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Dealing with a hurtful person is often hard enough. When your partner has hurtful parents, however, it gets even harder, especially when you thought you had a somewhat good relationship with them.

When your partner’s parents can’t see that their own child is hurting you, you may not get the compassion and support you’re looking for from them.

Parents involved Many people may have to deal with emotionally abusive parents of the person they care about. At times, their involvement can be supportive of both parties, but sometimes it’s only supportive of their child.

It’s crucial to recognize that there are parents whose sole concern is their child and not you. Moreover, if their child is unhappy with anything you do, you will undoubtedly hear about it and be blamed for it.

A listener wrote to me, sharing that she has been uncertain about her situation. She said, “I left, and I’m getting my own house, and we’re doing counseling, but we’re not going to counseling together yet.” 

Attending counseling together is a separate matter. I do believe in individual counseling and that there needs to be substantial healing before attending joint sessions. However, counseling together can also be effective. This is her current situation.

She reached out because she thinks she might be the victim, but sometimes she wonders if she is the abuser. This uncertainty is a phase many people experience, questioning whether they are the abusive one or engaging in hurtful behavior, thinking maybe they are at fault. 

However, I’ve found that those who often reflect on whether they are exhibiting abusive behavior tend not to be the abusive person. They are typically not engaging in hurtful behavior, either intentionally or unintentionally.

More often than not, they are the victim of hurtful behavior.

In couples, where one person is abusive and the other is the victim, it’s common for the victim to believe that they are the abuser. In my experience, 99 out of 100 times, the victim is the one who reflects and asks themselves, “What am I doing that’s causing hurt to this person?”

In these situations, individuals often have introspective conversations about their own behavior and consider making changes. To the person who wrote this email, you’re probably not the abusive person.
Though, you may have experienced moments when you couldn’t get your needs met or felt unheard, leading you to engage in behaviors that could be considered abusive by someone who wants to make you think you are.

The individual in question spoke to her family, friends, and even his family and friends, not trying to tarnish his reputation, but to present a fair account of the situation.

He is aware that she talked to others, and his parents are upset with her for leaving him and his children. This is where the parents’ involvement becomes an issue. His parents criticize her for abandoning him and being disloyal, claiming she broke trust by telling the truth.

There are two aspects to consider here. First, she spoke to his friends and family, which might be perceived as breaking trust. It’s not to say they’re in the right, but when you’re trying to understand if someone in your life is being hurtful or abusive, involving their friends and family could be crossing a line. By doing so, you might inadvertently invite them into the abuse cycle and make the person look bad, even if you approach the situation kindly trying to seek understanding.

This involvement can lead to forming a biased picture, creating rifts between yourself and him, his parents, and his friends. This process may isolate him and make him feel targeted.

It may seem like I’m criticizing you, but I want you to be aware that involving his confidants, his family, and friends can pull them into a personal situation they shouldn’t be part of. This involvement puts his family and friends in a difficult position, potentially forcing them to choose sides.

It’s important to be cautious in such situations. Rely on your own support system, including your own family, friends, and therapist, and address the issues and challenges with the people you are closest to.

If you’re close to his family or friends or share mutual friends, that might be different. In such cases, involving them may be more reasonable. However, if you reach out beyond your own bonds, it can set him up to fail. With that said, let’s move on to the other aspect of this situation.

Regardless of whether you involved his parents or not, their accusation of abandonment is worth addressing. To me, this seems like a guilt trip and could be considered emotionally abusive.

You mentioned that his father is a narcissistic alcoholic who thinks he’s righteous and manipulative, and his wife tolerates that behavior. Although she may not be happy, she likely finds herself in a challenging situation.

It’s hard to know what’s happening in their lives, but the fact that his father behaves this way suggests that the family has passed down certain behaviors that your partner might have inherited. He may have developed coping mechanisms as a child or learned these behaviors directly from his parents.

Consequently, he brought these behaviors into your relationship. Now, when his parents say you abandoned their child and criticize you, remember that their primary concern will be their son. While it doesn’t seem like you had a close connection with them, their response doesn’t surprise me, considering the toxic situation they are in.

It’s crucial to remember not to take their words too personally, as it appears his family has its share of toxic elements. It might be challenging not to take their comments personally, but when someone displays such qualities and behaviors, you must consider the source.

When they accuse you of abandonment, it’s a guilt trip intended to make you feel bad. If you feel bad, they can maintain power over you, allowing them to manipulate or control you. While they might want what’s best for their son, it doesn’t give them the right to guilt you, control you, or manipulate you.

Returning to the point about involving people beyond your own bonds, you may have inadvertently invited some of this hurtful behavior. I want to be cautious when saying this – I’m not suggesting that you deserve any abusive behavior. However, involving other people might have expanded your circle of influence and allowed more toxic individuals to enter.

Introducing more people into your personal situation can indeed lead to complications, particularly if those individuals exhibit toxic behavior. This can result in a more challenging situation with multiple sources of toxicity to handle.

In general, it’s not ideal for a partner’s parents to get involved in someone’s relationship. There are rare instances when their involvement might be appropriate, such as supporting a victim in an abusive relationship. For example, if his parents knew you were being victimized and offered help, that would be a different story. Alternatively, if they believed you were the abuser, they might support their child based on the information they’ve received.

The issue arises when manipulation is involved, as evident by their use of the word “abandonment.” This toxic behavior is concerning.

Regarding their claim that you weren’t being loyal, they might have said that because you shared private information about your relationship with them.

However, you have the right to prioritize your well-being and choose not to stay in an abusive situation. Loyalty in the context of an abusive relationship is irrelevant, as the abuser has already violated the relationship contract by hurting the other person.

You can’t be disloyal to an abusive person because the abuser has already been disloyal to you, negating the relationship contract.

It seems that his parents are not acknowledging his abusive behavior towards you, which they may not even believe. This is an issue for your partner and his parents to address. You should let them process the situation as they see fit, as it is their issue to deal with. If your partner genuinely wants you back in his life, he should defend you in front of his parents.

When your partner does not defend you in front of their family and friends, it can lead to feelings of isolation, lack of support, and loneliness. This is why it’s important to maintain your own support system and bonds, allowing both of you to rely on your respective networks during difficult times in the relationship.

Ultimately, what matters is how you feel about the situation and whether you want to live with this type of behavior if it never changes. When considering the future of your relationship, ask yourself if you would be okay with your partner’s behavior if it remains the same. It’s essential to reflect on this and make decisions accordingly.

People often hope or expect their partner to change, especially if they are in therapy or working on themselves. However, it’s crucial to set a realistic timeline for change and make a decision for yourself if progress isn’t made by that date.

To evaluate the progress of your relationship, look at its trend line. Is it consistently improving or leveling out in a stable manner? When your partner claims to be healing and changing, you should be able to observe the trend line moving upward. This means you need to see and feel progress daily or at least weekly, knowing that your partner is genuinely putting in the work to improve.

Ultimately, it’s essential to take a realistic look at your relationship’s past, present, and future to determine if it is moving in a direction that aligns with your well-being and happiness.

What happened yesterday will likely happen today. If you had a good day yesterday, perhaps you’ll have a good day today and a good day tomorrow. You can view this as progress. “Hey, that was a good day. They said this, and it was good. They supported me and disagreed with me on something, but it didn’t turn into a fight. We had a disagreement, and we still got along. It all worked out.”

That’s progress, with the trend line going up and to the right. However, if yesterday was filled with fights or feelings of guilt, that’s not progress. It’s more of the same. This is how to gauge what might come tomorrow, as the trend of what’s been happening is usually an indicator of what will happen.

When someone says they’re healing and working on themselves, that trend line must go up and to the right. There may be times where it levels out, but it needs to keep going up. Otherwise, it’s not working; you’re not seeing changes.

Instead of doubting if they’re changing, you should be confident in your observations. When you see something so different about them that it’s uncharacteristic, almost as if they’re a different person, that’s change. You want to see someone who treats you with kindness and respect, honors your path to happiness, and respects your decisions.

When you disagree, it’s okay because you’re equal adults. You can agree to disagree or have a conversation about it rather than feeling bad, stupid, belittled, bullied, or intimidated, all of which happen in an abusive relationship.

You should feel comfortable moving forward, knowing that most of the time, you are supported, loved, and treated with respect and kindness. In the letter, the writer expressed that they were trying not to be bothered by it but wanted to figure out how to deal with the parents. They didn’t feel like they should apologize, and their partner wanted to undo what was said, which didn’t sit right.

In response to this, if you feel like you did something wrong, you can apologize. If not, you may want to own your actions and not feel bad about what you did or said while trying to save the relationship. However, if you think you crossed a line, it’s up to you to apologize for that. You might say, “Maybe I shouldn’t have told you those things. I should have kept them to ourselves. It was our own personal stuff, and I shouldn’t have involved you. I am sorry about that.” It doesn’t mean you have to apologize for everything, but you can apologize for specific things if you want.

Sometimes we examine our behaviors and realize we didn’t do anything wrong. Don’t apologize merely because you feel expected to do so. If you genuinely believe you made a mistake, that’s a valid reason to apologize.

However, if you think, “No, I didn’t do anything wrong. I feel good about what I did because I was doing it for the right reasons,” then you should own that. Stand by your actions and beliefs.

If you have a partner who doesn’t support your values or asks you to act against them, and you know you didn’t do anything wrong, you may need to reconsider the partnership.

A romantic relationship should involve supporting each other. If your partner dislikes your actions or words, they must address that issue themselves.

If they cannot agree with your values or believe you did something wrong, you might have an ongoing disagreement that you cannot resolve. Your partner has the right to decide whether they can accept your actions or not.

It would be ideal if you could have a discussion and work things out, but ultimately, each person must make their own choice. If your partner has a problem with you, that’s their issue to deal with, just as if you have a problem with them or their family, it’s your issue to address.

In a relationship, each person should handle their own issues with others. When you have a problem with someone else, you can either complain, be angry, make them feel bad, or show them how wrong they are.

Alternatively, you can look inward and ask yourself if this is the kind of person you want in your life. Your partner needs to do the same. If your partner dislikes your behavior and wants you to undo it, but you feel comfortable with your actions and believe you’ve made efforts to save the relationship, it may be time to reassess the situation.

Love, bonding, and commitments can complicate matters, but it ultimately comes down to whether you can tolerate your partner’s actions in your life.

In this case, if he has a problem with something you’re doing, he needs to decide whether that’s something he wants to tolerate in his life. It shouldn’t just come down to toleration; I view this as one of four choices:

  1. Accept someone as they are and stay in the situation.
  2. Reject who they are and stay in the situation.
  3. Accept someone for who they are and leave the situation.
  4. Reject who they are and leave the situation.

You have to make one choice.

If you accept someone and stay in the situation, you can’t complain because you’ve accepted them as they are. On the other hand, if you reject who they are and stay in the situation, you’ll end up making yourself miserable. You’ll reject them, complain, hope they change, want them to change, but they won’t—and yet you’re still there.

If you accept the situation and choose to leave, saying, “That’s who you are, and that’s okay, I’ll leave you be, but I’m going to do something else with my life,” that could be a direction to go. Alternatively, you might reject someone and leave, stating, “I can’t accept who you are. I want you to change, but there’s nothing I can do. I’m leaving.” This is similar to accepting and leaving, but you never reach the point of accepting who they are.

The healthiest scenarios are accepting and staying or accepting and leaving. In both cases, you accept who someone is and either feels good about staying or choose to move on with your life. Some behaviors are not acceptable, but if you reach the point of accepting who someone is, you won’t find yourself complaining anymore. Many people struggle with this.

He needs to do the same thing—accept who you are and be okay with it. That’s when the complaining and arguments stop. When you reject who someone is and stick around, the arguments never end, the abuse never ends, and all the bad, toxic behaviors in a relationship that cause continuous problems are at their worst.

To address the question, navigating a relationship with involved parents can be challenging. If your partner’s parents were heavily involved and constantly calling or giving her a hard time about you, it’s essential for your partner to stand up for you. You wouldn’t want to be with someone who doesn’t see you as the primary connection and bond in their life.

In addition to considering children and healthy family dynamics, your partner should stand up for you, telling others to back off and defending your relationship. You would expect your partner to support you, or at least ignore those causing harm.

My expectation is that my partner loves me. If she didn’t, it would be very difficult, as I would feel isolated and alone. A relationship should not create that feeling of loneliness. Instead, a relationship is about being together, facing the world as a team, and feeling safe in each other’s presence.

When we don’t feel safe, we’re not genuinely in a relationship. We’re not relating or experiencing the comfort, respect, and security that should be present. Without these feelings, we may not achieve satisfaction, happiness, or a sense of well-being that allows us to look forward to each new day.

As for the person who wrote about dealing with interfering parents, it shouldn’t be your responsibility to navigate around them. If their parents are meddling, your partner should stand up for you and establish boundaries. If your partner isn’t doing that, then you may indeed feel alone.

However, there is a way to love your partner and ignore the parents, asserting, “I can’t say anything to them because they won’t listen to me, but I love you, and I’m with you. No matter what they say, I’m not leaving you. This is our relationship, and when we have issues, they’re not involved.”

In some situations, parents may try to meddle, and one or both partners may attempt to ignore them or calm them down. Sometimes parents are uncontrollable, and there’s nothing you can do. In such cases, it might be necessary to ignore them, tell them to back off, or even block them from your lives entirely.

I’m not suggesting you should always stand up against your family. At times, it can be more difficult or complicated than that. However, I hope my insights and opinions help the person who wrote the initial question. 

Share this with someone who might benefit.

Paul Colaianni

Host of Love and Abuse and The Overwhelmed Brain

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