If you already saw this post and then the link didn’t work… sorry about that, this is the real one this time!
I am so grateful to you guys for being with me the past few months as I took the first stumbling steps towards being honest with my writing.
Sharing my fear-of-pregnancy story has been unbelievably empowering, healing, and inspiring. And your comments and re-tweets are at least 80% of that.
So, it’s time for the story to get it’s next step in evolution: I’m coming out! I’d like to invite you guys to visit my “real-life” blog, which I’ve been writing for several years, as I start to come out about my experience being afraid of pregnancy and aligning my life with the amazing Catholic teachings on sex and sexuality.
This isn’t just about pregnancy, though. I’m also coming out as a believing Catholic and conservative to my readers and real-life friends over there, so I’m pretty nervous. There’s not a lot of non-liberal information on the Internet, but I figure I can be one more blogger fighting the good fight with my real name and my real picture.
Here’s my first post in this topic, and I’d love it if you felt it was good enough to follow my journey on this new URL!
And I hope to continue the Twitter gabbing at my real handle, @LifeCommaEtc. I’ll be following you all shortly!
My husband is on the phone with his sister right now, trying to convince her that she has the right to tell her two daughters “No.”
In this case, it’s about the mother finding prescription drugs and a pipe in 17-year-old Kid A’s purse (“No, you cannot work at that bar anymore.”) and finding out that 15-year-old Kid B is having sex with her older boyfriend (“No, you cannot see that boy anymore”).
I want to give my sister-in-law some credit; she is an alcoholic and we suspect that she was sexually molested as a child. She is also married to an alcoholic who is dying of liver failure, but who won’t stop drinking. She has a household full of challenges, and I am sure it is easier to feel powerless than it is to feel powerful when she faces what she faces every day.
This time, my husband’s weird family dynamics hit me right where it hurts.
If you’re following along with my own drama, you know that I engaged in a sexual relationship with an older guy at 15 and it’s lead to countless problems in my current (married and Catholic) love life.
Because of the growing drama over the last few years, we haven’t seen the nieces much. The last I really remember hanging out with them we played a care-free game of basketball. And now we’re watching — what feels like helplessly — as they both grow up in all the wrong ways.
I know it’s not all about me, but learning that my 15-year-old niece in law is having sex with her older boyfriend (and that her older sister was given condoms by her mother) activates a lot of anxiety for me.
It’s hard to describe the feelings that come up from this perspective, watching the cycle repeat itself with someone we watched grow up.
This struggle is only unfolding now, but here are some things to keep in mind to lower your blood pressure if you ever find yourself in a situation like this one:
1. You could say everything right, and this still might be meant to be.
My husband and I both want to be life-changers. But even if we gave a 100 percent, primo, amazing speech about Catholicism and premarital sex and anti-drug use…. it still might be out of our hands. You have to do everything you reasonably can, but then you HAVE to let go and let God.
2. Stress is thinking you’re in control; peace is knowing God’s in control.
Thanks to Scott Hahn’s Facebook feed for this one:
But honestly, I really struggle with this because I know what the consequences of my niece’s sexual activity could be. I want to save her from all of this pain and what’s to come, but I have to accept that it’s not my right to do that. God will find a lesson in here for her, and he will make this right because that’s what he does. The rest is up to her and God.
3. Boundaries protect you from yourself.
The impulse to help is powerful, and sometimes we can’t control it when it comes to our families. Thankfully, my husband and I are well-versed in the Boundaries book and we know to evaluate our behavior from a biblical perspective.
In this situation, we’ve tried to reach out to our nieces several times and they don’t respond or engage (to the extent that one of them blocked me on Twitter several years ago).
We can try to stay in touch and let them know we’re here for them if they ever want to talk about things, but we can’t drive over to their house, pick them up, and take them to a convent. It’s out of our hands, and God made it that way so that we all would have free will to choose him. My husband and I need to find peace with that.
I’m sure there’s more to learn from this situation, but I’m exhausted and stressed out about the whole thing (especially considering I was in counseling for my own sexual relationship as a 15-year-old this afternoon!!).
What would you do in this situation? Have you dealt with a similar experience?
The first time we emailed my in-laws to say that we wouldn’t be joining them for Thanksgiving or Christmas, we hit “send” and literally ducked for cover. We calculated how long it would take his family to drive to us (about 4 hours) and played through a few scenarios for what to do if they showed up to beat down the door or something more sinister.
Of course, none of that happened. His family was politely confused (and likely grumbled among themselves). Which just goes to show how off-the-wall dysfunctional families can be: whatever you expect, they’ll likely do the opposite. And whenever you think it can’t get worse, they go off the deep end.
Family Function Then & Now
When we first started dating, my husband’s family seemed normal to him. Unmarried couples slept together under the family roof because that’s just what they did. All of the kid’s “best friend” was their mother, because that’s just what they did (and you called her every day… and God help you if you did not pick up your phone every time).
His sister and brother-in-law drank nonstop (finding beer cans in the bathroom trash and the car cup holder) because that’s just what they did. On Thanksgiving night, the tween daughters were driven over an hour to the nearest Victoria’s Secret to buy things because that’s just what they did.
When I started coming around, my husband changed. He went to bed at a normal time (not 3AM every night of his holiday). He ate healthy foods at reasonable hours (forgoing the 10PM fast food dinnertime). He exercised. He sometimes said things that… dun dun dun… disagreed with his family. Eventually, he converted to Catholicism (before I came back tot he Church). Very quickly, these changes were attributed to me and I was person non gratis.
At first, being person non gratis was incredibly stressful. I felt controlled and pushed aside. I felt like I had no right to an opinion, and that the only way to participate was to smile and agree to everything everyone said (because in a dysfunctional family, disagreeing is the #1 sign that you hate everyone and reject them completely.)
Over the months of our initial courtship when we went to visit his family or his family came to our town, I would frequently play it off as “not feeling well” and hide in our room alone. When I did have to see them, I would end the night in tears and we’d stay up late rehashing everything that happened.
Catholic Marriage: Two Are One
But that’s the thing about Catholic spouses. It’s kind of hard to accept one but not the other, love one but not the other, or have a relationship with one but not the other.
In this case, my husband’s first instinct was to please both sides. He would sympathize and cater to his family when I wasn’t around (staying up late, eating crazy food, and passively agreeing to whatever was said or done), then sympathize and cater to me when we were on our own again (complaining about the family, spreading gossip about who was making bad decisions).
Can you see where this is going?
That quickly lead to a strain between the two of us as I interpreted this appeasing, duplicative behavior as two-faced. In my family, these things simply were not done. In my family, we valued good decisions. In my family, you speak up when you have a crisis of conscience.
Fortunately, we came across the book Boundaries by Dr Townsend and Dr Cloud and it got us on the path to a normal, healthy relationship between the two of us and then between us and his family.
Catholicism Calls You To Guard Your Heart And Love
The true beauty of the Boundaries book is that it gives us Biblical permission to guard our hearts and defend emotional territory from family members.
God did not design Christmas to be a horrible, stressful, and self-loathing holiday. God did not make us to be pushovers. God did not make us to be the constant companions and servants of our parents or family members.
God designed us to be peaceful, happy, and loving. God designed us to respect our parents (not to be enslaved by them or guilted by them). And the very first step in having love to give is closing off a place in your life and in your heart for peacefulness and God’s presence.
Strong fences make good neighbors, right?
Do my in-laws still annoy me now, or make me uncomfortable sometimes? And do we have to have a 10PM dinner every once in a while? Definitely.
But now that my husband and I are on the same page about what we think is healthy, what is tolerable, and how we will act when things go wrong (including when and how he will speak up for his thoughts or feelings), it is much easier to make decisions about spending time with his family and feel confident that we’ll be able to do and say the right thing when things go downhill.
I realized I forgot to share the post I wrote for TheFix.com: “Marriage Protection: What To Do If the Inlaws Are Alcoholic” from last year!
This is a timely post for the Christmas season, when everyone is deciding when, why, and how to see family. Because when you have emotional or substance abuse in the family, those decisions are a lot harder to make.
In the post, I share my husband and my’s experience of his sister’s alcoholism and his family dysfunction, as well as three ideas for interacting with the family while setting boundaries. I’d love to hear your thoughts!
This article was originally posted in 2014.
Writing about our typical holiday apprehension was very therapeutic for me. Even more therapeutic was getting a comment that someone else felt the same way!
The day I wrote that post kicked off a three-day barrage of stressful phone calls and conversations. Without even seeing my in-laws myself, they managed to create a toxic experience full of power plays and guilt trips specially targeted to my husband. I suffered through it vicariously, but my husband bore the brunt of it.
Here are a few blog posts that helped my husband and me find some strength for the holidays. We’re still stressed, but we’re not alone:
- Dr. Phil helps you understand that you need to choose your spouse first.
- Darlene Ouimet writes a whole blog on recovering from abuse of all kinds. In particular, her post about Dysfunctional Families and Holidays resonated with me. (She also wrote about Toxic Mother-Daughter Relationships, which I found to be accurate).
- Dr. Townsend and Dr. Cloud write the book Boundaries, which my husband and I turn to every year to guide us through his family’s manipulative behavior. Not only is it a great resource year-round, but it got us started on this road to freedom and peace within our marriage (at least where his family is concerned).
Talking helps us the most– analyzing every angle of this situation in as much detail as possible. We’ve also found counselors and psychiatrists for my husband who have touched on these topics from time to time. Clearly we need to touch on it more in sessions, but for the most part this has made us stronger as a couple.
If you are struggling with destructive, dysfunctional families, I encourage you to seek some distance in your relationship and begin to build more firm boundaries. It is difficult and painful, but it is the only way to live outside the thumb of oppressive emotional abuse!
This article was originally posted in 2014.
Seriously, I can’t be the only one with insane in-laws and drama-filled holidays. But somehow everything I’m reading is about being thankful for your family, cooking amazing food, and relaxing with loved ones over the holiday.
What if instead of expressing thankfulness for your family, you’re trying to set boundaries and say “No,” to your family? What if instead of settling in for a fun holiday with laughs and good times, you’re crying with your spouse about how mean his family is, and yet how strongly he feels he wants to see them and be a part of their lives?
For us, that means dealing with my husband’s tendency to respond to abusive behavior to make everyone happy: No one has called to make plans? Well maybe they think we don’t want to talk to them, so we need to be nicer! Short-notice plans 3 hours away? Of course we should go, it’s cold not to!
Translation: I’m stuck respecting his desire to have a relationship with his family of origin and battening down the hatches to protect him from their manipulative behavior. Oh yes, a holly jolly holiday for us.
Just once, I’d love to see a headline on The Huffington Post that reads “How to Deal With Dysfunctional In-Laws,” or “What to Do When Your Spouse Wants to See His Abusive Family.”
No, no sir. The media does not talk openly about dysfunctional family holidays. After all, that writer would have to put her name on the article and that would lead to a dysfunctional holiday indeed.