Dealing With In-Laws

Dealing With In-Laws

You love someone suffering from addiction, and chances are that person that you love has a family… your in-laws. I hear it over and over again about how our in-laws can be enablers. Today we are going to talk about the role of in-laws, extended family, and how to handle them.

Listen to the podcast episode here: 

Read the transcript and find more details here: 

Many years ago, when I was in love with someone suffering from addiction, I remember when we became more serious and started talking about moving in together. His parents were extremely excited about that.

And I thought, oh, well, it’s just because they loved me so much because I’m such a great girlfriend and would be so good for him. But now I can see they were excited that somebody else would be taking care of their son and possibly helping him get his life together. And they could have less of the burden now.

I loved my in-laws very, very much and got along with them great.

I had a good relationship with them, but I didn’t see the family dynamics because I had never been involved with anyone who had a substance abuse problem. So I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

He moved in with me, and I took complete ownership and responsibility of trying to get his life together. My ex was well-educated but definitely needed more direction.

He had so much potential, but not a lot of discipline and not a ton of drive. When he moved in, I was on it. I thought I can do this. I’m young and ambitious, and driven. And I have a great career. I can do for you what I did for myself.

Of course, we all know the moral of that story, which is, that’s a bunch of BS.

You can’t fix anyone, and they have to be motivated themselves to get their lives together.

But I really wanted to get the approval of my in-laws. I wanted to show them. This goes back to my codependency and seeking approval from others and needing to make nice with people. I wanted to prove to them that I was worthy of the trust they had in me. That I would rise to the occasion and do for their son what they were not able to do.

And so I thought, well, if I love him enough, which I was madly in love with him, then love with the combination of help will be enough to get his life together. I didn’t realize at the time he had a drinking problem. It took a couple of months after he moved in for me to see it.

I started noticing that drinking was a significant behavior on weekends. And then weekends turned into weekdays, and then it became apparent that I was dealing with somebody with a lot more issues than I thought that he had. I thought he just needed to be loved and motivated.

When I figured out that he had a for-real drinking problem, I asked his parents if they were aware that this was going on, that this was a problem.

And here’s where it gets tricky. I’m going to be real with you.

I don’t want to talk badly about my former in-laws because I love them.

But at the same time, I feel like I need to talk about the truth. Nobody else is talking about the truth about addiction and these things, these intricacies. I just don’t want to seem like I’m being disrespectful.

At the same time, I’m going to share my story. I flew my former in-laws down to where we were living, and we had this intervention with him. His parents were there. My parents were there, and I was there. We all wanted to get this out in the open. We said to him, “You have a substance abuse problem. You are drinking way too much.”

What are we all gonna do about it? My ex-husband did the greatest dance and performance of his life by trying to get all of us to believe that he didn’t have a problem. And it actually worked, I think in part because we wanted to believe he didn’t have a problem. We didn’t want to grasp the magnitude and severity of how big of an issue this was.

We wanted to believe him, but my in-laws also said no. That they didn’t think he had a problem, that he was fine.

And that’s what we’re going to talk about today: what happens when in-laws don’t believe you because they don’t want to believe that things are bad?

What happens when in-laws think you are partly to blame for their child’s addiction?

Because that is for real, that stuff happens. I hear about it all the time. It kind of happened to me, and it’s not fair, and it’s not right. What do you do when you realized your loved one has a drinking problem and feel the need to try to get everybody in on the issue so that you can help your loved one?

Is it appropriate to talk to your in-laws? How much do you share? Are you going to let them in on what’s really going on, even though you’re worried about your loved one being mad at you for sharing that information with family? What do you do?

These are all the things I worried about, and I know a lot of you are probably worried about them too. Here’s the truth: If it serves you well, if it serves your heart and your soul and brings you peace, you should share with your in-laws and family members what is going on with your life.

You should give them the information about your loved one’s addiction freely. Make sure when you are delivering this information that you have your expectations in check.

The first time that I told my in-laws, they didn’t believe me that there was a real problem.

Over the next ten years, there were multiple times when I needed their support. And I called them and said, this is what’s going on. I gave them hard facts that I thought were impossible to dispute. Some of it was even happening in their own home when we were visiting on holidays. But the power of denial is so incredibly strong.

A lot of times, people suffering from addiction come from families in denial because denial equals enabling. They come from families that are unwilling to give their son or daughter extreme consequences for their poor decisions around addiction.

Now that’s a generalization, that’s not every family. But when you approach your in-laws, it’s important to consider that they probably already know or suspect an issue.

If they were in denial before you came into the picture, what makes you think they’re not going to be in denial now?

Expect them to continue whatever patterns and behaviors they currently have. What you’re telling them probably isn’t going to change their stance. And I know that’s a really hard pill to swallow because your loved one’s world is crumbling.

How could their parents just stand by and watch? How could they not be livid or angry enough to have an intervention or give them consequences or support me or support their grandkids?

But think about it for just a second. Put yourself in their shoes. Because staying mad and pissed off at them is not going to be helpful to you. So you have to get to a place of forgiveness with your in-laws.

It also brings up a ton of fear because the last thing that any parent wants, their greatest fear is that their child will die before them. And addiction is a horrifying disease. So they’re probably incredibly afraid that their son or daughter will pass away before them if they truly have addiction issues. Of course, the temptation to deny the addiction is going on or is as bad as it is is going to be there.

You can begin to grasp what your in-laws are going through and why they’re tempted to put their head in their sand.

Or even worse, blame you for their kid’s issues. So when you talk to them, if you choose to talk to them, understand that it’s probably not going to change your situation, your relationship.

Go in with that understanding and just saying, listen, I just want to fill you guys in because I feel like it’s important that we are all on the same page. That we all understand the truth of the situation and the severity of the situation.

I’m not here to blame or point fingers. And I’m not here to make anyone feel bad. I’m here to bring light to the truth, because if we are all equipped with the truth, then perhaps we can understand what we’re truly dealing with here.

If you start a conversation like that, it will automatically let people’s defenses go down because you’ve made it clear that you’re not blaming anyone. And you’ve also made it clear that you are not here to throw your loved one under the bus. You’re not here to tattletale and make them feel or look like the bad guy.

If they choose to continue to deny or blame, take that as a sign that it didn’t work so well. And don’t continue to waste your time trying to convince anyone else that there is a problem here.

I know that it seems difficult to have in-laws that aren’t supportive of you, but here’s the truth. You are incredibly smart. You are intelligent, and you’re doing your research and your homework because you’re listening to this podcast. You’re questioning, and you’re willing to do the work. So you don’t need to get anyone else to agree with you that they have a problem or that you leaving might be necessary.

You don’t need to convince anyone that there’s a real problem.

As you just need to trust yourself that if you think there’s an issue and you think things are not okay, then that’s good enough.

You are wise enough human being to be able to make that call and know that information.

It’s not your job to convince your in-laws of anything.

When I left my ex-husband, I had to call my in-laws. I’ll never forget it. I remember the road I was driving on and where I had to pull over on the side of the road. I called his mother first.

And I said I’m so sorry. I’ve given this the best shot I can. I have tried everything I know to get your son sober. And I can no longer put my kids in the situation where they’re living in a household with addiction going on. And I hope that you understand. If you’re mad at me, I understand that too. I hope one day you forgive me, but I’m still going to move forward with this.

And I love you. I will not take your grandkids away from you. And I want to continue to foster a relationship between you and me and the children. And I just want you to know; I don’t believe that any of this addiction is a reflection on your parenting. So there’s no blame being placed here.

And she said I knew it. I knew when you said hello, I knew you were leaving. I knew this was coming. It was no surprise.

I don’t think she was very supportive of me.

I don’t. She thought I was dramatic by leaving, or I was to blame, or there was some sort of responsibility on my part, that things were not as bad as I was making them be.

I was ripping apart a family. But I did it because I’m not in the business of caring about making decisions that are best for my children based on what other people think of me. I’m a grown woman. I got myself into this mess with this relationship, and I need to get myself out of it. That’s my job.

And so for a couple of years – I’m not going to lie – things were a little prickly. I called her, she called me. She questioned me on a lot of decisions.

Well, over 12 years, they get it entirely because you want to know what happened? I left. He fell apart. He got worse and worse. And now he’s pulling the same stuff with his family that he did with me.

Now, I’m incredibly close with his family because they get it. They finally got it. It took several years. It really did. And frankly, I honestly didn’t care one way or another, whether they got it or not. I was just so stinking proud of myself for leaving, without needing anyone else’s approval. It felt liberating. And it felt strong in it. It felt empowering. And it felt like I could do hard things.

I have many text messages from my former in-laws saying that leaving was the absolute best thing I ever did. And the smartest thing I ever did, not only for me but for the kids. Now, we all understand.

And it’s okay that they didn’t understand at the beginning.

How the heck were they supposed to understand? How is anyone supposed to understand what we live and go through? If they aren’t living and going through it themselves, don’t you kind of feel like sometimes you look around your life and go, what on earth is going on here? This is like a nightmare. How the heck did I get myself into this situation?

It’s almost unrealistic to share some of the stories of what is going on with you, what you’re putting up with, what addiction is doing to your family. It’s crazy stuff.

So to expect your best friend or your in-laws or even your parents to get it entirely is not fair to them. It’s not, which is why I built this community, why I’m doing this podcast, which is why I’m working all the time.

Cause we need this little community of ours. That’s all over the world. And it’s not so little anymore. We get it on such a deep, real level that other people can’t. And we need each other either. We need to be able to say, can you believe that he did this to me? And have five other women raise their hands and go, yeah, we can. We can believe it. Cause that just happened last week to me.

So, in-laws, they’re tricky, right?

But to recap, only tell them what’s really going on if it benefits you, number one. Number two, when you tell them what’s going on, make sure you set the stage correctly. You let them know you’re coming from a loving place. You’re not blaming them. That you love your partner and that you believe we all just need to speak the truth and be empowered here.

Number three, make sure your expectations are correct. If they’ve been in denial up to this point, expect them to continue denying. If they’re surprised and ask how they can help you, then great. You will be pleasantly surprised. Appreciate those in-laws because those in-laws are very, very rare. So say, thank you.

And then number four, it is not your job to convince your in-laws that there’s a real problem. If you believe there’s a real problem, there’s a real problem because you are wise and you don’t need to convince anyone else that there’s a real problem. You don’t even need to commit to them. You just need to know. Yep. I’m right. There’s a real problem. This is not normal.

These four tools should help you move forward and deal with your in-laws. I hope you found something helpful here. I adore you. And I’ll talk to you next week.

Michelle Anderson

Michelle Anderson

Michelle Anderson has over 10 years of personal experience with loving someone who suffers from addiction. She was married to a good man who suffered from addiction to alcohol, illegal drugs, and pornography. She's used her experience to create powerful resources for women in the same circumstance. Using her own personal experience, combined with years of research and studying, she presents ideas, tips, and tools on how to handle this disease, and take care of yourself, and your family.

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