Family or foe?


I am lost…family has always been such an abstract concept to me… My family growing up was dysfunctional and my only true concept of family was constructed when I married into my husband’s family at 17. 12 years later they have turned their backs on me and have said I was never part of their family…I never will be because I ’m not blood related.

What is my responsibility as a Catholic in dealing with “family members” who have hurt me? Do you have to forgive and then go on as if nothing has happened? Do I have a right to disconnect from the family to ensure I won’t get hurt again, or is this a sin? I am confused on where the line is on protecting yourself from more trauma, or live as Jesus lived and commune with sinners and tax collectors?

Is it more important to protect myself or continue trying to connect with them, even though I know they don’t look at me the same as their “real family members”?


Ok, 12 years after the fact they tell ya things ain’t working out? What happened? What put them in a bad mood?

Where does your husband stand on this?


There are a lot of issues here and not a lot of detail so any advise and thoughts are going to be based on assumptions of what your situation is. Here are some thoughts: It sounds like everything was going relatively good (no pun intended). Then they turned on you. I would say your going in possition should be to assume they feel they have a reason. Not necesarily a good or rational reason but a reason that if you were in there shoes and only knew their story you might feel the same way. With that assumption you have to address why the conflict exists. See if it is something that can be fixed or at least something that can be dealt with. If not then they have a problem and you need to do what is best for you and your immediate family.

As for “forgiving”. Is there any reason to hold annimosity towards them? Is it possible to lay blame on the unfortunate situation and not on them? Jesus did not force himself on the sinners, They accepted him. If your extended family does not accept you, I feel you are in your right to keep your distance but be willing to accept them back when they are willing to accept you. I don’t think forgiveness means to put yourself in a bad situation, it means to not have negative feelings based on past wrongs.

What does your husband say about the situation.


I agree with what others have suggested, that it is unusual for someone to be very close and loving for twelve years and then suddenly turn their back and say “you were never family.”

Either they never fully embraced you to begin with, something happened to change their minds or a combination of the two.

Either way, first I want to welcome you to the forums! You have come to a good place seeking spiritual guidance and support. This must be so painful for you, I want to offer you my prayers.

It is hard to offer many suggestions because there are not many details but I will offer you this: Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing. You can forgive someone but not reconcile to the point that you are in an ongoing relationship with them. Example: A woman may “forgive” the strange man that attacked or raped her but that does not mean she wants to go out to lunch with him. You can forgive someone but still not be interested in a personal relationship with them.

If you are forgiving of people that hurt you that is wonderful. If you are forced to see them because of family or social obligations I would just urge you to be polite. Say “hi” or “nice weather we’re having” or some such small talk. Be cordial and not nasty but don’t go out of your way to be open if they are very unkind. I will pray for your family, hope this helps.


I think the biggest deceiver here is me. I led myself to believe that they thought of me as a daughter when in reality they never fully accepted me as one. I especially viewed my mother-in-law as a saint…I admired her so much; I did everything like her….I learned how to cook, to clean, and how to be a “respectable” wife and mother. When I was first married she said “think of me as a friend, not a mother-in-law.” I believed her. Last year she and the rest of my husband’s family moved in with us on account of them having financial troubles…he have always throughout our whole marriage extended a helping hand to his family. Over the course of their stay she began directing all of her insecurities and disappointments on me (as I was the only outsider); I became the escape goat – a place to turn their anger. I found that as soon as we lost a common goal and stopped working together as a family, I became unwanted and unwelcome. Threes a crowd and there was only room for her daughter at her side (my sister-in-law, along with her husband and their three kids were also living with me along with my father and mother-in-law)…I was quickly shuffled around outside of the circle as I wasn’t one of them.

Everything I did was wrong; if I talked I said the wrong thing and offended them. If I was quiet I offended them. If I even had a “bad” look on my face I offended them – I pointed out that I couldn’t change my face but asked if there was something else I could do to help the situation improve…always being the first to initiate healing.

My mother-in-,law ignored me for 3 months even when I stood right next to her in the house because of an incident where I asked if she had cooked dinner and when she hesitated to answer I asked her to just tell me yes or no so I would know whether I would need to cook or not. 3 months of trying to figure out “what did I do to offend her??” It sounds crazy but it’s so true.

And my sister-in-law, in one of my talks with her in an attempt to “fix things” once again stated that “I don’t even know you” 12 years and she doesn’t know me? Am I missing something here? She goes on to say that I am tearing her family apart and that I am brainwashing my husband not to like his family….I was never good at manipulating and premeditating anything, let alone brainwashing.

I am an educated person who holds a BA and is still in school for my MA. I don’t drink, smoke, swear, or even stay out at night. I don’t sleep around nor do I have any “girlfriends”. My focus has always been family –

My whole concept of family has been destroyed as my hope of being part of a “real” family is gone…

How can I have a relationship with them when I know they don’t look at me as family – except through marriage? I expected so much more. I think that was my biggest folly – I expected more.

I just want to make sure I am not sinning if I don’t want to be apart of their lives any longer. I am so not good at pretending. I’m such a bad liar and I can’t fake family.


I wish I had anything really useful to say. I’m not sure I do.

But I’m in a similar situation, in which certain of H’s family have made it clear I’m not wanted and not part of them. H himself has told me I am not their family and have no right to expect anything from them, and has done things to actively prevent me having any relationship with them.

I asked a similar question to yours a couple of months ago, and what I took from the answers was that you can’t make a relationship happen all on your own. You can be civil and polite, and I think in the end you’ll be glad you did that. I was always irritated with myself, when H’s aunt (the worst as far as the way she treated me) called me, and all the great lines I had just flew out of my head, and I’d be friendly to her just as I would to anyone. I just am not a rude person. At the time, I hated it that I couldn’t bring myself to say anything, but looking back, I am glad to be able to say that I didn’t contribute to the situation in any way. It is good to have a clear conscience.

About the criticisms and accusations, I think the important thing is what your husband is doing about it. He should be the one to deal with his family, and if he is standing by your side and taking your part, then nothing they say matters.

In my case, my husband has not done that. But bit by bit what helps me deal with it is to know that my conscience is clean before God. He sees in my heart, and He knows I have not done the things they have accused me of. I suppose in a way, it’s helped me keep my attention where it belongs, and helped me to realize that God is what matters, not human opinion.


Ok, so you have your MIL, FIL, SIL, BIL, all living in your house?? :eek:

No wonder things are cracking at the seams! Does everybody have a job or what?

My guess the strain of finances has your in laws stressed out, and perhaps you’re just the target of the frustration, especially since 12 years prior everything was good.

But you donn’t really know people till they move in with ya. What is the end game to this? Are they working to get their own place? Cos I don’t see things getting any better till they move out and everyone can take a breath.


They have since moved out…My husband is pushing that we still remain in contact with them and I just can’t bring myself to be hurt in such a manner again. I have seen how they really think of me - an outsider. I really don’t want anything to do with them but then my husband talks about how God forgives and how Jesus didn’t discriminate and hung out with sinners and tax collectors. He says I’m a hypocrite if I don’t establish communication again. I feel like more of a hypocrite trying to fabricate feelings and words to communicate with them when they are not from the heart. I am not good with small talk - it’s so shallow.

I just didn’t want to break any commandments by not associating with them.


You are not breaking any commandments by not associating with them. But, if you can find a way to heal and make peace, that is certainly the path to take. You may need more time. Your DH should not demand you have have contact with them. He can go see them or whatever without you. DH also needs to own his part in this-- he should never have allowed anyone in his family to be disrespectful to you in your own home.

I think you and your DH need to go together for counseling from your priest or someone he recommends regarding boundary setting, communication, and dealing with ILs.

Also, you seem to have unresolved issues of your own stemming from your family of origin. Individual counseling with a Catholic therapist could help you to get past those issues and perhaps view your ILs in a new way.


I would agree that you have ever right to be angry, probably every instinct in your body is telling you that AS would my own.

Not to quote a phrase but… what would Jesus do?

The tax collectors, even when members of one’s family were hated, despised and seen as traitors but Christ loved them.

I do believe you need to let things cool off but you should still talk and be nice and forgive them (as you probably already have). By continue to show Christ’s love in your life you will continue to do the right thing and eventually they may come around… then again, they may not. The fact though will reamin that you gave the effort, you tried and you loved as Christ loved… that is what He wants us to do.

From their perspective though it has to be hard having to move in with your son and his wife no matter what the reason. Add your own daughter to that and whew… Even though greatful I’m sure at first over time we tend to get complacient and my guess is that is what happened, they began to take you and their son for granted.

Pray for them and for their understanding, smile, do the right thing and know that God is smiling down on your for doing His will.



I read and re-read your posts and something really stood out for me, I am going to be blunt here but I am really trying to offer help and a different perspective: Please prayerfully consider what I am offering you here.

According to you:

In-laws:unreasonable, rude, unforgiving, excluded you, blamed you, treated you like a scape goat and so it seems 100% responsible for the turmoil.

**You: **100% victim, innocent, unwanted, unwelcome, everything you did was wrong and so it seems not responsible for the turmoil.

Of course you wrote because you are in pain and this hurts and you are emotional about things. I understand that. I don’t beleive you are trying to be deceitful but it really struck me how you didn’t mention that you did anything wrong, hurtful, slight or rude to them EVER.

Even if I agree with you that your relatives can be nasty or said mean things or hurt your feelings. I have doubts (and I could be wrong) that you were completely innocent in any turmoil, I am not picking on you, it is just simple mathmetics and human nature. it just is not likely in most families that one person is 100% nasty while the other person is 100% angel. Tension rose, you were perhaps irritable and they reacted? Maybe you tried hard to be nice and were short-fused some days? Maybe a time or two you were not as polite as you usually are?

I am not picking on you, just asking you to take a step back because if you can see both sides of this situation it may be easier to own your part in it and forgive and forget?

I also take strong exception to your notion that small talk is “shallow” and you can’t fake it. **Small talk is a gift from God! ** Small talk is a way to get to know people…small talk is a way to gradually open up…small talk is a way to help mend-fences…small talk is a way to come together when you feel awkward…small talk is a way to talk when you have been hurt and can’t think of anything else to say…small talk is a way for shy or anxious people to start conversations. Where did you get the idea that small talk is shallow? This is false. **Small talk can be God’s beautiful bridge between deep conversations and complete silence. **If you want them out of your life completely forever this may be putting your husband in a corner and may not be fair. He is not asking you to embrace these people all the time, he is just asking you to have occassional contact. This seems fair to me. I know this is so hard. Please pray some more. I hope I did not hurt your feelings in any way, I really hope to help. God bless.


I am the first to tell you I am a sinner. I am no saint nor will I ever claim to be. I am experiencing a social injustice here though _ and it is hard to believe, but it’s true. I know that this scenario is impossible. I realize that they had a tough spot living with us for over a year…I did my best to stay out of their way. Whenever they needed more space I backed away further…and further until I was out of the picture. I am not one to fight and I am quiet. I am contemplative and introverted…I think that left it open for them to fill in emotions and ideas I was thinking in their own minds. I may be great at writing and expressing myself in the craft, but I have never been one for talking much…I love social gatherings and noise, but I am more of an observer than a participant. I love to see people have fun and shine, but I am never one for the spotlight. It’s just me. This didn’t jive with them and they thought I was angry or upset all the time…even after I fixed it several times with them and told them how I was, they just didn’t get it. They same cycle repeated.

I really didn’t say anything rude or mean or hurtful intentionally – for what? I had don’t everything to help them. I GAVE them my second home to have and when they couldn’t pay the mortgage I assumed the debt once more and told them they could come live with me while they found a place to live. They moved from another state and didn’t have a car – I GAVE them a car. They needed more room in my home because they felt cramped – I moved my stuff out o the house and they had 3 bedrooms while my husband and I occupied one room and my kids occupied a den area. I have always been one to give, not take.
My father-in-law even has a gambling problem and made several withdrawals and wrote many bad checks from our account to feed his habit – I never asked for the money back. He even decided to abandon his family and drove back to the other state they were initially living in because of all the bad things he had done, leaving us to clean up the mess he’d made during his stay – I never asked for explanations…I just didn’t what needed to be done, for the family. – well, who I thought was family.

And yet an “upset” face is cause for ignoring me for 3 months. Not a word I have spoken against them but my face is enough. Of course they take him back when he returns saying he’s going to change; “this year will be better…you’ll see,” he has said for I don’t know how many years.
I am not asking for much….just respect. What kills me is that I know my intentions are good…but they will never see me for who I am as their perspective is different. Through their eyes they see someone entirely different than who I am and interpret actions in a way that completely distort the intentions and feelings behind them. You can’t change other people’s perception of you without them first deciding to change it…no matter how much good I do, I will always be looked upon through the stigma they associate me with…they will only see me with the shades they have colored their picture of me as…not how I am. Then I ask meself “why do I care?” – the answer is that I cared so much about them and how they thought about me…I based my happiness on whether or not they approved of me and what I did in my life…not any longer. I was blind but now I see.

I agree that small talk has it’s purpose and it’s great for getting to know people – or for talking with someone who you haven’t seen for years. But if you have known someone for 12 years and you have lived the majority of those years together or within a few miles from each other, you would think that you could have more genuine conversations…not just “Hi. How are you doing?” “Fine, you” “fine, thanks” or “it’s hot!” “yes, it is hot” Do you see what I mean?

Where’s the “love”? Where’s the connection? Where’s the family?


Where is your husband in all of this mess? Why in the world would your inlaws have any access to your bank accounts? If your husband doesn’t see the problems that were created then I would HIGHLY suggest that you both seek out counseling from someone he would also trust (preferably a good, faithful male, because frankly, your husband will get a “clue” better from a male than a female, just trust me about this). Catholic Charities offers counseling and you will more than likely be able to find a male therapist within your local Catholic Charities.


Please help here I can’t remember the reference but Didn’t jesus say something to the effect that if people reject his disciples they should leave and shake the dust of the town off of their feet?

It sounds like you made more than a fair effort and they are compusivley taking advantage of you. It may be time for you and your husband to have a talk then tell them they have worn out their welcome. If they are not living their any more you may want to put a limmit on the number of visits.

Just a warning from personal experience, try to make sure your husband does not feel torn between you and his family. Of Course I realize that saying that is a lot easier than doing it.

Best wishes for finding the path of least pain in this matter.


I certainly agree with gmarie21. Your husband’s job is to protect you. He is to separate from his family of birth and cleave to you. He has some serious boundary issues if he is allowing his family to treat you that way. I agree that counseling may help. The problem is not with you. Please know that you are an invaluable member of God’s family.


Thank you so much for taking the time to share more of your story. I can just feel your pain in your words as you tell about how torn up you are about this whole mess.

Sorry to hear about it all.

I think now your focus is your marriage and your husband. If it is important for your husband that you see these people occassionally then perhaps, you can make the effort and make small talk as much as it bothers you and makes you feel phony.

I quoted what you said above because it was how I felt at one time. I have a sibling that my relationship is exactly that…and this is a sibling that I grew up with! I have come to realize over time that my relationship is not going to be very deep. We are so different and there are many hurt feelings. I have had to accept that my relationship with her is a bit on the “shallow” side, and that is okay. Deep conversations for us are not possible at this time and that is okay too. At least we are able to be civil to one another for short periods of time, it makes everyone else in the family happy and that is wonderful.

So, pray about this. See how much this may mean to your husband or if he is being unreasonable, it’s hard to tell. God bless.


Small talk is a gift from God? Hmmm, I have to disagree. I see it more as a ‘necessary evil’.

“Oh Hiiiii, how you doing now Katie?”

“Well, actually, not so good, I just got made redundant and my mom is having surgery tomor…”

“REALLY?, thats too bad, you know, they say its gonna rain today”

Didn’t Christ tell us “37 But let your speech be yea, yea: no, no: and that which is over and above these, is of evil.”


When we married, I basically married his family too. They have been a constant presence in our lives and in our home. He has always been the “father” of his family – where his father had a severe deficit. I felt at times I was just along for the ride. Happy to accompany him of course and I loved to help…I took pleasure in helping them. I took pleasure in being part of his family. Many times we would help them out with money or invite them to stay with us because they had no place to go…my husband was constantly babysitting his father and cleaning up his messes that would arise consistently. It was a never ending rollercoaster of my husband trying to bring his family up and then his dad knocking them down once more.

Mind you man of the ideas to help his family came from me…like the idea to give the car and the house…and to loan the m large amounts of money. All in the name of helping them out. Doing the right thing. Being family.

I even bought a bigger house when I moved out of state, anticipating that one day they would come to stay and our house could be a transitional place they could stay while they found their own way in the new state. It happened last year and I was thrilled to have them around us again. I loved the excitement, the conversation (granted I would mostly be on the sidelines), the connection with all of them. It filled me.

But then my husband started to make comments to me about how his mom or sister were offended by certain things I would or wouldn’t do…little customs that I would forget…like saying hi to everyone immediately after entering the house from working outside the home. It was rude not to in their eyes – a major offence. They didn’t take too well to my quietness as I am not the type to talk incessantly (writing is another story). I like to listen to the sounds and think and just be…that’s just me. They took it as an offence.

Then the thin seal of “family” that held us together began to tear. I found that they did not attribute any of the things they had received from us to me…it was all because of my husband that they were helped…I was just there.

Anything “bad” that they saw in my kids, they made comments like “oh they get that from your side.”

They genuinely thought I was the bad seed. The cause for turmoil among the family.
And then I realized they did not consider me family. I was not one of them.

I should have known when my mother in-law made a comment to me when I was thinking about adopting a child she said “you can never love another child as much as your own.” I disagree…once you adopt them and let them into your home they are your child. How could she love me? I am not from her. Her and my thought process differs greatly – I don’t foresee her and I ever seeing eye to eye.

This is why I chose to separate…they hurt me…or you could say I hurt myself when I believed that we were so much more than people occupying a house. I thought we were family occupying a home.

For the first time my husband and I are seeing the separation that should have taken place when we first got married. He has stopped enabling his father and we have become more of a family unit separate from the extended family. God talks about how he used negative experienced and incidents for the good. In a sense I thing it was necessary…that is had to happen so we could finally define what our family is (my husband, our kids, and myself).

That comment even that my husband made about Jesus eating with sinners and tax collectors and saying that I am a hypocrite for not acting like Jesus…the difference here is that the sinners and tax collectors wanted to eat with Jesus – probable admired and respected him for his efforts to reach out to them…with my husband’s family, they didn’t even want me at the table! Respect and admiration weren’t even thoughts floating about in the same room when we shared the same space. The air they breathe is so much purer than mine.

Having this forum to converse about this issue has really helped me. I feel more at peace. I have worked through this crisis and feel I am above the realm of being affected by it…they can’t hurt me any more. Nothing they do can hurt me because they have ceased to carry the same weight as they once did on my heart. I am no longer seeking their approval. I’m not bitter…I don’t wish them any ill will. I am just not going to let them define me any more…

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