My Husband Made His Family Hate Me

Shannon Ashley

Why you should never, ever let somebody do the same thing to you. by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

My husband had a complicated relationship with his mother. He resented her for leaving his father, for leaving his first stepfather, and for getting married a third time. He resented her for (supposedly) having affairs with her second and third husbands.

At the heart of his resentment, however, there was a good bit of insecurity. She had expressed never really loving his dad as more than a friend or brother. And I could see that my ex felt as if she loved his brother and sister from her subsequent marriages more than she ever loved him.

As an outsider, it was easy for me to see that the insecurities weren’t all in my husband’s head. During our dating relationship, I had seen firsthand how much his mother seemed to dote on his siblings.

Her relationship with my husband was much less gentle and almost acerbic. She picked more at her firstborn. Joked more, but it was often sarcastic. And although I didn’t actually believe she loved him any less, I felt she certainly sent him the wrong message without realizing it.

Yet, there was a sort of irony to my husband’s relationship with his mom. As much as he resented her, he also wanted to make her proud of him. And he even admitted to being something of a mama’s boy.

In all my years of dating, I don’t think I’ve ever run into such a complex and contradictory dynamic between a mother and her adult son. And in those days, I was just naive enough to think it wouldn’t have to affect me.

As if marrying my husband wasn’t also marrying into his family.

In reality, it didn’t take long for his unhealthy relationship with his mother to weigh down upon me and our connection too.

After the wedding and honeymoon, we briefly lived in his mother’s home until we could move into family housing on campus at his school in Edwardsville, Illinois. But once we moved, I noticed that my husband became less and less interested in visiting his mom or even talking to her on the phone.

He was, however, feeling extremely guilty about “letting her down.” His remedy for this predicament was to essentially blame me. Before I processed what was happening, he was using me as an excuse to his mother for why he didn’t come over or call more often.

It was always something about how I wasn’t feeling well or he promised me we’d do something else. And it was ridiculous.

“You can’t make me your scapegoat,” I told my husband. “If you don’t want to see your mom, you need to be honest. Using me as an excuse is only going to make your family hate me.”

Despite my strong feelings, my husband keep making me his reason for skipping out on family things. I wanted to get to the bottom of all of it, so I talked further to my husband about his relationship with his mother.

That’s how I began to more fully grasp that he was jealous of his siblings for all of the time, energy, and resources she gave them.

I saw how his mom went shopping every Tuesday and picked up practically every new children’s home release video for her daughter, like it was nothing. No big deal. I saw how she didn’t blink at spending money on my husband’s younger brother for his track gear. No expense was too great.

And then I saw how she made snide remarks to my husband about how he might be wasting his money on music and his band. She wasn’t even helping him with money, but she was constantly picking and criticizing him about it.

I understood why he felt less loved.

After maybe a year or so of marriage and observing their strange dynamic, I asked my husband if he wanted me to say something to her. I didn’t want him to keep using me as a scapegoat to avoid his mom, and I wanted them to develop a healthier connection.

To my surprise, he did want me to say something. So, I decided to carefully write an email.

It wasn’t easy. I knew that no matter how thoughtful I was with my words, they could be misconstrued. But I was willing to speak up and say something if there was even the chance it might help.

Of course, I was careful to not be accusatory. I made an effort to simply express my observations in a non-judgmental way. I explained some of the feelings that my husband had expressed and how I’d like for him (and me) to spend more time with the rest of the family.

In hindsight, her reply wasn’t really that unpredictable. My husband had, after all, used me as the reason he skipped out on family events for a year. While I was willing to pick my battles and deal with at least some issues, he wasn’t willing to fight for much of anything.

His mother replied that she and her husband had “always known” I didn’t like my husband’s siblings. She went on to list all of her grievances with me. There were a lot, but mainly, she didn’t think I behaved right. I wasn’t talkative enough and apparently that was suspicious. She said my husband’s sister (8) and brother (15) complained that I didn’t talk enough to them.

Who knows? At 21 years old, I was pretty shy. Kids made me nervous, but I did my best to say hi and ask how they were doing. Sure, I got beet red when my little sister in law asked me questions about what was on my face (um, acne). But I answered kindly and honestly. Maybe I wasn’t too much fun, since I felt like I was halfway between being a child and being an adult.

The truth, of course, is that relations between me and my mother in law, or the rest of my husband’s family would never improve. I couldn’t repair the damage he did when he used me as a scapegoat in dealing with them.

I didn’t understand back then how much I needed him to step up, speak up, and take responsibility for his own choices.

Now that I’m older, I have to admit that I wouldn’t stay in a relationship with somebody who used me as an excuse. You should never allow a partner to make you their scapegoat like my husband did. All it does is bring bad blood.

Scapegoating isn’t something we talk about in marriage as much as we probably should. I sort of fell into being a scapegoat because I was young and naive, but it happens with older and supposedly wiser couples as well.

According to Sharie Stines, Psy.D, I had a lot of the traits that make a person a “good” scapegoat. Those traits include:

  • Somebody with compassion and empathy
  • A person who is self-sacrificing
  • Somebody who easily forgives
  • Someone who tends to have an external locus of control
  • One who isn’t good at identifying manipulation or abuse

There are many reasons why scapegoating sucks, but ultimately, it keeps a family or relationship dysfunctional and prevents an individual from doing important self-work.

Whenever my husband blamed a problem on me, he didn’t have to deal with the root of his own issues. And as long as I accepted that abuse, I wasn’t improving myself either.

While I have always been somebody who picks their battles, I’m not always a gear picker. The battle I really needed to pick was with my husband. I should have put my foot down and refused to take on the role of scapegoat.

Do you know what usually happens when you let somebody use you as a scapegoat? Even when they do it to protect themselves from their family as my husband did, they end up resenting you. The person they used as an excuse is no longer just a cover. Eventually, they believe their lies about you because they tell them so much. And because they want it to be true.

At the time, my husband didn’t want to be held accountable for having a better relationship with his mom. He didn’t want to figure out why his knee jerk reaction to spending time with his family was a big nope.

As long as he could blame me, he didn’t need to work on himself. And let’s be honest, he was my scapegoat for a few things too. If I’m going to be transparent about my history with romantic relationships, it’s been easier to be something of a victim than to advocate for myself.

None of my serious partners ener wanted to help me learn how to drive. So, I accepted a life where I just didn’t get my license. Not until I was 37 and had to start getting my daughter to and from school every day.

Getting my driver’s license so late in life helped me realize how I let my former partners take the blame for my own lack of development. Would my life had been easier if my husband had wanted to teach me how to drive? Of course. But when he made excuses, I never advocated for me. I never decided to get my license without him. I just let it go.

And I did the same thing with every partner after my divorce.

That was a huge mistake.

It pays to watch out for scapegoating in your relationships, and it’s important to recognize that it’s not always one-sided. It’s possible to scapegoat each other and stunt our growth just because it’s so easy.

If you notice that either you or your partner have a tendency to use the other person as a scapegoat, don’t just sit on that information. Waiting is only going to make the problem worse.

You need to come clean with yourself, each other, your family, and anyone else impacted by the lies. Even if it seems like a harmless little white lie and “no big deal.” Scapegoating is a big deal because it’s the sort of habit that quickly multiplies.

And it doesn’t suddenly get better on its own. People don’t suddenly wake up wishing to take ownership of their lives in the areas where they’ve been coasting for so long. People who put off personal development typically continue to put it off until they absolutely have to change. But it’s hard to say when anybody will get to that point without exterior pressure.

Which means this is one area where you’ve got to be a squeaky wheel. Advocate for yourself and your relationship. Refuse to use your partner as a crutch and refuse to let them use you. Encourage each other to be honest and choose their battles wisely, without putting their emotional development all on you.

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Single mama, full-time writer, ex-vangelical. It's not about being flawless, it's about being honest. I cover real-life issues, like family, parenting, relationships, and spiritual abuse.

Cleveland, TN

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