5/8/14 Crowded Out

Sunday , 4, May 2014 Leave a comment

Dear Susan:

When I was dating my husband, I knew that his family was something else. But we lived a couple of states away. I was able to make it through holiday gatherings and they never came to visit us. Last year my husband hurt himself on the job. His Worker’s Comp is running out and we are waiting for a disability hearing. I tried to take on the role of bread-winner, but was only able to find a part-time job that wouldn’t allow us to keep our house.

Long story short, we moved “back home” to his family property. They own about 50 acres. Most of it is rented out as pasture and they all live on about two acres. These people have been there for generations and very few of them ever left. There is the old family house – over 100 years old and crumbling – and a collection of trailers scattered around like toys in a play yard. All told there are 15 adults (none of them working much) and seven children. That is not counting me, my husband and our two kids.

These people think nothing of just barging into our home any time or day or night. They “hang out” at our house for days on end. And everything I do or say is met with suspicion and disapproval. What makes it worst is that my husband seems to be devolving right back into the mess. He lies around like the rest of them, complaining about the world and his circumstances, never lifting a finger to help me or be involved with his kids.

I love my husband, but I don’t know how much more of this I can take. Any advice?

Crowded Out

Dear Crowded:

In the psych world we call this “enmeshment” and it is a serious form of dysfunction. While most people want to be close to their family, there is such a thing as TOO close. Enmeshed families get involved in every aspect of each other’s lives. They often have to get a consensus before making even the most trivial of decisions. The unspoken rule is “The family is more important than anything else”. That means they protect each other from “outsiders” and keep all the skeletons firmly in the closet.

But despite all that loyalty, they usually aren’t particularly kind to each other. While you’d better respect them, they think nothing of tearing each other apart. It is usually non-stop drama with everyone mad at someone and alliances being formed and dissolved at a bewildering pace. In short, it is the kind of dysfunction that tends to heighten all other forms of dysfunction whether that be substance abuse, sexual abuse, or psychopathic behavior.

My advice? GET THE FUDGE OUTTA THERE! Once your husband gets his disability, insist that you get your own place, even if it means you have to work full time to help out. It is a small price to pay! In the meantime, get out as much as you can. Find some volunteer work to do while the kids are at school, join a church or civic organization, sign the kids up for sports or other activities. Be gone as much as you can and avoid getting drawn into all the infighting.

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