Breaking Free and Building Bridges

Happy New Year friends! 

As I stand on the threshold of a brand new year, my heart is brimming with hope and anticipation, it's a time for reflection, renewal, and restarts. It's a time to set intentions that will guide me through the days and months ahead “UNITED”. 

In a world that often feels divided, my aim for this year is to foster unity in all aspects of life – within myself, in my connection with God, and in my relationships with others. “United” isn't just a word; it's a mission, a purpose, a commitment to bridging divides, embracing differences, and finding common ground. It's about becoming whole, harmonizing with the divine, and strengthening the bonds that tie us to one another. We can make a meaningful impact and bring people closer, one step at a time.

Question: 

After recognizing one is in a very toxic marriage, how does one relate to the in-laws since they don't accept their son/brother as abusive? I have blocked any communication with them for now but would love to have a conversation at some point if healthy to do so. I have nothing against them, just the fact that I need to protect my sanity.    

LeAnne’s Response:

Beloved Reader,

I want to start by saying that I'm really sorry to hear that you're going through such a tough time. Dealing with a toxic marriage is one thing, but trying to figure out how to relate to in-laws who may not fully understand the situation adds another layer of complexity. It's no easy road, that's for sure.

Blocking communication with your in-laws right now makes sense, especially if it's a measure to protect your sanity. Self-care should be a top priority in any challenging situation. But it's also evident from your question that you don't hold any animosity toward them, which is a sign of a big heart. Wanting to have a conversation with them in the future, if it feels healthy to do so, shows that you value those connections and hope for a positive change.

So, let's dive into this a bit and explore some thoughts and ideas on how to navigate this delicate situation.

Understanding Their Perspective:

Your in-laws might not be aware of the full picture. In many cases, family members are unaware or in denial when it comes to the abusive behavior of a loved one. That's not to say it's their fault; it's just challenging to accept that someone you love and care about is capable of causing harm. So, if and when you're ready to have that conversation, keep this in mind. Try to approach it from a place of understanding rather than accusation.

Timing Is Everything:

It's crucial to pick the right moment for this conversation. I can't stress this enough. Emotions will undoubtedly be running high, so wait until you feel emotionally stable and ready to discuss the matter calmly. It might also be helpful to gauge whether your in-laws are in a receptive mood. If they're going through personal challenges or crises themselves, it might not be the best time to broach this subject.

Honesty and Empathy:

When you do decide to talk, aim for honesty and empathy. This isn't about blaming anyone. It's about sharing your experiences and feelings. It's about helping them understand why you've taken certain actions to protect yourself. You can say something like, “I need you to know that this decision wasn't easy for me. I value our relationship, but I had to do this for my own well-being.” Sharing your perspective without assigning blame can go a long way in facilitating understanding.

Setting Boundaries:

During the conversation, be sure to express your boundaries and expectations moving forward. Let them know what you need from them in terms of support or understanding. For instance, you could say something like, “I would appreciate your support and understanding during this challenging time, and I hope we can work together to create a healthy environment for everyone involved.”

Professional Mediation:

If you think it would help, consider involving a coach, a therapist or a counselor to mediate the conversation. Sometimes, having a neutral third party present can make a huge difference in the effectiveness of the dialogue. It can help keep emotions in check and ensure that the conversation stays productive.

Their Reaction:

It's important to be prepared for various reactions from your in-laws, especially when it comes to navigating the spiritual aspects of your decision. They might be shocked, and their initial response may not align with your hopes for understanding and support. They may even resort to spiritual arguments, suggesting that you're being unforgiving, too critical, or hard-hearted. They might ask, “When did you become perfect to judge him?” It's essential to recognize that these responses are more about their perspectives and their desire to maintain the status quo than a true understanding of your situation.

In such moments, you may find yourself grappling with the need for validation, especially from those close to you, including your in-laws. It's entirely natural to want their approval and support during a challenging time. However, it's equally important to acknowledge that seeking approval from individuals who may not fully comprehend the gravity of your situation can lead to disappointment and added emotional stress.

Some people might be in denial at first, while others might be more understanding right away. It's impossible to predict their response accurately, but you should be prepared for anything. Stay patient, and don't rush them into accepting your perspective. This is a process, and it might take time for them to come to terms with it.

Safety First:

Most importantly, never compromise your safety or well-being for the sake of this conversation. If you feel that the conversation could potentially escalate into a harmful situation, it's okay to maintain boundaries or even reconsider whether it's worth pursuing a relationship with them at all. Your safety should always come first. Your sanity and safety matters to God. 

Maintaining Other Relationships:

Lastly, remember that you have a life beyond this toxic marriage and your relationship with your in-laws. Maintaining connections with friends and family who understand and support you during this difficult time is crucial. Having a support system that can offer emotional support, advice, and a sense of connection and belonging can be invaluable.

In conclusion, I want you to know you're strong and capable of navigating this incredibly challenging journey. It's not an easy path, but it's one that can lead to healing and a healthier future. Take it one step at a time, and don't rush into any conversations until you're ready. Your well-being is of the utmost importance.

If you would like help, coaching, and support as you navigate this journey, please consider joining us in E2C our 6-month group coaching program. It begins this week on January 8, 2024! Learn more and sign up here.

I hope and pray that this conversation, whenever it happens, will bring about understanding and support from your in-laws. But regardless of the outcome, remember that you have the power to make choices that are best for you and your well-being. You've got this!

What is your word, focus, or verse of the year? What about this intention is important to you?

22 Comments

  1. Caroline Abbott on January 10, 2024 at 9:56 am

    I would also add, be very clear about what you hope to gain from talking with them. Do you hope to maintain a close family relationship? Do you hope to keep open dialogue for the sake of your kids and their relationships with the family? Do you hope to hear them agree with you that your husband was toxic? Being very clear about your expectations before opening dialogue will help you navigate it. If those expectations are not met, then you can decide whether to remain in relationship with them or not.

  2. Pamela Reinhardt on January 11, 2024 at 9:20 am

    I found myself in this situation & was reminded that blood is thicker than water. Their response impacted how I decided to move forward from there. They could not embrace reality.

    • LeAnne Parsons on January 15, 2024 at 11:17 am

      Thank you Caroline for sharing- Setting intentions and honoring our personal desires for an outcome is a wonderful exploration to walk into to. Taking a pause an honoring our core values is great work to do. Finding our brave, honoring our God, and gaining clarity in relationships are powerful skills to learn when navigating our key relationships whether they are healthy or not.

    • LeAnne Parsons on January 15, 2024 at 11:19 am

      Pamela,
      Thank you for joining the conversations and reminding us that how we move forward is our choice. Some may never embrace reality, but we can.

  3. Joy on January 11, 2024 at 10:04 am

    I am in the position of the mother-in-law who cares for and badly wants to maintain a relationship with my now former daughter-in-law (she filed for divorce from our son, which was final 6 months ago). They have three young children, my beloved grandchildren, for whom they have shared custody. My husband and I acknowledge the ways that we know of that our son wronged her, and when we first became aware that there were problems in their marriage (18 months ago) we offered her an opportunity to tell us about it from her perspective, but she refused to talk to us, and continues to do so. We wanted to hear both parties, and did not want to choose a side. We told her that if she ever changed her mind about speaking to us, the door was always open. We had offered to pay for and keep the children for them to go to a marriage intensive, but she refused. We wanted to be of help however we could to support them in getting the help that they each needed, but she pretty much completely cut off communication with us, except very factual things about the children. Our son has repented of the sin in his life and his offenses against her, has made himself accountable to the men in his church, and has done some additional work to address his issues. He has drawn closer to the Lord and spends daily time in His word and in prayer. She does not acknowledge the work he has done, and seems unwilling to forgive him at all. He has reached out to her a few times to see if she would be open to the possibility of reconciliation, but she is unwilling to even discuss it. For the last 18 months, she has kept her interactions with us to the barest minimum (we do see each other some because of the children). Even though it is painful to be largely cut off by her, we have tried to be sensitive and respect her wishes. When we do see her, we try to be helpful, loving and kind, however we can. We acknowledge and are willing to have her talk to us about any other ways that our son wronged her, in addition to the ones we already know about, but we have not pushed the issue. I think that she has probably made a lot of false assumptions about where we stand in all of this, but there isn’t really a way to communicate the truth to her. Our deepest desire is for both her and our son to be whole and healthy and walking closely with the Lord, whether their marriage is restored or not. It is very difficult to know what I should and should not do, but I pray about it a lot.

    • JoAnn on January 11, 2024 at 10:07 pm

      Joy, I’m so very sorry that things have turned out this way for you. How very painful this must be. It appears that you are doing the right things and have a healthy attitude, but her heart has hardened. She simply may not have the capacity to understand or forgive. That’s between her and the Lord. He may be able to eventually soften her, and your prayers for her will afford the Lord a way to do that. However, Your son is doing all he can to better himself, and whether she forgives him or not, he must go on with the Lord, lessons learned. Grace be with you.

    • Debra on January 12, 2024 at 8:51 am

      Dear Joy, I wish I could have had a mother in law like you. You have such a Godly heart. I would suggest that you email her or write her letter and say exactly what you just said here. I believe it would touch her heart, Then give her some time because she’s hurting.

    • Lisa on January 12, 2024 at 8:43 pm

      I just wanted to share with you that there is the possibility that your former daughter-in-law has forgiven your son, but she doesn’t want to reconcile with him. Perhaps she doesn’t want to share with you all of the other ways he hurt her. I applaud you for being open and friendly toward her.
      I am in the situation where my husband and his family think I am unforgiving. They do not seem to understand that reconciliation does not necessarily follow forgiveness. I don’t wish to share all of the ways he has hurt me. To what end?

    • Carolyn on January 13, 2024 at 3:22 pm

      Dear Joy, I am so sorry for your pain and confusion. But are you sure you are ready to hear your daughter-in-laws perspective? Have you not already judged her as “hardhearted” and “unforgiving” and your son as “repentant” because he has done “some work” in the church and “reached out to her a few times?” Repentance is often faked. Even when it is real, sometimes the damage is so severe reconciliation is not an option, even with forgiveness.

    • LeAnne Parsons on January 15, 2024 at 11:29 am

      Joy, I am so honored by your contribution here on our blog. Thank you for sharing your heart and your journey. Whole and healthy individuals an family mosaics are prayers we can all pray for one another. I hear you heart for your family, The beliefs we hold, the assumptions we make and the interpretations we hold can be stumbling blocks or stepping stones. You are not alone. Boundaries, requests, open and closed doors are all part of the constellation. May the Lord meet with you in all of the sacred spaces. Again thank you for sharing. Eyes on Him dear one.

  4. Holly on January 11, 2024 at 10:58 am

    This can be so hard. If your husband was covert with his abuse, it may be that they really cannot see what you are trying to tell them and I’m not sure trying to open their eyes is fruitful. My husband actually left me after I learned to say “no”. To all the world, even my own family, he seemed like the nicest guy in the world. Even I had a hard time fully understanding all that was happening, the deliberate manipulation, the gaslighting, trying to make me think I was crazy and needed his help. In all of it he came at it with a smile and a calm, kind voice. It wasn’t until he began to realize that I wasn’t going to become his moldable play thing that his mask of calm kindness began to slip and he became more physically forceful and less careful with his way of saying things to me that I realized that I was married to a man who had deep and frightening problems with anger, control, sex, and other things. I knew something was wrong, but his mask, his act was so good that even though I was in the marriage, I thought I was the problem because he seemed too nice and godly to be the one with deep sin issues.

    Why do I say this? I guess what I’m trying to say is that unless your husband’s parents have seen what has gone on in your marriage, it may be asking too much of them to believe hard things about him if all they’ve seen is his act, his mask. It takes many of us many years to figure out the reality of who our spouse really is, in my case 24 years, and often a lot of counseling to unravel it all and reorient ourselves to reality… and we lived the nightmare of toxicity.
    Imagine being on the outside and only seeing what looks to be a normal marriage relationship and suddenly being told the child you raised and love is a sort of monster who treats his wife with contempt. It would defy what has been real to you as his parent and maybe too hard to come to terms with for a long time.

    I chose to keep in contact with my husband’s family because I love them all dearly, but I also chose to not make my relationship with them be about their acceptance of what I lived through and who their brother/son is. Instead, I told them that I love each one of them, that I am so thankful for them, and that what I went through in my marriage was the hardest thing I have ever been through in my life and the worst part of the fallout of it was the potential of losing a relationship with so many people I love, who are still family to me in my heart and in faith. I then told them that I did not feel a need to talk about what happened and wouldn’t be sharing details unless they felt a strong need to try and understand. I have chosen to move forward in relationship with them on a level that focuses more on who they are and who I am and how much I love them.

    It is hard not to want to make them see that everything my husband told them about me was not only a lie, but also exactly what he was doing to me, but I know it would put them in a weird situation of trying to choose who to believe between two people they love and have mostly only seen the best in. It would be asking them to take my word over their brother/son when they didn’t witness anything but the final fallout. I am chosing to show them who I am through my love toward them, not to prove anything, but because I really do love them. As long as we can have a relationship that isn’t focused on who was at fault with the divorce, but focused on mutual love for one another, that is a relationship worth maintaining. It’s not as deep or open, but it’s what is possible for right now.

    I often have to remind myself that God knows the truth and someday He will make all things right. It really is difficult to know that some people might believe I am the “bad guy”, but it’s worth having a soft heart to let the Lord fight that battle.

    • Debra on January 12, 2024 at 9:00 am

      Holly I went to this exact same thing you did for 29 years and felt the same way you did. Isn’t it amazing to see the Holy Spirit working in our hearts to be able to let it go and trust the Lord for His justice. This is only the work of the Holy Spirit!

    • Heather on January 12, 2024 at 3:01 pm

      I feel you and I’m right there with you. Very well said.

      • LeAnne Parsons on January 15, 2024 at 11:38 am

        Heather, Thank you for sharing and reminding us that we are not alone.

    • LeAnne Parsons on January 15, 2024 at 11:31 am

      Holly, Thank you for your heart and your shares. God knows the truth and someday He will make all things right. I hear your love in each word spoken. So grateful for this truth and our community here. Press on and hold fast.

    • Jean S. on January 15, 2024 at 6:48 pm

      Thank you for sharing! I see myself in your situation. I have been silent with my in laws, thus far. But the way you handled your relationship with them was inspiring to me.

  5. K on January 11, 2024 at 11:28 am

    Just keep on doing what you are to be prayerfully and patiently supportive, for the sake of those young grandchildren and your continued relationship with them. Express your concern for her health, healing and well-being, consistently and continually. You could always send encouraging cards and notes, to her and the grandchildren, with no hidden agenda. Reconciliation and peace may come eventually, but it could look differently from what you are expecting. I wish I had had your kind approach from my former in-laws who saw me as an object and outside disrupter to their clan, while viewing their son as Mr. Perfect all the time. In the end, your kindness will shine and win out.

    • LeAnne Parsons on January 15, 2024 at 11:32 am

      You are a woman to be cherished. thank you for being here.

  6. Laura Petherbridge on January 11, 2024 at 12:42 pm

    it wasn’t until years after my divorce, from a man who was unfaithful and had a girlfriend while married to me, that one of my former in laws shared that his family blamed ME for the divorce. I was flabbergasted. I always assumed they knew it was an affair by HIM, their son, who refused to give up the girlfriend, which ended our marriage. they did know about the affair, and yet still blamed me. We didn’t have kids so there was no reason to stay close to them, but I was truly shocked. One sister did tell me they still loved me and sent a Christmas card that said “YOU will always be our family”. BUT you just never know how loyal family members will be even if it’s their own member who destroyed the marriage.

    • LeAnne Parsons on January 15, 2024 at 11:35 am

      Laura,
      Thank you for your vulnerability. Flabbergasted indeed. The blame is so awful. I am sorry, Hold fast dear one. You are so valuable to your savior!

  7. Hope Johnson on January 11, 2024 at 1:32 pm

    I attempted to set a boundary with my sister-in-law to give my marriage that is still recovering from an affair distance and space. After 15 years of not being around, the past two years, she has called and needed something at least once a day. There was a time I needed my husband (which I try not to ask after years of learning not to) but he was helping her fur the third day out of four. It isn’t that he has a servants heart, he is broken and needs to feel needed by others) and is taken advantage of. It in turn also always leaves me neglected.

    I was told that “I have to make room for wherever she needs…it is the Christian thing to do.”

    Still doesn’t feel like I did the right thing, but we’re told to set boundaries. Trying to be reasonable about getting our space and distance from her influence and neediness made things worse.

    Im struggling to live in contradictions where he says that he and I are as one but in reality he’s as one with everyone else.

    Should I have handed it over to God differently? Am I punished for not doing so? Was it an eye opening blessing to potential spiritual abuse on the part of both of them?

  8. LeAnne Parsons on January 15, 2024 at 11:37 am

    Hope, I am so sorry… what options do you think you have? Awareness of self, others, and God is a gift we can give our selves. Thank you for joining the conversations here.

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