Forgiving but not forgetting, and possibly ending a relationship

I need a Catholic perspective.

My husband and I have 3 children.

My husband has a sister who has been over the course of the years verbally abusive and
aggressive towards my husband. She has called him such things as “useless” in front of the entire family. Periodically she goes thru periods of not speaking to him for offenses she perceives. The first time was after our engagement party where she went on a tirade that he did something that bothered her. I believe it was something as innocuous as my husband not greeting someone, or forgetting to do something. That lasted 6 months.

Another episode was that we could not attend a dinner she was hosting for her in-laws. We both had work obligations that we couldn’t change. She felt slighted that we didn’t go, so she stopped talking to us for about 6 months.

My husband is not the only person she does this to. She cut someone out of her life because she did not like where she was seated at their wedding. That feud lasted probably 10 years. She stopped talking to another person over a facebook post. That feud lasted about 5 years.

She also has 3 children around the age of mine. They have for the most part gotten along fairly well with my kids, so we’ve allowed them to interact at a fairly frequent basis, getting together at least 3 or 4 time a month, at times having sleep overs.

During this time I’ve gotten a bit perplexed about behavior she allows her children to do, that I believe are flat out rude. One incident, her daughter, aged 11, refused to say hello to my husband once. She was upset that he had not called her mom over something. She was permitted to sulk and act offended for her mother to my husband, because she had the “right to be upset.” I don’t think a child has the right to be rude to an adult. I do realize sometimes it isn’t intentional, but it should be corrected. This was intentional.

Another incident was around last year. My son did something impulsive, he used their account on a video game and used some of their points from a game card. I’m not excusing my son. What he did was wrong. We explained to him that it was stealing, even if he didn’t physically take anything. The value was a few dollars.

How they handled it was, to lack a better word, insane. The mother called my son and said what he did was wrong, how could he do that to her children etc. She should have spoken to my husband or I, but she went directly to my child.

Then, her children video texted him videos where they called him a punk, they said they weren’t going to be his friend anymore. One video featured one of her kids pointing his finger like a gun, pretending to shoot, and saying how my son was no longer their friend.

The way they acted had us believe that the value was the entire game card, of 25 dollars. It was just a few dollars. Even still it was wrong for my son. But he did not deserve the videos, and the call from the aunt.

I tend to let my husband deal with his side himself, so the children reconciled. I don’t believe they were chastised or punished about the cyber bullying. My husband chose not to pursue it. :shrug: I think because he thinks if he ignores it, it will go away. My son lost use of the computer for a month, and had to pay them back.

continued

Which brings us to the current issue at hand.

I’m a stay at home mom, so I don’t normally need a baby sitter during the day. Recently I needed an emergency baby sitter, so my MIL had my 2 younger children at her home, 10 and 5.

The 3 other children were there, and they played together for long periods of time unsupervised. They were able to watch MTV (my home has tv programs blocked by rating, and at this point my two young children watch Disney programs (my daughter os 10 watches some of the teen shows, my son who is 5 likes Mickey mouse and the younger programs)

I have tried to raise my children to be honest with me and to come to me with anything. My kids are not perfect, but they are generally pretty well behaved, and normally not liars.

They shared with me something that happened, that could be classified as bullying. I don’t want to be specific, but it was not appropriate or playful. I believe my children, because it isn’t something they would make up, and they told me separately without the others knowledge.

I had my husband address it with his sister. At first she said that that is the way they play, they didn’t mean anything by it, etc. My husband told her that it wasn’t an appropriate way to play. Her response was my children were too sensitive.

Later in the day, she called him back saying that her children denied it all, and my children were lying. My husband let her know, because of this, then the children could only play together with strict supervision. This bothered her, and she went on a profanity laced tirade against him, against my children etc.

Normal people don’t act that way.:frowning:

I’m more than hurt. I feel really betrayed and vulnerable, and frankly stressed about this scenario. I think I can forgive her. But I don’t know if I can forget or trust her. I needed help, and my children were not treated well, and then were framed as liars.

thank you for the help.

Thank you for sharing, it sounds as if you have had a stressful relationship with this woman for years and years.

I read your post and re-read the last few lines several times. It seems if you are asking us here on this Catholic internet forum if you should really trust your sister-in-law again? Unfortunately that is difficult for us to discern, since you gave incomplete information as to what really happened with your children. Not only that but with all honesty I wonder if you have ever ***really ***trusted her completely the last few years anyway. If you sat and asked yourself honestly I wonder if you really have? This is a woman who has cut people off, called your husband “useless” and humiliated him in front of family members, been difficult to get along with, been a bully to your son, and probably done countless other things that you could not mention here.

Therefore dear Sophie Lawrence I don’t think you probably really have had much trust in this woman in the first place. So after this incident what little trust you had in her was probably shattered. My suggestion is that you keep your family close to home, away from her, and when you know you are going to have interactions with her, keep them short and sweet. Say “hello” to her and be polite and that’s it. No more overnight visits with the cousins, no more visits or playdates. Better to invest time for your children to have other friendships that are healthy. Your husband made a good call, trust in him.

Best not to discuss this with her either. This is not the time to discuss parenting, rehash the issue, talk about who-said-what, who is right or wrong, don’t get sucked into that trap. This is the time to fade away with a smile on your face. Resist the temptation to get her to “just see your side” and let this go. Seek the freedom that you deserve! Let go of this toxic relationship, pray for her. God bless.

Exactly. This relationship seems toxic for everyone but especially so for the children. “This is the time to fade away with a smile on your face.” Great advice! Forgiveness does not mean you continue to maintain a destructive relationship. You can fade out yet pray for the person and wish her well.

**Forgiving someone does not mean putting you and yours in harm’s way. Pray for her and keep yourselves away from the toxicity…turning the other cheek doesn’t mean you keep on giving it to someone to slap. I too have a couple of toxic family members. I love them, but at a distance. They’re not good for me. Our personalities just don’t mesh…they love control and don’t respect boundaries. So just pray for her and ESPECIALLY the kids (they learn by example) and what I’m seeing here is plenty of future family drama when they get older.:eek: So take care of you and yours…and let our Lord worry about them. Peace sister! :signofcross:

No, they don’t.

I think it is time that your husband wakes up to this reality and stands up to his sister. He seems to be keeping the peace at all cost and is still looking for ways to compromise. Supervised play sounds reasonable, but the problem is that the mother has issues and is raising her children to behave in ways that are not acceptable. This is a big problem, and I wonder if supervised play can help it. Don’t let anyone abuse your children. Your husband must understand this is what she has been doing, including with her lies that justify bad behaviour against them.

It is understandable that people are reluctant to be more firm with close family, but he must set his priorities straight: the children come before the sister. Help him see that and to assume that responsibility, even if it means not letting your children play with their cousins, and having a distant relationship with that family.

This is what I would do if I were you.

As usual, Monicad has given great advice so +1 for everything said there.

You need to be very careful. Err on the side of protecting your children from any bullying, even from close family.

As Contra Mundum notes, it is questionnable whether supervised play will help or not. Clearly the sisiter has different ideas on acceptable behaviour, so you are unlikely to see eye-to-eye on the children’s behaviours even when supervised. But more concerning is that bullies are usually pretty good at hiding their bullying from any supervision. There’s also the huge problem of the poor example these badly behaving cousins will potentially set for your children.

Overall, as Monicad suggests, I’d keep any interactions “short and sweet”.

Thank you for responding. I appreciate the advice.

I would like to share these answers with my husband, so he’ll be able to see it in a different way.

Currently, he is not speaking with his sister, or better yet she isn’t speaking to him.

He has let me know that unless she apologizes, then he will leave things as they are.

He said he is praying for her to be different, and for there to be reconciliation . I love my husband, but I do believe he’s being naively optimistic.

I really think my sister in law has a personality disorder. I recently read a psychologist say something when a person makes himself crazy he has neurosis, when they drive others crazy, they have a personality disorder.

I am cringing over any future meetings. I’ve seen her be hostile and passive aggressive…, so I am not sure how the smiling and being cordial is going to work.

Currently her children are acting passive aggressively as well. They have not attempted to contact my two younger children, but have made attempts to contact my oldest son as if nothing happened.

I wish things were different. I would have liked to have had a different relationship with her.

I had thought that before I came to your last post. A little bit of narcissism is not a bad thing as it keeps neurosis at bay… but some people entertain their narcissistic aspect to the point of not being empathetic enough to have normal relationships. They tend to only keep people who may have some self esteem problems themselves (which it sounds like your husband may suffer a little bit of). I’ve recently had some counselling with regards to a similar relationship I’m struggling with myself. I’ve actually got a card beside the phone with some short replies I can give this person when they try to smooze their way back into my life. The pattern has been there for a long time and I’ve lost my bearings.

It’s not going to work, if by “work” you mean that she is going to change and the relationship is going to be fixed. When you smile and are polite and cordial to someone who is impossible to get along with it is a means of SURVIVAL. Too often people try and explain their side of the story to these people, try and run circles to get along with these people, try and bend over backwards to accommodate these people. Then after everything goes wrong at family gatherings they analyze the encounter over and over again. This is insanity.

When you decide to let it all go, and decide that at every encounter with her you are not going to engage in debate, not going to engage in silly gossip, not going to fight with her, not going to explain your side (or your son’s side) of the story but simply say “hello nice to see you” and smile you will be FREE! Then promise yourself and your husband that you will not talk about her and analyze her after the event, let it go. This is how it works you don’t fix her you remove yourself emotionally from the situation and give yourself the peace that Jesus longs for you to have. Hope this helps a little, God bless you.

Of course you wish the relationship were different. It is only natural to wish to get along well with family. You sound like a nice, normal woman. But the problem is that when dealing with people who are impossible to deal with and when one only ends up stressed and frustrated and in agony of some kind, then the only reasonable thing to do is to accept reality and create boundaries.

It will be awkward the first time, or maybe several times you see her, but you’ll get used to it. Smile, nod, engage in a polite conversation if she wants to do that. Smile, nod and don’t make an effort if she ignores you. Just suffer through it for the sake of other people and try to avoid such gatherings as much as you can.

If you see signs of change in her - great. Be happy and work with that. But from my experience such things seldom happen, and we must be cautious to not let the bully back in. The Catholic thing to do is to pray for the person, to hope for a positive change and to keep an open heart in case that happens, but at the same time it is good to be cautious and wise and to not be a victim of sentimentalism and enabling that often happens in a family setting. You have children to protect and that must always take priority.

It is perfectly acceptable to cut off contact with someone in this situation. After my grandfather’s death, we cut off contact with my father’s sisters. They were very much after the inheritance and didn’t provide my grandfather proper care. Some of my great-aunts were even demanding that my father get a court order to remove him from my sisters’ care. My father’s mother died eight years earlier and his sisters’ actions and attitudes during that time put my father in the hospital with high blood pressure.

For his health and the health of my parents’ marriage, a decision was made not to speak with them after my grandfather’s funeral. They blocked the phone numbers and emails even.

Sorry to be reviving the thread. I didn’t want to start a new one.

DH and I have been seeing a counselor regarding this issue.

He would like to be able to reconcile with her, at least in a social way.

We haven’t seen her in a social setting, or her children.

Our therapist (who is very nice Catholic therapist) has been trying to guide us into what boundaries we need. (Children not being alone unsupervised, no sleep-overs or other alone contact etc).

My DH had tried to set up a meeting with her, but she stood him up.

I’m having a hard time even being able to entertain seeing her at all.

Since are last “encounter” I’ve been told by my children other past bullying events. My oldest son has confirmed these episodes.

I also came to learn more about her last diatribe with my DH. She went off against my children saying they were liars and spoiled. She twisted the incident around and blamed my 5 year old for the incident. She also spoke viciously about my mother and my sister and myself.

As of this moment, I don’t think I can be in the same room with her cordially. I’ve had various nightmares about my children being hurt, and about her as well, just these past couple of weeks.

I’m ashamed to say that I am very intimidated by her. I hate to use the word trigger, but her actions are a trigger for me.

I’ve posted other times that I have a background of some incidents of sexual abuse. I never told, partly because I was ashamed partly because I guess I wouldn’t have been believed. I haven’t even told the therapist, although my husband knows.

I’ve taught my children to be open with me. Yet this time they tell me they were mistreated, they are treated as liars.

I’m posting to vent, really. And I guess maybe some Catholic advice. We already have the counselor, so please no psychological advice.

On top of this DH and I have been arguing about it. Anytime I try to discuss it outside the counselor’s office, we end up arguing. So please pray for us.

Your therapists’ guidelines (no alone time, kids always supervised) sounds like a good minimum.

I couldn’t bring myself to read the whole thread (just your initial post and your follow up), but WOW!

If she stood your husband up, there’s no point in talking to him about her right now if it causes fights. She’s not in your life, so YAY!

Here’s another suggestion. If you’re going to be somewhere where the other family is, clear it with your bigger children (probably kids 5 and up). Give them the option of staying home. They don’t deserve to be dropped into this sort of social environment against their will.

Good luck!

Thanks. I agree, they shouldn’t have to go if they don’t want to.

I suspect that she has borderline personality syndrome. I’m upset with myself, in a way because even though we always had a difficult relationship I let my guard down and lowered my boundaries. She at times can act “normal”. That made it so difficult to figure her out.

I remember one incident, before she was married where she was hosting one of those parties similar to a Tupperware party where a woman would demonstrate housewares and then the guests order something, and the host gets some freebies.

It was during the work week, I didn’t need anything, so I politely declined the invitation. She snapped at me, that I wasn’t supportive. :shrug: She never asked me, “I need help for my party, will you be able to help?” I was supposed to just know and be at her disposal.

Sigh.

This new information that I learned has sadly caused me to regress a bit. I almost feel that the therapy sessions haven’t been useful, although I know they were.

I have a sister-in-law who sounds very much like yours. The abuse was mostly directed toward me but on occasion she would make cutting and rude remarks to my children.

I realized the situation was never going to improve because I would not allow her to bully me. I have to also tell you that my husband would not stand up to her, even for me and this started to cause a problem in our marriage.

Her last play for control was to get my husband’s work number through my mother in-law so that she could call him only at work where I would not answer the phone. I caught on quickly to this ploy and asked my husband to tell his sister that he was busy and ask her to call him at home that night. She refused and asked him to call her. When I found this out, I decided to conference call her with my husband. My husband told her in a friendly tone that we were calling her together. I said hello in a friendly tone.She refused to speak to us on conference call. Ok so I took her off speaker and she started to berate me "girl you are getting too big for my britches "
( whatever that meant?). Although, my husband could not here her at this point he could understand that she was not being very nice.

My husband and I agreed that from now on, we would not communicate with her without being together, because she preyed on my husband’s weak nature but that someday if we see the opportunity we might be able to find a way to reconcile. Also that we would not send Christmas and birthday cards anymore because she had used this gesture to passive aggressively bully me by addressing (especially the Christmas cards) to him alone and never to me. I never received a birthday card, though I always sent a greeting.

I have to say that this has fostered peace in our marriage but that it is a work in progress and though her is only a half sister that he lived with for about ten years, she is family and I am open to hearing her side of things if she ever wishes to talk to me without malice.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.