Care and Feeding

We Finally Cut Off My Husband’s Toxic Family. What Now?

I feel immense guilt that he’s going to resent me one day for making him choose us over them.

A family of four standing in a row with their arms around one another, seen from the back
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Patricia Prudente/Unsplash.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I have been with my husband for 17 years, married for seven of them. We share three children together: a 7-year-old, 3-year-old, and another baby on the way. Like any couple, we have our problems, but our main issue has always been his mother’s side of the family—especially his mother and his siblings. My husband and I both have good jobs and do well for ourselves, unlike these folks. They have always been very envious of us and expect us to support them financially, something that we won’t do because we don’t have to, and because our financial obligations are to our home and our kids, etc. His entire family is on welfare, though they are capable of working. His mother and siblings have insulted me for many years—calling me horrific names, being extremely rude; his mother even wishing death on my father so that perhaps she could benefit when I receive an inheritance. I can go on, but it’s years of abuse and would be far too much to explain.

About a month ago, my MIL decided to call my youngest son a “f*g” and says that he behaves like a little girl because he’s way too close to his father. I got into a huge argument with her, which was followed by my husband’s brother and his also-pregnant girlfriend threatening to fight me, calling both of my sons “f*gs” and “girls,” and calling me every bad name in the book. After 17 years of putting up with this abuse, I’ve had enough. I gave my husband an ultimatum: It’s me and the kids or your family. He chose us, and says he is no longer blind to how evil and toxic his family is.

As a mother of three children, I can’t help but feel immense guilt and think that my husband will resent me one day. I’m not sure what to do because no matter what, it’s his family, and I’m not sure how it took him so long to see this—perhaps he’s only telling me what I want to hear? Am I wrong for giving him an ultimatum?

—Afraid of Resentment

Dear AR,

You are not wrong for giving your husband an ultimatum—though perhaps you should have done it sooner. Nevertheless, perhaps he’s finally gotten the message and hopefully he is sincere about staying away from these miserable people (who, by the way, are not miserable because they receive government assistance, but because they are verbally abusive, homophobic, and really awful in a number of other ways).

You should find ways to deal with what the past 17 years of abuse and mistreatment have meant to you. I’m not sure if your in-laws’ behavior—or if your husband’s refusal to protect you from their behavior—has affected your relationship with your husband, but I think it’s important that he understands that this isn’t just a matter of you being fed up after a nasty argument. This woman talked about the death of your father as a potential financial windfall—that is remarkably cruel, and you did not deserve to have to endure such treatment.

Furthermore, I wonder how being raised by and around such people might have affected your husband—what wounds might he be nurturing, and how might they show up in his roles as partner and parent?

A deliberate estrangement from one’s family is a good reason to speak to a professional, and I strongly suggest that you and your husband do so together. That way, you can address any residual tensions you may be feeling toward him, and both of you can unpack what you are feeling toward his family. They can also help you to agree on the terms with which your husband might maintain contact with his folks, and to craft language explaining how and why you and the children are no longer a part of the picture.

If there are occasions in which you must see these people, such as the wedding of a beloved cousin or the funeral of an aunt, then let that be the only time you see them. Keep a cool demeanor, avoid conflict, and skip these events altogether if these people are incapable of behaving accordingly there. It does not matter if your MIL begs and pleads; she is not entitled to a role in your children’s life and she has worked very hard to deny herself one.

Please hold tight to your commitment to say good riddance to bad rubbish. Stick to your guns! Your children do not need to be around people who behave toward them and you as they have—nor do you, nor does your husband. Let them go for good, and make sure your husband knows it will be a cold day in hell before you’ll subject yourself and your kids to their madness again. Wishing you all the best.

—Jamilah