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How do you deal with toxic extended family members?

On Behalf of | Jun 10, 2024 | Divorce |

A divorce may end a marriage, but it does not end your parental obligations. In turn, you likely still have regular contact with your ex-spouse and perhaps their family. They are still your child’s family, after all.

In some cases, this can be a stressful situation, especially if an ex-spouse’s family exhibits toxic or hostile behavior towards you. What can you do in these cases?

1. Do not engage

As Psychology Today notes, avoiding any engagement is one of the most important steps you can take when dealing with toxic extended family members. Whether harassing or snide comments are made in person or over text messages, do not engage.

This is easier said than done, as it is only natural that you want to defend yourself. For example, it can be difficult to hear your former in-laws blame you for the divorce or other family issues, or even believe falsehoods spread by your ex-spouse.

However, they are most often seeking a response. It is better not to give them one. Remain civil, and do not acknowledge or respond to the comments. This can also help prevent escalation.

It helps to set boundaries, but your former in-laws may not respect them, and continue to send messages. You should keep a record of the comments you receive, just in case.

2. Rely on a third party

While your friends and family should not engage with your former in-laws’ toxic behavior either, they can help to support you – and protect you. For example, if the behavior only occurs when you are alone with these extended family members, you can bring a loved one along to deter them. A trusted friend may be able to act as a neutral third party who also helps prevent these situations from escalating.

3. Protect your kids

What do you do if this extended family member’s behavior starts to affect your children? They may overhear your former in-laws badmouth you or even witness their treatment of you. To protect your relationship with your kids, you may have to take further action.

Speaking with your ex-spouse is the first step to help reinforce these boundaries and limit any contact you have with their family. However, you may even have to adjust the terms of your custody agreements, which can address interactions with extended family members.

As parents, it is both of your responsibilities to protect your children. So, when family members’ behavior affects them you may need a more active plan aside from not engaging or acknowledging the negative, toxic behavior.