, too.
You can't choose your relatives. You can choose how you interact with them.

Err on the side of safety. These people think their lifestyle is safe and a positive role model. Nope.
I would be very worried about decisions made when you are not present to intervene.
posted by free f_ cat at 1:09 AM on November 8, 2018

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