Reader question #72: A long and harrowing tale of dealing with emotional terrorists.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I just had the weekend from hell. There was really no foreshadowing that the weekend would work out so horribly, but now that it has, I feel like it’s foreshadowing an even more hellish future.

I recently relocated with my partner to a beautiful, comfortable city about 2800 miles away from the expensive, cut-throat city where we went to school together. The former city happens to be where his family still resides, (only not technically the city, the suburbs). Things have been so much better for me here in almost every way. Since moving here, I’ve mysteriously quit smoking, gone for the longest stretch of eating disorder sobriety I’ve had since I was 19, and learned a ton of instruments, art techniques, and other nifty tricks. My partner has found a better job, loves having trees and hot springs for us to visit on the weekends, and has seemed more in love with me here than he seemed to ever have the time to be before we moved. All of that sounds well and good, but people here are socially awkward and my partner is used to having tons of friends, as he’s lived in the same area since he was a child. It’s really the only drawback for me, but having moved far away from home before and starting my own life from scratch, I’m kind of used to it and feel it’s an important experience for people to go through. )

Last week I was in a car accident and injured. I went to the hospital, was X-rayed, and given a prescription for narcotic painkillers. That night, my partner’s sisters announced, entirely out of the blue, that they were going to be arriving in our city the next night and that we were all going to a camping festival in the mountains together. I was happy that they were coming- I’ve always felt very close to his sisters and I’ve missed them a great deal. I’ve been asking him ever since the second week we moved here when they would come to visit. We’ve spent hours talking on the phone, hanging out in person, and just generally getting along really well. They’ve claimed to have dreams where I’ve saved them from danger. One of them I’ve felt the most in common with from almost any other person I’ve met, but all of them I regularly ask my spirits to protect. Cool story bro, perhaps, but I wanted to give some background as to why I expected them to empathize with my injury and perhaps take it into consideration before deciding that we should go hiking in the mountains and camping far from any hospitals. It’s aside from the point that my partner and I had plans for the 4th of July. It’s also aside from the point that we had a guest in town already, who had told us they were coming months prior, visiting from the former city.

The night they were arriving, I allowed my partner to use my wrecked car, despite the insurance agent telling me not to drive it, so that his sisters would not have to wait at the airport. He asked me to get dressed and be ready to do something with them when they came, which I did. Only that time never came. He would call to update me on the situation every hour or so, but long story short, it was nearly six in the morning when he came back. I had been waiting, hungry, and in too much pain to reasonably accommodate myself. I kept calling because I was upset and didn’t understand what took so long. I found out that they had rented a car- yet, were insisting on being ferried around in my wrecked car, to go to the grocery store at 4am. Why my car had to be used is a mystery. My partner came home at 6am and yelled at me for not giving him time with his sisters. His sisters apparently took my need for care and considerations for my car insurance to be controlling, dominating, and trying to keep them apart (!).

The next morning, my partner invites them to our apartment to discuss their plans. They’re too busy. They “want to see downtown”. He asks them if they will drive us to a car rental place because my insurance is covering a rental and my regular car isn’t drivable. They “didn’t come to ____ to help me rent a car”. Instead of trying to figure everything out together, they take off without him, and expect us to just come to the mountains and meet them there. My partner is not insured to drive the rental, so it basically translates to they are expecting me, with my injury, to not take my medications in order to drive out to do something I had already expressed I felt unable to do.

After a lot of yelling and my partner having a breakdown, I agree to just suck it up and drive him out there, despite throwing up from spasms in my leg, shoulder, and back. I am dizzy and unable to keep down any food. Not an ideal driver to forge into the mountains, but if it will enable him to see his family, who he hasn’t seen in seven months, then fine. When we get there, there are miles and miles of cars parked alongside a one lane road and people walking with heavy packs. We offer some people a ride towards the gate, curious to know where it is to try to find better parking. On the way, we run into his sisters, who are trying to hike up a mountain with rolly bags and enough luggage to think they’re going on a trans-Atlantic cruise. I tell everyone in the car to make room for them. Then apparently only two of them get in and two stay, unbeknownst to me, who made everyone move to make room for them and their luggage.

It takes two hours to get to the top, in stop and start traffic, winding up a one lane, gravel road, with a cliff on one side. It’s midnight when we reach the top. I look for parking. This causes a complete breakdown. WE HAVE TO GO BACK FOR THE TWO LEFT BEHIND. Two were left behind? Jesus, who knew? And why? Why were they left behind when there was room for them? And go back? Why did we go up there to begin with?

I get out of the car and vomit from the pain of stop start driving for two hours, but then go back to get the other two. Right back to where we started. I tell my partner that I’m unable to drive any further. That I am in too much pain. That I am ready to go to the meadow where my partner agreed that we could camp at earlier, which is just down the road. This is unacceptable. DRIVE THE FUCKING CAR. JUST FUCKING DRIVE. WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON. DRIVE DRIVE DRIVE. WHAT THE FUCK IS YOUR PROBLEM. I’m shocked. I begin to cry. Everyone starts screaming and demanding that I drive them. That GODDAMMIT, they are going to the top. When I try to explain that I’m injured and not even supposed to be driving at all, they begin to demand to drive. I explain that it’s a rental and they are not insured. They offer to pay for any damage. They do not offer to pay for my insurance premiums for the rest of my life, which any damage would cause to raise substantially on top of the accident I was just involved in. Apparently this is unreasonable. I’m ruining everyone’s time. I’m trying to spoil things for everyone. My partner needs to be a man and just make me do what I’ve voiced being uncomfortable doing.

When my partner says that making me drive any more is ridiculous and to respect what I’m saying, lots of drama ensues, but they claim to disown him and say that I’m tearing their family apart. We end up sleeping in our respective cars, away from each other, only my partner and I don’t sleep and cry the entire night. We try to leave the next morning, but he sees their car and “tries to make it work.” The plan for making it work is my driving to the summit again and trying to spend a day there. I agree, though pale and ill and nearly unable to move my legs. Because I love his family and I love my partner and I want him to see his family. It doesn’t work out. They can’t park close enough, get frustrated, and decide to just leave and go back to a fancy hotel near the city we’re living in.

They refuse to see me the rest of their trip. But they have my partner come to their hotel to tell him that I’m emotionally abusive, controlling, and that our relationship is unhealthy. He should move back to the city we left because he’s abandoning their family and choosing me over them. They even went so far as to flat out lie about me and say that I told them that I was still in love with my ex and that my partner is just a replacement. Insane, first of all, and second of all, why would anyone tell something like that to their partner’s sisters? It’s just ludicrously implausible. My partner has asked me every time I tell him that I love him since then, if that’s true, and if I don’t just love my ex, which brings up so much baggage for both of us that it’s unforgivable. It becomes clear at this point, to me, that they did not come on this trip to see us or see our new city, but to try to break us up and take him back with them. Every time he tried to explain to them that I was injured and that they were treating me unfairly, they told him that just by mentioning my needs, he was yet again, only thinking of me.

I feel like almost no one thought of me. I still feel that way. I feel so disrespected and mistreated and abused that it’s insane. I have been physically assaulted and find this more hurtful in comparison- this was an extended weekend and the cruelty came from people that I loved and desperately wanted to see. At least my attackers were kind enough to limit the assault to an hour or two and leave my relationship and life out of it. I always wanted sisters and felt like I had them in my partner’s family. I am so shocked and hurt by their behavior that I really can’t even begin to describe it.

Growing up, my father’s family felt the same way about my mother. She was always excluded from everything on their side of the family. She was called names, my dad was even offered a monetary bribe to leave her, and every time my brother and I were supposed to see our grandparents, it seemed like a betrayal of our mother. My partner and I have been more serious about our relationship and it troubles me that this is potentially a future, not only for myself, repeating the position of my poor mother, who was destroyed by such treatment, but also if we have kids, putting them in the same pool of shit that my brother and I were made to wade in.

I love my partner and I want to be a part of his family. My family loves and accepts him as a part of our family. I don’t see “your family” and “my family”. I want “our family”. My partner claims to want the same. We’ve been best friends for five years and together for nearly three. There has never been a problem between his family and I until we moved. He himself tells me that they’re codependent, manipulative and treat each other like this all the time. But it’s unacceptable to me to be treated this way. Furthermore, both of my parents have terminal illnesses and it’s important to me that any partner I do have treats me as part of their family, as my own family won’t be around to likely see much of my adulthood.

I realize this is a novel, but I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to leave my partner, but I want a future together and I can’t bare the idea of it being my mother’s future. I also can’t bare the idea of moving back to a city I hated, and I feel his family is trying to manipulate things to make it so.


Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?


This story made my eyes bleed tears of blood.

I am so sorry that these people you loved and trusted have turned into Emotional Terrorists.

As soon as I got done reading your story, I googled “Crazymakers” – credit to Julia Cameron of The Artist’s Way for that one – because that’s what you are dealing with here.  Here’s a good summary of Cameron’s work from the great site Think Like A Black Belt, which helps people deal with bullying (and whose entire archive Captain Awkward will be reading later today):

1)  Their time, schedules, energy, drama, and life issues always outweigh yours
From the book:

“Crazymakers thrive on drama, and melodrama requires a sense of impending doom. Everything is an emergency, a deadline, a matter of life and death, or something they will get to eventually. Read ‘never’ … Nearly any situation can be cast as melodrama to support a crazymaker’s plot lines …”

2)  They expect special treatment
As the book authors write,

“They suffer a colorful variety of ailments that require your care whenever you have an important deadline or anything that deflects your attention from their demands.”

They also demand special treatment in their daily lives:

  • Do you know that man or woman who loves to insist the doctor or chiropractor in the house stop what they are doing and treat them right now?
  • Ever met someone who grandiosely insists the dining party sit a certain place in a restaurant?
  • Have you watched someone work a situation so they always come across as the Alpha wolf, whether they deserve the leadership position or not?

3 )  They belittle and downplay your needs, emergencies, and requests
Despite howling over a broken nail, a crazymaker will say your requests for their time or help are just so much drama — a way for you to get attention. They might also add, that you are disrespectfully expecting too much of their good will or prevailing too much on their valuable time.

“Crazymakers discount your reality. Your pressing agendas – however real – are never as real, as important, as critical as a crazymaker’s drama of the moment.”

4) They triangulate to stay in power
One Dark Heart I know compartmentalizes all information so much one staff member doesn’t know what the other is doing, so no real coordination can occur. Of course coordination like that would mean some power slips into the hands of the staff, and a narcissist can’t handle that.

Crazymakers also elevate gossip to an art form of power and control. (But be wary of accusing them of it, or they will say they are only trying to help others and how could you be so cruel to think otherwise?)

“They are experts at gossip, at feeding paranoia, at driving wedges between working colleagues.”

One Dark Heart made sure I knew who the sole dissenting voter was in a secret meeting involving a decision about me. Despite saying that he wanted teamwork among his staff, he tried to subtlety create rivalry instead.

5) They sow the wind, while others reap the whirlwind
When I think of the term crazymaker, I see Taz, the cartoon Tasmanian Devil, stirring up the world with his manic spins. Dark Hearts adore making much ado about nothing. As the authors put it:

  • “A crazymaker is someone who makes you crazy by constantly stirring up storms.”
  • “‘Normal’ doesn’t serve their need for power.”
  • “Everything is always their problem, but nothing is their fault.”

Sound familiar?

Here’s what you have to know about these people. They will never apologize and it will always be your fault. If you express a need or displeasure, they will wonder “Why are you always exaggerating?” If you call them out on what happened, your version of what happened will be wrong. Logic, evidence, common sense, the social contract = totally meaningless to these motherfuckers. They want what they want when they want it, and they are called crazymakers because they make you question your sanity over and over again. The best thing ever (in their eyes) would be to make you blow up and scream at them, because then they’ll sit back and say “See? We told you she’s totally unreasonable.”

That’s how terrorists operate. They ignore all the “rules” of conventional warfare, so none of your defenses that would work against traditional attacks will work against them.

There is no perfect way to deal with crazymakers, unfortunately. What I can offer you is a combination of 1) Severely limiting contact 2) Teaching yourself not to expect anything or need anything from them 3) If they are suddenly nice to you, do not trust it – there is a hidden agenda. Reveal nothing! 4) Remind yourself “It’s not me, it’s them” over and over again, 5) Use mantras and bland, neutral politeness to respond to them so that you can calmly hold your ground. 6) Ask the other person directly for their best-case scenario.

So, step by step:

1) Severely limit contact. Good thing you live 2800 miles away and will only see them very occasionally! Their next visit will be godfuckingawful, but not as bad as this one, because you will be prepared for the awfulness. Also, guess who deals with them from now on? That’s right! Your partner! Not you. Any questions they ask you, any stuff they say to you, gets the response “So nice to hear from you, why don’t you check with (partner) about that?”

2) Keep your expectations low. They suck. Believe in the suck. Trust the suck. Before your standard for your relationship with them was “OMG, I love you guys, and you are like my very own sisters!” Now the best you can hope for is “They behave like fucking grownups for 2 hours in a row and no one has to die.”

3) Be gracious and let them save face, but don’t get sucked in. If they apologize and are nice (doubtful, but they may try that in pursuit of their agenda), you can just say “Yeah, that was a really rough weekend for me, so I appreciate the apology” but don’t get sucked in to sharing close sisterly confidences or try to rehash it. They suck.

4) It is not you, it is them. It is not you, it is them. You did nothing wrong. They acted like assholes. It is not you. It was not you. It will not be you next time. Or the time after that. It is them.

5) Mantras!

Here is a long official complex definition of a mantra, and I love the short definition: “a sound, syllable, word, or group of words that is considered capable of creating transformation.”

In dealing with a crazymaker, a mantra is a thing you can repeat over and over with varying wording, in response to their unreasonable requests and statements. It’s a way of acknowledging that you’ve heard them without giving them an argument that they can latch on to. I’ve written about it before as a way to respond to “concerned” family members who say mean things to you without escalating things. You find some kind of neutral, mostly positive statement and recycle it until they shut the fuck up and go away because you’re not going to give them the argument they’re looking for.

A former boss taught me about mantras in dealing with crazymaking people, and it was incredibly, incredibly useful. Her personal example involved a stepdaughter who was planning a wedding and using that process to manipulate and punish her dad (who was paying for everything) for leaving when she was a kid by making everything as difficult as possible. When she would make an unreasonable request or cancel things halfway through or threaten to flounce, my boss and her husband would just say some version of “We just want you to have the wedding you want to.” “Here’s our budget, you use that in whatever way that will make you happy.” “We just want you to have a great wedding that will make you happy.”

So for your partner’s sisters, a mantra might have looked like this: “I’m really glad to see you guys and want you to have a great visit.” “I wish I could spend more time with you, but (injury), so I want you to have a great visit with (partner).” “Thank you so much for coming to visit us, we’ve both missed you so much.”

It doesn’t matter if the mantra is full of white lies. You could be thinking “KEEP YOUR DISTANCE, POISONOUS CUNTS!” in your head. It won’t win the argument, but it will help you become Teflon and deflect a lot of the argument.

6) Ask for the best-case scenario. When you’re fighting with someone you can sometimes get bogged down in hurt feelings (with good reason, obviously) and the details – “But you said ____!” And sometimes it’s helpful to stop all that, and say “Okay, I don’t like how this conversation is going and I don’t want us to keep sniping at each other, so can I ask you a question? If this works out exactly how you want it to, and you get everything you want, what does that look like? Can you tell me what your best-case scenario is for how this goes from now on?”

This can have a really magical effect on an argument sometimes. A person who is normally caring and cool and who is arguing in good faith will give you a thoughtful, good answer that cuts through all the petty bullshit, and together you find out that you probably agree more than you disagree. It’s a way to get the other person to admit what they really want, from the heart, and that’s a good basis for discussion instead of talking about all these side issues.

When dealing with a person who is uncaring and uncool and who is arguing in bad faith, asking for the best-case scenario can work to a) refocus the conversation on a positive outcome vs. all the ways they are unhappy and b) force them to admit their real agenda (or that they can’t actually be satisfied because what they want is completely unreasonable).

It doesn’t always work (for example, sometimes what they want is something you can’t give) but asking the question can get you at what’s real.  The short, sweet version of this is asking “What do you suggest?” when someone is finding fault with everything but refusing to help solve the problem.

Now let’s talk about your partner and the way they spun his head. You’ve got to have a post-mortem with him, yes?

This is tricky. The sisters were MASTERS of finding the fault lines – family obligations and missing old friends and the close community he had in your old city (any chance he’s the only boy?), suspicions about your feelings for your ex, trying to paint you as controlling and unreasonable – and because they are family you are on shaky ground because the more you criticize his family the more you put pressure on him to defend them and put him in the middle. The sisters would LOVE to have him in the middle of a girlfriend vs. family fight, that’s RIGHT where they want him. That’s right where they put him.

What you need him to say to his family is “Of course I love all of you, and I do miss you living out here, but I also love my partner and I am very happy here – this is where we need to be right now, and I want you to respect that she is also my family. Please come visit us, and we will of course come visit you, and please find a way to be happy for me and treat both of us with respect and kindness.”

And when they say mean things about you or disrespect your boundaries, you need him to stand up for you. “I find that really hard to believe. How are you doing? (Or other subject change).”

So unfortunately you are at a disadvantage in talking about this, because you have boundaries and ethics and manners and under pressure to Be The Bigger Person (ugh).

So some sort of talk is in order, and where you probably want to go with it is this:

  • Express your love.
  • Express your distress at how the visit went – you were in a lot of pain and under a lot of stress, you love his sisters and wish that their visit could have been better.
  • Express that you want him to spend time with and feel close to his family.
  • Express that the stuff about your ex is really troubling to you – you do NOT still have feelings, you did not bring it up to his sisters, and you are confused about why they would think that’s an issue, and would he mind telling you his worries around that so that you can put them to rest?
  • Tell him you trust him to figure out how to make this work.  That is a GREAT response to accusations that you are controlling, right?  Don’t control it.  Maybe it’s time to say “Obviously they miss you so much – you should go visit them.”
  • Mantras aren’t just for dealing with crazymaking people, btw, and you may need to develop some for him around the issue of his family. “Of course I want to you to see your family. Of course I want you to spend time with your family – in retrospect, I wish this weekend I’d just spent the time in bed and sent you off to hang out with them and shuttle them around, and it was a mistake for me to go along when I wasn’t feeling up to it.” (Um, trust me, if you had stayed home in bed they would have turned it into the “Why is she avoiding us, does she hate us” show, but he doesn’t know that, probably.)  “Yeah, that weekend really sucked, but we can make the next one better.
  • If he brings up his sisters’ accusations, like, you were exaggerating your pain, respond with “It really hurts my feelings that they would say that about me. Is that what you think, too?”
  • Recognize that it’s painful for him to be in the middle and maybe realize that his family acted like assholes and that it may take some time and fits and starts for him to fully accept it, so try to take whatever he says in the best possible light.  Give him some time and benefit of the doubt and room to sort it out for himself.  This is really primal stuff.
  • Ask a lot of questions. Let him do the rest of the talking and see what happens.

I don’t know how to answer the stuff about the future or repeating your parents’ problems with family.  My dad’s mother offered him an all-expenses-paid trip to Greece to find a “real wife” on the morning of his wedding day to my mom.  Then, my mom couldn’t physically have kids, so she was depriving them of grandchildren.  Then my parents adopted me, and I was worshipped like a tiny goddess and my mom stopped having to eat a shit sandwich every time she saw her in-laws and it all mellowed out somewhat, I think because my dad adores my mom and made it very clear when he dealt with his family and partly because my mom was really good at saying “Huh.  Can you please pass the salt?”  and also she helped take care of them when they were dying (it’s amazing how that wins people over!). Imperfect and painful for my mom, to be sure.  You’re going to have to sit with that stuff for a while, and reach out to whatever support network you do have with family, friends, your partner, a therapist, and a lot of time.

In the meantime, be really gentle with yourself. You didn’t deserve any of this. Take care of those injuries and take it really easy on yourself right now, ok?

42 thoughts on “Reader question #72: A long and harrowing tale of dealing with emotional terrorists.

  1. Could there be less of the “THEY ARE CRAZY!!!”, please? 😦 I am a Crazy Person, having several mental illnesses, but it doesn’t make me a raving asshole. Calling those raving assholes crazy is an insult to all of the lovely crazy people I know! (And contributes to perceptions that mental illness makes us unreliable drama machine assholes. Which is unpleasant.)

    (PS: Link and link, on the subject.)

    1. Not all crazy people are raving assholes.

      All raving assholes are crazy. They are senseless, impractical, and act in a way that is contrary to social norms. Deranged, if you will.

      Perhaps you shouldn’t call people who suffer from mental illnesses “crazy.”

      1. As yet another Crazy Person, I can understand the first bit of your response and actually am fine with that usage of crazy (not that I’m trying to put words in Shiyiya’s mouth and be The Spokesperson Of All Crazy People or anything; just a difference of opinion.)

        But the last sentence was…icky. Shiyiya declared herself a Crazy Person, making it clear that she was someone with a mental illness. When you say that maybe she shouldn’t call people with mental illnesses ‘crazy’, you are instructing her on what labels to apply or not apply to herself. As I’m sure you’re aware, it’s unpleasant to have someone come in and say the equivalent of “You people shouldn’t call yourselves that!” Even if they’re part of the demographic in question, tacking on a “you shouldn’t” rather than leaving it at “I think we shouldn’t use that term because…” is really likely to raise hackles.

        Please don’t.

        [And now, hopefully, back to your regularly scheduled on-topic programming.]

        1. Hi, Feyline! I love you and your blog! And InternPaul, I also love you, even though we are broken up! You are both good people and you are both being kind of annoying in these comments, so let me say this:

          This “Is it okay to use the word ‘crazy'” question is not going to be hashed out here, for reals. I love Feministe like a sister, but if I see a 200+ comment thread about able-ism develop here I will set things on fucking fire.

          Everyone stay on the topic of the Letter Writer and her partner’s relatives, or take it elsewhere.

          This is a big fat period on this discussion.

    2. Point taken, and I will think about how I use that word in the future.

      I do not mean it as an insult to people with mental illness. I have a mental illness. I still throw that word around a lot. I find it to be descriptive of the feelings that people like the letter writer’s sisters-in-law call up, like, “Am I the crazy one here?” or “This is making me feel crazy” or even when I am in the middle of a depressive episode and my thoughts are cycling “Lord, I feel crazy today.” The word does not bother me, and I do not see it as talking about me when other people use it, and I’m not going to go back and edit old posts (or even this post).

      But your point is taken, and I will think about how I use it going forward, and I’m sorry if it hurt your feelings.

  2. holy shit sandwich.

    okay, so i really want to tell you that this accident of yours? even if you’re not in a hospital (hell, i had my head fucking stapled and didn’t overnight in the hospital), it doesn’t mean that something significant didn’t go down. it did.

    this is a good time for you to apply that whole “a crisis is not a good time to dye your hair, sell your house, move to a new country filter” to whatever you do from this point forward. add new crisis (sisters freaking the fuck out) to existing crisis (car accident)? double that filter.

    what i mean is this: your emotions are heightened right now. move slowly.

  3. The second I read that they were coming to town after a major accident requiring painkillers I could see this was headed downhill fast.

    It sounds like our letter writer doesn’t realize what “normal” (not sure how else to describe this) feels like. I think it’s very telling that moving to a new city worked out so well – GEE I WONDER WHY. I feel like there HAS to be some drama from when everyone lived so close together. I find it hard to believe none of this odd behavior on their part was ever on display before the 4th of July weekend.

    If you can take some of Captain’s advice, I think you will see that life out there doesn’t have to be filled with drama 24/7 and you don’t need to put up with people who treat you like this. Good luck!

    1. I got uneasy when she mentioned the part about the sisters dreaming about her saving them from danger, etc. The positive side of the relationship seemed equally exaggerated to me–which suggests that they were willing to be up her ass when it suited their purposes, and completely turned on her when she took their brother away, as it were.

      1. I feel like there is a lot of exuberance and drama and heightened emotions and effusiveness with this family group – they don’t play it close to the vest, so if they like you, OMG YOU ARE AMAZING! and if they don’t you are OMG RUINING EVERYTHING THE WORST EVER.

        I really want to know all about the parents, too.

        My crusty New England Upbringing watches this from a safe distance.

          1. As another repressed genteel Southerner (stop laughing, Captain), er, yes. All that “OMG we were sisters in another life!!!!” stuff really should stop when one turns 19. At the latest.

        1. Straight off the bat–the sisters’ behavior described on this particular weekend is reprehensible and inexcusable. None of my questions that follow should be perceived as casting doubt on that. And in that regard, I agree more or less with the Captain’s advice.

          I wonder if there truly never any red flags about the sisters prior to this. In my view, people, even crazy-makers, are usually consistent in their behavior. When the OP says, “He himself tells me that they’re codependent, manipulative and treat each other like this all the time”–does that mean the partner has said this in the past, or this is just what he’s said after the hell-weekend in question?

          I’m not trying to blame the OP here. I’ve misjudged people and I’m sure I’ll do it again. In part I’m curious; were there red flags, in retrospect, that these people were waving and s/he didn’t see? Maybe their craziness didn’t have a chance to shine in the previous social situations? But this also raises questions for me about the partner; if he didn’t give the OP prior warning about their behavior, and all four of the sisters are equally manipulative and awful… I dunno. It suggests a significant difference in value systems or at least in what you consider “normal.”

          I do think the first place to start is a debrief, a la the Captain’s suggestions. Then go from there.

          1. I’m sure there were probably signs that these women operated…differently…emotionally before, but if it was all positive attention it was probably easy to ignore the high-strungness or find it charming and disarming?

            The most narcissistic, crazy, manipulative, downright evil woman I knew from college was capable of turning incredible charisma on you when she wanted something from you – in hindsight, that was a sign to give only one-word answers and flee the area as soon as possible – but at the time it felt GREAT when she turned those blue eyes on you. Her attention and regard felt like a sunlamp. Like the character of Zenia in The Robber Bride. There’s something off, it’s too intense, you’re caught in the tractor beam and then….you’re blindsided and thinking “Who behaves that way?” and don’t have time to react.

          2. Good question – and if her partner knew about this tendency of theirs beforehand, it would’ve really helped if he’d given her a heads up.

            I feel like this should be an important part of the postmortem discussion. If the partner feels a drama storm brewing, the two of them need to be able to work together and be on the same side.

          3. It seems to me that their very lack of appropriate boundaries when she initially became close to them is a huge red flag, at least it would have been to me. People who don’t know you very well, but who nevertheless claim extreme connection right away are people who it is always best to be on your guard with.

        2. That’s totally normal with people like this–it’s because they don’t know how to actually like anyone or make friends. So they come on way too strong in the hopes that they can overwhelm you with kindness. It’s just another way to make you disoriented.

  4. I wanted to piss acid on partner’s family when I read this. The part that sucks the most, you can’t just let them rot on their own for the rest of their life. The cap’t, as usual, gave solid information. I will draw on it myself the next time I encounter this brand of asshole, and they always end up crawling out of something at some point.

    Take it easy, and stay strong, you are right that you deserve better than that, as does your partner. Be strong and trust eachother. Don’t let their seeds of doubt corrupt what you both share.

  5. I don’t think I’m only angry at the partner’s family here.

    Your partner made you drive for hours up a goddamn mountain in traffic after you had a car accident that left you on prescription pain killers. You were vomiting from the pain. You were dizzy. I don’t think any doctor would have given you permission to drive. Your partner should not have permitted it. No matter how horrible his family was being.

    I appreciate that he’s been living with these mindfuckers for a lot more than a few days, and I’m sure he also felt unhappy and confused, but his behavior towards you was absolutely inexcusable. Not just the driving, either! He apparently failed to notice or take into account the fact that you were in agony from your recent car accident, the one that left you on prescription painkillers. You need to make sure that he changes right away, forever. Otherwise, Jesus, dump him.

    1. I’m totes with you, piny.

      Ms/Mr Why Can’t, if your partner does not have your back in the heat of the moment, you need to do some serious thinking. If you think he has the potential, perhaps you can practice some scenarios together where he stands up for you (and you stand up for yourself). Perhaps a GOOD relationship counselor can help with this.

      Best wishes for a speedy recovery from the accident.

    2. Basically. I think most relationships have a moment like this, where someone is in a lot of physical pain / stress and the other person just somehow overlooks it. The question is, how does the relationship move forward after that? The partner asked the LW to do some really ridiculous things, and he didn’t demonstrate care for her physical well-being at all. That’s a bad bad sign, the two of them need to work through that and make up a plan for the next time she hits a physical limit. I get migraines, and my strategy has always been to make up a code word with my bf that means “get me out of here now before I start puking on everything”. Maybe something like that – something that means, NO, SERIOUSLY – would be helpful here?

      1. A friend or another blog I read recently raised the idea of social safe words. Intern Paul and I used to have a look. We are both introverts and easily tired out by parties, and if you gave the other person The Look, they had to get you the hell out of there.

    3. I got to the part where he came home (at 6 a.m.? Come. On.) and *yelled* at the LW who, from the sound of it, had been up all night worried, hungry, and in pain, and thought he needed a strongly-worded dumping.

      I couldn’t understand his behavior this whole letter– he goes from making plans he must know the LW can’t do, to ditching with his sisters, to yelling, “having a breakdown” and pushing for a drive up a damn mountain, then finally putting his foot down once they’re on said mountain? It’s not really clear if he apologizes anywhere in there or just abruptly changes his behavior. But it sounds like too little, too late. And if he seriously had “a breakdown” over getting to go to a festival while his partner was vomiting from pain, then he sounds… A lot like his sisters.

      1. I just reread that part and yeah… what the hell?

        LW, does this guy often do stuff like ask for you to wait for him and then never show up all night, or accuse you of being controlling for wanting an update or two?

        Maybe he literally has only ever acted like that on this weekend, under the influence of his sisters… but it sounds really weird and disagreeable.

      2. I completely agree with this. I don’t like telling people what to do, and maybe you skipped some details in that part of the story because you wanted to focus on more important stuff, so I won’t say you need to totally dump his ass. But if his behaviour really was the way it came off in your letter (Emma’s description matches my impression), you two need to have a serious talk. And during that talk, if he starts accusing you of being unreasonable for calling him out, that is a very real red flag that he is not much different from his sisters.

        Good luck. I really hope you’re able to work this out in some way, either with your partner or on your own. The Captain’s advice is (as usual) awesome. I hope it helps.

    4. I’m not giving the partner a pass. He needs to stand up for her and her needs. She deserves that and he really let her down by not letting her “No, I’m not driving” stick, or by not calling her at some point that first night to say “Go to sleep, sweetheart, I’m going to hang out with my sisters all night.” The yelling at her? MASSIVE SIDE-EYE.

      I’m reading this as the two of them dealing with people who it became impossible to satisfy or appease and not recognizing that soon enough, so they kept getting into these little traps and hoping ‘Ok, if we just do this it will be okay and everyone will stop yelling,’ with no one with enough perspective to say “SHUT IT DOWN, PEOPLE” as everyone got more tense and exhausted and further up the mountain. I also read them as being young – this is the first time ever the partner has moved away from his family – and the call of “BUT WE ARE YOUR FLESH AND BLOOD, OF COURSE WE WANT ONLY WHAT IS BEST FOR YOU” can take a while to resist.

      But the sisters expertly poisoned the well there. The LW is now “controlling,” “unreasonable,” “exaggerating,” and “in love with her ex.” (When in reality, in true Crazymaker fashion, it is they who are all these things except maybe the thing with the ex). So in picking a (very necessary, she-is-in-the-right, justified) fight with her partner, she risks stepping on all the land mines they laid for her. Which is why I suggested a more gentle approach with him that tried to avoid some of these unfair traps and try to drill down to what is true and important:

      1. Do they love each other?
      2. Can he apologize to her?
      3. Can he promise that he will never let them treat her like that again, even if it risks their displeasure at him?
      4. Can they rebuild trust between them?

      If she DTMFA, even though they love each other and are in the first stages of building a happy life away from his family, the sisters win. That might be what needs to happen down the road, if he cannot separate from his family, but it’s sad and I hate the sisters and I don’t want them to win.

      1. No, I don’t want the sisters to “win,” either — though in truth, she sounds like she’s pretty much of a loser, as far as being a human being. But even less, I want LW to not be the one who pays for the outcome of this family war. Your list of comments is full of wisdom, and I think that LW and her partner would do well to go through them. However, I will stick by my guns about having kids with this guy. This hellish weekend will seem pleasant compared to possible future family get togethers unless he’s going to be her staunchest supporter, and SHE is his most important and treasured family member.

  6. I’d like to add that saying “No” when people are being unreasonable is…perfectly reasonable. You had many, many good reasons (and possibly opportunities) to reasonably say, “No, I can’t do that.” I ❤ the Captain for the many times she give people the reminder to give themselves the permission to say, "No, that's a bad idea right now, let's figure out a good one" or some such. But…you sorta put yourself in a position (for many understandable reasons!!!) where you let yourself get walked on (even though you didn't see it coming! from people you trusted to take care of you!) when you didn't say "no, sorry, driving makes me puke" or whatnot, even if they were going to be jerks about it, and this is NOT me blaming you but hopefully helping turn it in a different light for you to look at. And it sounds like your partner got sucked into the jerkery but he owes you an apology and a REAL discussion, at the least, of what happened and how that's not going to happen again, 'cause DUDE, what happens if you're seriously hurt and he wants a grilled cheese sammy? Or (presuming you're female) you have a baby, and three days later you're martyring yourself to make sure his visiting parents are comfortable?

    I guess what I'm saying is don't forget that your oxygen mask goes on first. Best of luck to you.

    1. In re-re-reading my post and the OP I want to make it perfectly clear that I DID see how you tried to get your partner (and others) to be aware of your needs and I didn’t phrase it well, but some people are completely blind to other people’s needs–sounds like your partner’s sisters fall into that category. But my opinion is still low of your partner not responding to your plight more sympathetically 😦

      1. I don’t think you needed to soften what you said originally. I’d second it. A big part of what’s happening here is that the OP feels like she can’t say “No” to unreasonable requests.

        No one can fix that but the OP. The sisters acted horribly, but the worst parts – how the OP was vomiting from pain while driving, etc. – are the OP’s responsibility. The world is full of bullying (not necessarily “bullies” – everyone has good days and bad in terms of their interpersonal conduct) and if you can’t stand up to it, you’ll be forever controlled by it.

  7. I have to say something about this.

    “I love my partner and I want to be a part of his family. My family loves and accepts him as a part of our family. I don’t see “your family” and “my family”. I want “our family”. My partner claims to want the same. We’ve been best friends for five years and together for nearly three. There has never been a problem between his family and I until we moved. He himself tells me that they’re codependent, manipulative and treat each other like this all the time. But it’s unacceptable to me to be treated this way. Furthermore, both of my parents have terminal illnesses and it’s important to me that any partner I do have treats me as part of their family, as my own family won’t be around to likely see much of my adulthood.”

    It sounds to me that not only are you hurt and offended by people being jerks on a massive scale (for the record: our culture has many versions and meanings to the word “crazy”, it does not always mean a reference to clinically diagnosed illness), you are hurt because you are going to lose your family and THESE PEOPLE HAVE TO REPLACE THEM, GODDAMMIT.

    Honey, they’re not going to. You realistically cannot expect your in-laws to become YOUR family. Nobody can or should. It’s all a question of luck. Some nice people come from horrible families, some awful people have lovely families that welcome you (and then you have to give them up when you break up with the jerk). And some families are just not welcoming to outsiders, obviously. Hell, my BLOOD FAMILY at best couldn’t care less if they never saw me again. Minus the bribery, let’s just say that your two sides of the family acted somewhat similar to mine. In-laws are NOT family… nor are their children. I have gotten the “in-law nobody likes much” treatment my entire life from every relative in my state that are not my parents. I get better treatment from random people I’ve met once. I know damn well that any guy I might end up with will not be welcomed and loved and treated as family, because they don’t even treat ME like that. Your partner’s family sounds worse than mine, but in some ways that sounds similar.

    You can’t expect that these people will give you the treatment that your parents gave him. You cannot expect his parents to become yours when yours are gone. This is one of those families that does not like outsiders…except in their case they fucking lied to you for a long time, Zenia-style (just finished Robber Bride), and that makes it all the worse. I get that it just broke your heart. I am sorry. But you need to give up on the idea that your family is replaceable once they’re gone by in-laws, or that ANY in-laws will become your family. That’s what it’s “supposed” to be, but in practice it frequently does not work that way when you join the family 25-30 years into its existence and everyone else has been together forever in their own little cesspool of weirdness. You’re just as much of a threat as you are a sister, it sounds like. This is true for sure with your partner’s family, but may be just as true with any other guy’s relatives. I’m sorry you’re reliving the experience you didn’t want to give your future children again, but… with this guy, that’s what’s going to happen. It’s hard to find a good man AND that he has a good, welcoming family too. My cousin-in-law used to say the same things that you did and married into a family that despises her. It happens. And in the end, you’re going to have to choose if your partner is so wonderful that you can put up with these jerks and not getting what you want, or go find someone else with a nicer family.

    I wish you good luck, and I’m sorry you’re hurting. But you can’t expect in-laws to be the same as the people you came from. At best, it’s the luck of the draw.

    1. I was thinking the same thing when I got to that part of the letter. Even good families who love you (clearly not the case here, and I am so sorry) get put in the middle if you have trouble with your partner, and it’s not easy for them to keep being your family even if they want to, even if their family member was the jerk. This is actually happening to my family right now. My uncle’s kind, smart, awesome wife just finished her PhD, and he just told her he was having an affair. My family wants to tell him that we don’t want to meet anyone else (this is his second wife)– as far as we are concerned, Marta is our family and we love her. But when they live in another country, the reunion is once a year, and only one person gets to come, it’s just not clear if we can still be her family over more than email.

      Luckily, one great thing about being a grown-up (and a grown-up in an awesome new city, at that!) is that you can pick a family to assemble around you. Just don’t pick a pre-made, related-to-each-other family with their own history and loyalties. Choose your partner, your pets, and any adorably button-nosed spawn, sure. But also choose your mentor, your best friend, and the awesome new friends who are also in town for Thanksgiving. Since you’ll never replace your parents that way (or any way, I’m pretty sure), don’t stress out trying to do so. Enjoy the time you have with them, and focus on making good relationships (i.e. relationships not with this family) that will sustain you when things get hard.

      1. Oh, Emma, I hear that. I think my cousin is an ass (he always has been), but I am stuck having to be on “his side” because he’s the one I’ll probably still be stuck with seeing in the future. I used to sneak around to talk to the cousin-in-law, but she has been sooooo obsessed with bitching about him instead of moving on that I am ducking her now for another reason entirely. Ugh. And it sucks that when you are dating someone with cool family members, you have to break up with them too.

        I’ve kind of come to the conclusion that in-laws are “temporarily family,” unless there’s a kid involved. They last as long as your relationship does and that is it. If you didn’t grow up with them, there’s no obligation.

        Very good advice on finding a replacement family that doesn’t come ready-made!

  8. Wow. Firstly, LW, I am very sorry you were in an accident, and then had to deal with this shit as a result. Secondly, these people are psychic vampires. You have essentially 2 options: 1) limit contact, as the Captain has very succinctly outlined. 2) Stake=heart. Repeat as necessary.

    My mother is a psychic vampire. It has taken a VERY long time, and @2500 miles of distance, but I am now able to deal with her in ways that don’t make me crazy. Out of the Captain’s recommendations, #2, in my mind, is the most important. Expect nothing from them, and you will not be disappointed. Every time you start to catch yourself expecting more, reset your expectations It will make you much happier in the future.

    And most importantly, you need to debrief with your partner. This situation is/was untenable, and can’t be allowed to repeat itself. I imagine part of his reaction will be to put it out of his mind a bit now that they are gone, but now’s when you all need to address it, to prevent future sucktacular weekends.

    Good luck.

  9. Hey LW sorry about about what happened, I can’t even begin to imagine how painful it must have been.

    I’ve experienced similar situations -never so extreme, though-, but from a different vantage point. Mine is a very close-knit family, we live in the same neighbourhood in a very small town and we see each other every day. One of my in-laws is one of these emotional terrorists who’s managed to make everyone’s life hard with her backhanded comments, her selfishness and general unpleasantness. I’ve found myself sneaking out of my own house several times just to avoid her and she turns every weekly family reunion into a hellish experience. We’ve never been mean to her, but she can’t help being manipulative and mean, it’s just her way.

    The funny thing is how I finally realised that there was no point in trying to deal with her in a mature way. After years of failed attempts to mend bridges with her, one day I realised my dog wouldn’t acknowledge her existence. My affectionate pet dog who gets along with strangers and family alike, who loves everyone just walks past her like she doesn’t exist. At some point, he made up his mind about her and never looked back, so I did the same (in a more civil manner). Everyone’s come to notice his out-of-character behaviour and sometimes one of us even dares to make a joke about it, but the joke is always followed by an awkward silence full of things unsaid.

    My point is that I wasn’t able to choose this new addition to my family and I’ve had to learn to deal with her everyday of my life. You are lucky because you’re far away from these abusive folks. I wouldn’t try to make them into my family, since families are something way more subtle than blood relations and marriage contracts.

    I really hope everything works out for you and your partner!

  10. LW and all of you who deal with irrational drama-insistent emotional vampiers — Oh, I guess that includes us all. Because I think that in every group of people there is at least one of these folks, sometimes whole little tight-knit bands of them.

    I think that JP’s suggestions are just great. They should work just fine, and I’m going to be trying to use them myself. From personal experience, though, I know that when someone is beating me up, I do just what they want, which is panic and my brain goes completely blank except for the internal shrieking: Why are they doing this? What did I do wrong? And I cry easily.

    Maybe practicing JP’s suggestions ahead of time, doing some internal role-playing would be helpful. I’m going to give that a try.

    Over the years of dealing with my hubby’s daughters, I like to think that I’ve become better at fending off their mean-spirited, self-centered, drama-tornado antics. I think that one thing that’s helped is something along the lines of suggestion #2. I have come to expect nothing warm and fuzzy — or even entirely rational — from them. It saddens me, but I have backed off on extending genuine warmth toward them and now offer mostly aquaintance-type friendly gestures. I don’t think they’ve even noticed. Also, I’ve taken up humming. That is, when they’re around, I hum a lot to myself in my own mind. Tuneless stuff that helps fuzz-out their obvious efforts to get to me.

    We just spent an at-least-two-week-long five days with his younger daughter so that we could visit the grandkids who live about 700 miles away. Before we left for the visit, knowing that I’m very poor at walking on eggshells, I went to the doctor and told him that I was going to be facing some extreme family-problems time and asked for a prescription for Xanax. He gave me an Rx for a very small dose, which I took religiously, beginning the day before we all got togther, during the whole visit, and then the day afterward during decompression. I don’t care if it was merely the placebo effect, I trust that it helped me get through the visit. Also, I went into this visit, knowing that I would, of course screw up and do something wrong, and I think recognizing this helped me to not worry quite so much about it.

    Oh, and last night we got a phone call from the daughter, informing me of exactly how I did screw up.

    LW, I don’t mean to sound alarmist or terribly downer-ish, but I do think that you need to spend some time thinking very seriously about your relationship with your partner. It could be that he, too, was very rattled by the sudden appearance of his sister, her steam-roller tactics, etc., and that he now knows that he was acting entirely backwards in this situation. It could be that he’s seeing how this all got out of hand (to put it mildly), can never let it happen again to the woman he loves, and will see that it doesn’t. You must be brave and honest, though, and ask yourself if you want to spend your future always worrying about repeats of this event. Think back to some of your past experiences with his family: are they painted with the glow of wanting the “our family” thing? (Which I don’t fault you for. Wouldn’t we all like such a heavenly situation?) Were there ever any episodes before, even very mild ones, that you might have glossed over — where you might have silenced a little alarm bell that was going off inside you? Before you have children with this man, which if the relationship goes south will turn into a total nightmare for you and the kids, be very sure that you see your potential future very clearly.

    Yes, you love him dearly and have for a good chunk of time. It would be extremely difficult to toss that now. But, if it needs tossing, I can guarantee you (also from personal experience) that putting it off for even a couple of years, and most especially after you have kids with him — and his family — you will be repeating your childhood situation. Can you live through that again? Can you expose your kids to that?

    As has been said before: put on your own oxygen mask first.

  11. What about the partner? His/Her (whatevs) behavior was also pretty reprehensible. Dealing with a horrible in-law situation always sucks (been there, did that in my family) and it only ever works out okay if the partner with the said horrible in-laws is willing to stand up for the attacked partner.

    It’s time to sit down for a Big Talk.

  12. Oh, and? The No Gun. Sounds like the LW may have a problem sticking up for herself or being comfortable saying no (which I know is hard, but it gets easier every time you do it!). NO, I will not drive you to the airport. NO, you cannot borrow my car. NO, I am not going camping. NO, and also, end of discussion. The no stands.

    No No no no NO NO. It’s a wonderful word.

  13. CRAP!!! Reading this made me realize I was a CrazyMaker in highschool/college. I seemed to have grown out of it as a by product of therapy but I didn’t realize until this article how much I used to do that and now regret. I think it’s a learned behavior from family as I can list off numerous family members that still do it to this day. Thanks for writing in and thanks for answering. This has helped me understand myself a bit more and where I need to continue to improve.

  14. DTMFA. If a partner can’t stand up to family when family members are patently unreasonable, and/or refuse to let them into his life again unless there are serious behavioural changes, then that partner is not being considerate. The love is not being returned. Full stop. Leaving that person behind, however painful, is the only way to stop the abuse for good.

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