Relationship Connection: My mother-in-law married an abusive man

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Question

My husband’s mother remarried about a year ago. We tried to welcome him with open arms, but his behavior has complicated the situation. He is short-tempered with a tendency toward physical violence. He has physically attacked multiple people during the time we have known him.

While he and my mother-in-law were still dating, he attacked my husband’s older brother when he told this guy to stop calling his mother “stupid.”

A couple weeks later, he attacked someone else, who pressed charges, and he went to jail. My mother-in-law promptly bailed him out and married him.

We still tried to give him a chance, but the last straw occurred two months ago when he physically assaulted and threatened to kill my mother-in-law. She said she was going to divorce him, but she changed her mind and opted instead for marriage counseling.

We are no longer interested in attending events in which he is present, especially as we have three very young children. I do not think our concerns are without merit, as I once actually witnessed him swatting my 9-year-old nephew simply for “being hyper.”

My mother-in-law doesn’t seem to understand our concern and chooses to stay with him for fear of being alone. Any advice?

Answer

Your mother-in-law is in serious trouble, but she obviously can’t see it. Her husband is dangerous to other people and she’s not only going to find herself separated from her children and grandchildren but also seriously injured or possibly dead. I can only imagine how agonizing this is for you to witness.

Here are some things you can do:

I think you’re wise to protect your family from being in his presence. He can’t control himself and you don’t need to expose yourselves to his impulsive and violent behaviors. I encourage you to warn other family members who may not know so they can also protect their children.

Next, it’s time to stage an intervention with your mother-in-law. I usually recommend people allow family members to work out their own relationship difficulties, but this is not a safe situation. Your husband needs to contact his other siblings and any other family members who would have a positive influence on her so you can all meet with your mother-in-law without her husband present.

It might be difficult to get her alone, as abusers will often sense that something like this is going to happen and they will make it virtually impossible to spend time with her alone. I’m sure you can all come up with a plan that will work.

The purpose of the meeting is to send a clear message to your mother-in-law that she’s in danger. Consider meeting with a counselor prior to the meeting to help you structure it and even possibly facilitate it. Even though you may have shared your concerns with her at different times, this is an opportunity for you to offer to house her, protect her and help her to get away from her abusive husband. She will need to know that she won’t be alone, that she will have financial support and that you will get her to proper counseling and resources to help this last.

If she won’t allow all of you to protect her from her abusive husband, then you have to clarify and reinforce the boundaries you’re using to protect your families from his abusive behavior. If he does something illegal, you can certainly report it to the authorities again, but there is nothing you can do to force your mother-in-law to protect herself. We can only hope that she will hear and respond to your concerns for her safety and well-being.

Stay connected!

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

Facebook: facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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