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Dealing With Toxic People (Part One)

(Situations and relationships altered as requested)


 


         Being a well spouse does not exempt you from life’s experiences. In my articles I have tried to raise awareness of what it is like to walk in the shoes of people who are married to the chronically ill. I have tried to relate the common experiences that they encounter, some unique to well spouses, some common to us all. But being well spouses doesn’t exempt them from the life experiences we all share. The uniqueness of their life style may make it more difficult to deal with; just adding another burden to the already overloaded daily experiences.

 

         Many well spouses have written to me asking how, despite their situation, they should deal with the toxic personalities, especially toxic relatives in their lives. Here are some examples of the concerns that have been sent involving well spouses and their toxic “machitanim” (parents of their son or daughter in law).

 

Dear Ann,

 

         I am a widowed well spouse. After two decades of coping with my husband’s illness, he passed away three years ago. My daughter is pregnant and if it is a boy, she would like to name him for her father. I live in the same city as my daughter, while her in laws live far away. I am therefore, the one who helps with baby-sitting, shopping etc. and will be the one to help with her growing family when, G-d willing, she gives birth very shortly. Unfortunately, her in laws have never liked my daughter or us, and have been very open in making everyone who will listen aware of that.

 

         My son-in-law has asked his parents to come up for the Shabbos once the baby is born. His parents’ response is to say that they will only come for Shabbos if I am not present at the Shabbos meals. In the past, my husband and I have always tried to be pleasant and settle any disagreements with our machitanim in a way that is comfortable for everyone. I have a very good relationship with my son-in-law and daughter. I do not want to be responsible for keeping his parents away.

 

         At the same time, I see no reason not to be at my own family simcha. Especially since I will be the one doing all the cooking and baby-sitting the other children once my daughter delivers. But I do not want to put my son-in-law in the position of choosing between his parents and me. I also think that now that I am alone, I will be very uncomfortable spending Shabbos with people who dislike me so much. What should I do?

 

Sincerely,


Still trying to keep peace

 

 

         Since we met, the relationship with our future machitanim has gone steadily down hill. All our attempts to proceed amicably have been met with hostility. If we help our children with the cost of airline tickets when they came to see us, we are accused of “buying them.” If we invite the children for yom tov we are accused of taking away their money, as they will miss work on chol hamoed. If we use Dr. before my husband’s name on the invitation instead of Mr., we are humiliating them because they have no title. They refused to attend the L’chaim we made and then made their own with no wheelchair access rendering it impossible for us to attend. They insist that we host all three Shabbos sheva berachot meals, but they will not make any. It is just a few weeks before the wedding. I am sending you a copy of my latest plea for peace and their response. Please help me find a way to deal with them.

 

         Please help.


 

* * *

 

         The letter that had been sent by “Please Help” to her machitanim was a request for establishing civility between the two families. It acknowledged the different values of the families, while recognizing that neither set of values was right or wrong, just different. “Please Help” begged for a way to compromise so the bride and groom would not be continually hurt by the conflicts. She asked for discussion of disagreements in an atmosphere of mutual respect and compromise.

 

         The response to “Please Help’s” letter was a blanket refusal to any idea of mutual respect and compromise, saying that neither was wanted. Stated very clearly was that there was no desire to have any relationship between the two families after the wedding. Revenge was also implied.

 

         I will discuss toxic people and relatives and how to deal with them in the next weeks.

 

         You can reach me at annnovick@hotmail.com

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More Articles from Ann Novick

When one is blind one learns to use Braille to read. When one cannot walk, a wheelchair gives mobility. Sign language allows a mute person to speak and ocular implants assist in hearing when one is deaf. These are all compensatory strategies that help a person function despite his disability. But compensatory strategies are not just for physical problems. Understanding our psychological weaknesses and setting up our lives to ensure that we are not tempted to repeat our past mistakes, is as necessary as any aid to the disabled.

Well spouses have often discovered that their friends and relatives, despite their closeness to the situation, often don’t realize the tremendous emotional impact living with chronic illness has on the family. With the best intentions, suggestions, ideas and criticism are offered, based on the non-experience of those with healthy families. Even when the good intentioned get a taste of the difficulties, it is sometimes not enough for them to then identify and understand what the family of the chronically ill must face on a constant basis.

Over the past two weeks I have shared letters from a therapist and a well spouse. Both of the letters gave personal insights into the process of losing hope, how we react when that happens and some ways of coping when test scores, diagnosis and just simple repetitive behavior indicate that change for the better is impossible.

Dear Ann,

I’ve read your last few articles on psycho-neurological testing (Oct.8-22) with interest. As a therapist who has counseled couples dealing with chronic illness, I’d like to give you another perspective.

Dear Ann,

Your articles on the Neuro-Psychological Testing were right on (October 8-22). My husband underwent testing twice and your articles explained it things exactly the way they were. Besides the test, we also tried therapy.

Very often when we can’t face our big hurts or big loses we focus on the little ones. We can discuss those. We can cry over the small loses, be angry at the smaller hurts even though it may look trite and sound ridiculous to others.

Over the last two weeks we have been discussing one way in which well spouses can determine whether behavior displayed by their ill partners is caused by their illness or is a way they have chosen to act. We have focused on Psycho-Neurological testing, what it can tell us, as well as its pros and cons.

Last week I discussed a question that haunts many well spouses: not knowing if the difficult and often inappropriate behavior frequently displayed by their partners are caused by the disease and therefore not-controllable, or if the behavior is a choice the spouse makes and can therefore be changed. This doubt can be the source of much frustration and many marital disagreements. One way of alleviating this doubt is by having a psycho- neurological work up done. But that path is not so simple.

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