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LornaLove's avatar

How do you handle toxic or controlling family members?

Asked by LornaLove (9582points) January 8th, 2014

I have been wanting to ask this question for days. Simply because my partner and I each have issues with our close family and are feeling pretty trapped by the whole situation. My SO’s family are more on the controlling side. They are just used to having him around as he was pretty much single his whole life. Now, they are sickly. He spends most of his time there carting them around to doctors etc., but when they are well they say he has abandoned them (for me). He cannot simply walk way. They also expect this they are not the type of parents to say ‘Don’t worry about us we will manage’. Instead they become indignant and all hell breaks lose when he tries to get on with his life. I never see him to be honest.

Mine is my son, who is abusive and very difficult. I have decided at this point to try and cut contact. It’s a long story I won’t bore you all with. Basically he has narcissistic type personality traits.

So the question is: How do you distance yourself from family members who have their own agendas and careless about you?

This question

inspired my asking. Steps to distance yourself and to get them to detach from you. This has culminated in a high crises situation for us both. (He will be reading the answers too).

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11 Answers

Seek's avatar

The only thing to do is make a clean break.

In the case of his parents, presumably they managed to stay alive as functioning human beings long before he ever existed, and certainly long before he was able to take care of them. If they can pick up the phone to call him for a ride, they can just as easily phone a cab.

If you choose to break contact with your son, that will also have to be a clean break. Inform him exactly what your terms are for resuming contact, and stick by them.

No, it will not be easy.
Yes, it will be emotionally draining and very difficult.

Yes, you can do it.

You don’t have to feel guilty. You do not deserve the abuse, you are not obligated to put up with it, and you do have the right to choose who you grant your precious time to.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

You cannot handle or manage toxic and controlling family members. It isn’t going to work, whatever you try. The best you can do is cut your losses and put some distance between both of you and them. You two need to set down and have a serious conversation, are you going to be there for each other or are you going to be doormats for the rest of the family. Very cold, but very true. You need to be there for each other.

Judi's avatar

I would tread gently as far as his relationship with his parents is concerned. If they are sickly and you force him to pull away, even if he doesn’t want to he may feel resentful of you if (when) his parents die and he didn’t do as much as he could have.
I would suggest you take on some of the responsibilities of caring for his parents and give him a break. If they are elderly there probably is no changing them and the day will come when he will wish the phone would ring with an irritating request.
As far as your son is concerned, I feel you! I am sad to say that I feel lucky sometimes that my son has chosen to take a break from our relationship.

LornaLove's avatar

@Judi I hear you. This is the guilt I feel. I have offered to help him with them, but unfortunately the mother does not even want to meet me (and we have been together for ages). She feels I spoiled their dynamic, which was that he was in perpetual ‘service’ to them. I have kept the door open on the invitation to meet her. Although I’ve had my fair share of toxic people and not sure if it is a good thing. I don’t know. I did manage to get to see the father recently in hospital (before I was not allowed, due to the resentment they feel against me).

Your own kids are such a hard call, but I just can’t take how abusive he is it is wearing me down.

@Seek_Kolinahr I agree with what you say, I don’t think my SO can do that. It’s really so difficult. Time is precious and far too much of it around here (our life) is wasted.

Coloma's avatar

You set boundaries and stick to them and if they don’t come around, oh well, neither will you!
Your SO’s folks are manipulating him with guilt and tantrums. They are BULLIES!
Turn the tables and accuse them of being uncaring for not wanting their son to have a life and a family and YES you CAN really “abandon” them if they are abusive and toxic people!

You tell them that you will not put up with manipulation and other controlling behaviors and that if it continues you will not be seeing much of them, or your son.
If you don’t take a firm stand you might as well hang a sign around your neck that says ” Disrespect me!”
Trust me, people do not like to be called on their stuff but…..they will respect you deep down once they SEE you mean business and walk away!

LornaLove's avatar

@Coloma I have been feeling disrespected. You are right though, I need to set boundaries. I am clueless as to where to start as I rarely see him these days as his dad went through a (real) health issue. I have told him I feel they don’t respect him as how can a parent not want happiness and a life for their son.I have also said that to the father who is a little easier. It is the mother (who is very well) who controls them both. Even saying ‘Her family is her husband and son and that is it’. Which is true. She cuts all people off even her own extended family. So, at least I don’t have to personalize it too much which also helps.

Any boundary setting tips appreciated.

janbb's avatar

Doesn’t your son live in another country or am I mistaken?

LornaLove's avatar

@janbb He does. Don’t worry abuse can travel miles and miles. The effect of it still hurts no matter where I am.

Haleth's avatar

Your husband needs to stand up for himself. If they really need his help, it’s possible to help them without letting their bullshit ruin your lives. At a certain point in adulthood, you become the “captain” of your family and your parents become more like children. He needs to treat them as if they are children who are having a temper tantrum (because that’s basically the way they are acting.) If you had a child who was being bratty and out-of-control, you wouldn’t give in to all of their demands, even though you provide for their basic needs.

Essentially, he should draw a line in the sand. He can be very clear about exactly how much he is going to do for them, and no more. Like, he can take them to the doctor when they are sick without being at their beck and call all the time. Sometimes you just have to say no, and if they don’t like it, or they get upset, simply leave. Or if you’re not there, hang up the phone. Don’t talk to them again until they’re willing to be reasonable. Get used to saying no, and don’t let guilt get in the way.

WRT your son, sometimes cutting contact is the only thing you can do, for the sake of your own health and sanity. It’s unfortunate, but some relationships only drain you.

rojo's avatar

Your SO is between a rock & a hard place. There is no way he can please both of you and either way he chooses he feels guilty because he cannot make everyone he cares for happy. I feel for him. My suggestion is to cut back on his parental obligations; not eliminate them but reduce the number and increase the time spent with you. of course that could just serve to spread the pissedoffishness around but it is the way I would handle it
I am sorry about your son but I think I would be screening my calls

KNOWITALL's avatar

Tough. Are mom&dad able to drive & get around? What exactly does he do for them?

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