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Looking for advice about a toxic future Father-in-Law

Looking for advice about a toxic future Father-in-Law2010-06-28T06:41:48+00:00

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    Post count: 173

    I’m an ADHDer, who has recently become engaged to a wonderful man, whom I strongly suspect has ADHD as well. He also has suspicions, but hasn’t gotten around to going in for testing.

    Anyways, I find his father to be a somewhat toxic individual. He’s xenophobic, homophobic, hypercritical, highly suspicious of anything new (recently I was describing a book I had read about mitochondrial DNA, and he immediately jumped to the conclusion that mDNA was some sort of feminist plot, until I explained the biology that makes mDNA something that only mothers can pass on.). My fiance’s Dad hasn’t spoken to his daughter in over 20 years, starting when she was 12! (One day she came home from school, and he didn’t hear her say “Good Afternoon Father” which was something he insisted upon. They had a big fight, and he vowed not to speak to her again until she apologized for being rude. And they never spoke again.) Anything he doesn’t believe in, is immediately denounced as unscientific, whether it’s anthropogenic climate change (According to him, climate change is being caused by the sun, despite the fact that there has been no increase in solar irradiance since they started measuring it with satellites in 1978. Who’s being unscientific here?) or ADHD.

    Anyways, he can always be counted upon to have an opinion on any aspect of my fiance’s life. My fiance has worked for the same company for 16 years. His dad thinks he should move on, and is constantly talking to him about how he should be looking for a new job. My fiance finds the thought overwhelming, and just mostly shuts down during these little chats. So they just keep happening. And my fiance’s dad is completely oblivious to the effect that these talks are having on his son. A couple of weeks ago at dinner while my fiance was in the bathroom, my fiance’s Dad held forth with his theory to my fiance’s brother, his brother’s girlfriend an me, that the reason my fiance doesn’t look for a new job is that he is lazy.

    To make matters worse, my fiance lives in his Grandparents old house, which belongs to his Dad. As you can no doubt imagine, my fiance has issues with clutter and keeping the house clean. His dad is constantly harping on that as well. It’s another area where my fiance is lazy. Nevermind the fact that his dad started renovating 4 rooms of his own house 12 years ago, and has yet to finish a single one. Or that his dad accumulates dirty dishes by the sink all week. (In March, my fiance and I discovered that the turkey pan from Christmas was still sitting beside his Dad’s sink, waiting to be washed! I quietly cleaned it without comment.) So yeah, I think my fiance’s Dad may well be ADHD as well.

    In any case, the house my fiance lives in was built in 1968, and has not been updated since (One bathroom has lavender fixtures, the other avocado.). After we’re married, we really don’t want to live in the house, but my fiance feels an obligation to help his Dad ready it for sale. As you can imagine, a 40 year old house, with a couple of possible ADHDers in charge of it for the past 10 years needs a fair bit of work. (Oh, and did I mention my fiance’s Dad is rather cheap? When we first started talking about getting some renovations done around the house, he announced that they could do the work themselves…Without knowing what the work was, nevermind the fact that he still has 4 unfinished projects in his own home from 12 years ago!)

    Last week my fiance and I went around and catalogued everything that needs to be done to the house to get it saleable, and my fiance emailed the list to his Dad. (I was so proud of my fiance for taking the initiative on that. He’s been immobilized on the issue for over a year.) His Dad responded by asking to come over with his girlfriend who is a real estate agent, to review our assessment of the situation. Once we found out they were coming over, I immediately started trying to straighten up. My fiance did a few things, but then seemed to be slowing down. I asked him what was up, and he told me that he was so used to his dad criticizing him over the mess his house was in, and never acknowledging when he did manage to make some gains that he just didn’t care anymore and tidying didn’t seem worth the effort.

    The evening began with a big ole button push on the part of my fiance’s Dad, who announced that he had brought a big box of green garbage bags for my fiance to put his clutter in. This is a button push because despite the fact that the city where my fiance lives doesn’t allow green garbage bags at the curbside, his Dad insists on bringing them over. When he’s told that the city won’t allow them, he then suggests that whenever my fiance fills one that he should call him, and he will take it to his place where green bags are permitted. This is completely and utterly unnecessary because the city does permit clear garbage bags provided they’re not filled with recyclables (which go in blue ones). Somehow this fact is completely and utterly lost on my fiance’s dad, and has to be spelt out to him in a fair bit of detail. It is also of course a way for his dad to needle my fiance about not keeping the house clutter free enough up to his dad’s standards. (Nevermind that my fiance is living with not only his own clutter, but pretty much everything his grandparents accumulated in the house over 30 + years, except their clothes. Anybody want a collection of Polish LP’s from the 60’s?)

    So once we move on to other topics, things stay pretty cool, until after the walk the around to show them all the stuff on our list. Then my fiance’s Dad starts harping on the clutter again. At this point my fiance just shut down, and sat away from the rest of us, trying to be as small a part of the conversation as possible.

    So here’s my dilemma: It really pains me to see the impact that my fiance’s dad’s negativity has on my fiance but at the same time, I know I can’t swoop in and rescue him. It seems to me that there needs to be some boundaries erected in their relationship, but that needs to come from my fiance, not me. Until that happens, I don’t know what to do.

    Any thoughts or helpful tips about dealing with hypercritical family members?


    Post count: 211

    I think you answered your own question with that last paragraph. At the end of the day, your hubby-to-be will have to take the bull by the horns. Or not. He may resent it if you decide to “help” him.

    You could force the issue of course. The next time father-in-law-to-be says some derogatory, you could tell him to go stuff himself. He’ll then turn on you, and it will be up to your fiance to defend you (thereby calling his father on his abusive behaviour), or not.

    Other than that – I can’t see any way out of this horrific situation.


    Patte Rosebank
    Post count: 1517

    This is one for Ask Ellie, at the Toronto Star. She has considerable experience with “Outlaw In-Laws”—as her TV show is called.

    But what I can tell you is that, no matter how much you love your fiance, you can’t save him. You can only save yourself. And that means, NOT binding yourself to this family. From a legal perspective, walking away from a relationship before marriage is quite simple. Walking away after marriage is hugely complex and expensive. It’s even worse if the relationship has produced any children.

    The big issue here is that your fiance is still tied to the apron-strings of his dad. (I assume his mom is either dead, or has divorced his dad.) Until he decides to cut those strings, there’s no way he can move on to start a family of his own with you. Even if you two do get married, his father will continue to meddle and make your lives hell. And your fiance’s insistence on living with his dad now, strongly suggests that, if you were to get married, he’d insist that you live there too.

    Given the circumstances, I strongly recommend calling off any wedding plans, and taking some time off from your relationship. Your fiance needs to mature and develop the strength to stand up to his bullying father. And you need some time away from this mess. Besides, the prospect of losing you may be the swift kick he needs to stand up to his father. If not, then that’s HIS problem, not yours.

    There are over 6 billion people in the world. He’s not the only one for you.


    Post count: 173

    Larynxa, I think you’ve gotten entirely the wrong impression here. My fiance doesn’t live with his father. His father lives in another city altogether. The house that my fiance lives in belongs to his dad, who inherited it from his parents. My fiance moved in to look after the house after his grandmother died, and just kind of got stuck in a rut. He’s wanted out for years, but has been overwhelmed by everything that needs to be done to get it ready for sale. Together we’ve been making some progress on that.


    Post count: 27

    The fact is, you can’t set boundaries for your fiance. You can only set them for you. That said, you can set boundaries around your father-in-law, for example saying you will not tolerate homophobia, racism, etc.. And don’t.

    I’ve just been reading Gina Pera’s book about relationships, “Is It You, Me, or the ADD?” and she has all kinds of great advice. But it seems to me a lot of it comes under the heading of communication. And standing up for yourself and what you believe in.

    You can’t set your fiances boundaries with his toxic father, but you can set yours.

    I was at an event 20 years ago, in as mall town, and a guy started telling racist jokes. And I said nothing. But my friend else called him on it and said he didn’t think it was funny and so on. The joke teller was stunned, then came up a few minutes later and apologized and thanked my friend. I was shocked.

    Maybe people want to be called to more than they are.


    It may backfire. In which case you won’t have to deal with him! Ha ha!

    I just know what when I don’t stand up for myself I feel terrible afterwards. Now I always think, what would I want my kids to do? What would make me proud of them? And then I do that.


    Post count: 14413

    Hi Ivriniel…

    I’m from a dysfunctional, addicted toxic family and have become quite sane over the years.

    Here’s how to do it:

    Accept that the toxic person is not going to change and minimize your exposure to him. The father-in-law will continue to be his crappy old self no matter what. Accept this and move on with your life by planning for his crappy toxic behaviour. That’s him. Everything he does keeps the spotlight on him…the attention on him….everything about him. That’s why he does it. So don’t feed into it. He wouldn’t do it unless there was a payoff.

    Your financee needs to accept that his father is not going to change and he will never get the approval he is seeking from his father. He will have to do the changing in his expectations of his father. If not, they will continue to do this dance forever.

    There was a saying that I heard that was brilliant….

    ‘None of us got the parents we thought we deserved..’

    My advice to you is to stay out of it as much as possible. Your financee has to figure it out for himself.

    Also deep down he may not want to change the relationship with his father, just complain about it, and thus manipulating you (either consciously or unconsciously) to come in and save or help him.

    If he is grown enough to consider being a husband, then he has to act like a man with his father, not a boy, and take control of the situation, ADHD or not. How he handles this is indicitive of how he handles other things.

    Do you want to be a partner or his mom for the rest of your lives????

    I lived with someone like this. You need a partner, not a kid at this point in your life. It gets tired really fast.

    So what’s the worst that can happen? The house doesn’t get reno’d….so what? It will still sell.

    Don’t get dragged into this..not your battle, unless you want all this to become the focus of your life.

    If your financee does not resolve this, then you must make the decision if you want this misery to be the rest of your life or not. If you marry him and he does not resolve his issues with his father, then this is how your life will ALWAYS be. Over this or that, but the same crap.

    Is this what you want?


    Post count: 14413

    Your fiancé is in an abusive relationship with is father. Unfortunately, he needs to realise this and cut ties.

    My parents weren’t as bad, but I was also constantly being called on the state of my room, the fact that I “never” practiced my music, that I’d let my third language go, that I was lazy, etc etc etc.

    I put my foot down about them having to accept my own fiancé after I moved out, and they haven’t spoken to me since. Your fiancé may have to do something similar, and cut the old man out of his life.

    Have you thought about suggesting counselling to your fiancé? This has clearly had a huge impact on him, and seeing a professional about how it has affected him may be of some benefit.

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