Dear Thelma: My parasitic in-laws are causing disharmony in the home


Do you need a listening ear? Thelma is here to help. Email lifestyle@thestar.com.my.

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Dear Thelma,

My husband and I met as undergraduates 20 years ago and have now been married for 16 years.

My family was initially not too happy that I chose to marry him but they eventually relented and now share a good camaraderie.

Throughout these years, as with every married couple, we have had our fair share of ups and downs but we always chose to be committed to each other and still love each other very much. We are blessed with three beautiful children and enjoy raising them together.

To summarise, everything is good in our lives except for a bunch of freaks who unfortunately are the in-laws from hell. They are nothing but envious parasites.

They are the kind of people who cannot stand to see others being happy and are bitter about their own miserable lives. They are in misery due to their own doings and the ringleader is their very own matriarch. She does not get along with her own family nor in-laws' family and does not have any friends due to her brash demeanour and foul mouth. They are the epitome of a dysfunctional family.

Since we were married, we have helped them in numerous ways. They get into sticky situations and we have to bail them out. The siblings do not bother to work and earn a living. They choose to be losers, expecting handouts from any available avenue.

They all have broken marriages partly due to the matriarch's interference and would play the pity card all the time. There is only so much pity one can dish out and I have run out of such feelings for them.

Both my husband and I are professionals with successful careers and we work very hard to provide the best for our children and to ensure that our golden years will be comfortable. Due to this, the matriarch and the freeloader siblings expect us to take care of them all by paying their bills and funding their frivolous lives.

They want to have the lifestyles of dukes and duchesses but refuse to work to support that lifestyle. Now, they even want us to enrol their children into the same school as our children and pay for it. We have said a resounding no.

Each time we plan to go on a holiday, they will want to tag along as freeloaders and spoil our holidays. There are just way too many instances where we have had to help them out and tolerate them.

It just never ends and it is only getting worse. They are shameless through and through. All this irks me so much that I am seething as I write about this.

Besides being parasites, the matriarch has attempted to be an instigator and destroy our marriage too.

Fortunately, my husband is wise and knows better.

She would pick on me about petty things and make a mountain out of a molehill and complain about me to my husband. She seems envious that we are happily married after all these years.

My husband and I were shocked and deeply disappointed when we discovered that she had resorted to some supernatural shenanigans. There were some unusual paraphernalia left hidden in our house when she stayed for a few days. I have never come across any individual who is as ridiculous and vicious as her.

She even goes to the extent of calling up our innocent children in our absence to enquire about anything and everything in our household, on the pretext of being caring.

We have always sheltered our children from these nuisances and never spoke badly about them to our children. I always believed in having a good relationship with everyone.

However, this has become unbearable and I do not know how to have a good relationship with someone so vile. I do not have an iota of respect left for them.

Our children are growing up and are no longer oblivious to what is going on around them. Our eldest child is a teenager and is capable of understanding the whole situation. She is annoyed and upset and have spoken about it with my husband and me.

My husband is a gem of a person. He is a very patient man and has always been a filial son. I respect him for having all the patience as he does not want to have a conflict.

He has tried speaking to them rationally and advised them but it only resulted in them spewing venom against me and accusing me of influencing my husband against them.

I can no longer tolerate their nonsense so I now avoid them at all costs to have a peaceful life.

It is difficult for my husband to handle this mess and it has resulted in him being stressed, easily angered and unhappy. The harmony in our house has been disturbed.

It pains me so much to see my husband in this predicament and I feel worried that it may cause detriment to his health and wellbeing.

As much as it would be ideal, it is impossible to break all ties with them as they are his family after all. I have even contemplated migration but it will be a big challenge to uproot and re-establish ourselves in a foreign country. I really do not see a good solution to this situation.

All I want is my husband to be the same happy man I married and to be the father our children love and adore. I hope that you can help me come up with a feasible solution to our quandary. I will be forever grateful for that.

Distressed wife

I'm sorry you're in this mess but very glad that you wrote because this is a very common issue. I think a lot of readers will want to hear about approaches for fixing dysfunctional family dynamics.

All of us are selfish; we love it when other people take care of business for us. But reasonable people admit this. We are grateful for the things others do for us. And when we're a bit too lazy, and we're called out on it, we apologise and change.

My dear, what you are describing is classic abuse within the family.

Google "wheel of abuse and power" and you'll see that it includes intimidation, emotional abuse, gaslighting, financial abuse, coercion, and more.

Your husband is hurt by this, your kids notice it, and you are at the end of your tether.

I strongly recommend that your husband talks to a mental health professional who is skilled in abuse cases. She will help him overcome the damage from this dynamic. I think you should also consult her as she will help you plan and navigate countermoves that will help you establish a healthier new normal.

Basically, dealing with this issue comes down to four things: Understanding how abusers manipulate you, knowing what you are willing to give, plus distance and boundaries.

So first have a chat about how abuse works in general, and specifically how the parasites play the game. That will help you see what's happening more clearly.

Next, are there things you will do? Like a dinner twice a year? Or buying medication for one of the old folks? If so, write that down. That's your commitment to family.

Then, go about keeping yourself and your kids safe from their toxicity. Distance is about limiting contact. Think of it this way: Every time you touch the poison, you are affected. So be sensible and limit how often you get sick.

Mute all family WhatsApp groups. Unfollow all their social media. If the parasites text, put them on mute and only answer once or twice a week.

Reject calls. Make yourself hard to contact. They will protest! You don't owe them an explanation, just saying "I'm busy" is good enough. If you want to be polite, "Busy with work".

Avoid more drama by limiting how often you meet. Start by deciding what events you want to attend, perhaps a family meal or two, and which you want to avoid, perhaps family weekends away where you are expected to pay.

You can opt out right now. Or, you can gradually reduce the amount of time you spend with them. The first is an easy method but if you're not sure what you want, the second is more useful.

Do consider moving house. Living a few extra miles away can be a wonderful deterrent, especially if you choose a gated community.

Boundaries are about you resetting expectations and enforcing them. This is best done with very short catch phrases that you repeat.

Think toddler training! When your kids were tots, you didn't spend an hour explaining why they can't eat sweets before dinner, right? You just said, "No" over and over again until they learned.

Do the same for your in-laws. A great line is, "We have no budget for that." It's useful as it doesn't say anything about income or wealth; it's just a hard wall of no.

Of course, your relatives will react. Like a toddler who wants the sweets, they're going to scream. Just walk away. Let them throw their temper tantrum where you can't see it.

As you describe them as manipulative, expect all kinds of nasty games, like pretending to be sick or going into a decline. It's very important you remember that if you give in, you're teaching them that persistence pays off. So, hold your line, and don't give in. Your therapist will help support you there.

Eventually, one of two things will happen. Your parasites may sulk and not talk to you. This may be temporary or permanent. You have to decide if you can live with that. But with family, they often decide it's easier to behave a bit better. It won't be perfect, but it should get a lot more civilised.

I hope this helps you make decisions that will lead to positive change.

Good luck, and know I'm thinking of you.

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