The Cost of *Family*

10 years ago, Phil and I were fighting for our relationship, fighting to be acknowledged as a valid couple. We were engaged, but hadn’t done so the “right way.”

Which, by the way, he asked my father three times for my father’s blessing, and each and every time, my father took advantage of Phil’s generosity (he paid for dinner at a nice restaurant), refused to answer the question, and then would stab Phil in the back talking about how absolutely disrespectful Phil was to him.

When I first met Phil, I knew he was important. I met him right as my family was becoming members of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Our story became more than 100 pages of heart wrenching grief, small joys, loneliness, and of being gaslit and manipulated by parents (on both sides) and pastors alike. Phil’s parents, specifically his mom, just saw me as a gold-digger kind of person, just looking at her son as someone to save me. She told me straight to my face that she didn’t want that for her son and that he wouldn’t be in a relationship until AFTER college.

We were on our own, through the entirety of us fighting for our relationship. My father got to almost every pastor we were supposed to talk to before we even had a chance to sit down with them and share our story. Phil’s parents, specifically his mother, made many comments to him about how I was a troubled person, that because of my health issues we would never be able to have sex, and how he shouldn’t be in a relationship with someone like that, how being in a relationship with me would make him fail college. [note: Phil not only excelled in school after meeting me, he made the deans list multiple times, and graduate summa cum laude]

It started becoming apparent that “something” was going on with my family, and Phil’s parents started asking what was up with that. To which we consistently told them that we wouldn’t say and would direct them to ask my parents personally.

For a quick recap – here’s what was going on with my family.

  • daily, multiple times a day, verbal and often physical abuse from my father towards my brothers and one sister.
  • My mother perpetuating her husband’s abuse, and conveniently never being around when he went into a full blown rage that usually ended with a sibling being thrown down or dragged up the stairs.
  • Constant verbal abuse and manipulation and gaslighting from both parents for any kind of emotional display of any kind from any child.
  • My mother covering up for my dad’s roughly 6.5 years of drugging and sexually abusing me.
  • My mother covering up for all of my father’s abuse despite the multiple times she would try to ask for help and then backtrack every.single.time someone tried to take her seriously and get help for my siblings. “Oh no, he’s changing, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Everything is just fine….”
  • My father’s porn addiction that caused him to get kicked out the Navy 6 months before he could have retired at 20 years and get a full pension. Oh yeah, kicked out = dishonorably discharged.
  • My father’s porn addiction and violent behavior that ultimately landed him in [failed] counseling with my mother and then church discipline…at Covenant Life Church. [not that church discipline is actually good for anything]

Phil’s parents became fed up with Phil’s evasive answers about what was going on with my family, and pinned down my parents and allegedly my parents told them “everything.” Which caused Phil’s parents to suddenly and strangely become kind of sort of for our relationship. But the damage had been done. All of the cruel and mean things his mother had said about me to Phil had left their marks. All of the manipulation and guilt tripping of Phil and me, a lot of “you are making him/her an idol and just lusting after him/her.” There was absolute denial that Phil and/or I could have any actual legitimate feelings for each other.

When those advances didn’t work, his mother turned to ignoring him, ignoring me, making random snide comments, and acting like I wasn’t even in the same room as her. This often looked like her acting like I was an inconvenience, an annoyance, someone she never actually accepted was a part of HER family.

Phil and I finally got married, and we lived roughly 5 mins away from his family. We were over there every weekend, because free food and beer from the parents. Phil was in college, and I was working full time as a nanny. We were young, broke, and just struggling to survive. And I was starting to fall apart. I had lost my family in the whole process of Phil and I getting married, which included my father kicking me out because he had lost control over me. My mother backed him up, and I left, despite her attempts to manipulate me into acquiescing to his will.

I was hitting a wall that was crumbling rapidly under my fingers and the once solid ground of my faith was disappearing as well. I was losing everything and felt completely alone. Phil did not understand that while he had felt like he had gained everything through marrying me, I had lost everything. Going to his family’s house was a tortuous affair, leaving me feeling alone, isolated, and unwanted. Phil, desperate for family and trying to hang on to his own, didn’t understand or see what was going on with how his family treated me.

Fast forward three years, nothing had changed with his parents/mother except that I was expecting the first grandchild. I purposefully wanted his parents to be involved, as my parents weren’t even going to be allowed to be in the same room as my child. I wanted my child/future children to actually have grandparents, unlike how I never knew neither sets of grandparents growing up. But. A month or two after my oldest was born, I was having to actively reach out and ask [constantly and the only one asking] if Phil’s mother wanted to see her grandchild. The very few times we had them babysit [god, it was a nightmare] it felt like we were asking for an inconvenient and totally unacceptable thing from his mother.

Thankfully, with so much relief it was palpable, we moved, with two weeks notice, to Colorado when our oldest was nine months old. It felt like for the first time in almost 4 years of marriage, we were free, and allowed to actually be a couple. No more having to cater to annoyed in-laws, no more having to pretend I was okay with being treated like a “blemish on the walls.”

We tried to keep in touch those first two years we lived in Colorado, but with weekend after weekend of Phil being the only one initiating phone calls and checkins, we stopped. It was almost astonishing that months would then go by without any word from anyone in his family. We were literally out of sight, out of mind for them.

Fast forward another three years, to this year; and the beginning of the pandemic. We not only moved for the first time since moving to Colorado in February, I lost two of what I thought were my closest friends, then the pandemic hit, and then everything changed. My oldest’s kindergarten class was now solely remote, my youngest’s preschool class *tried* to be remote, but that was an epic fail. So it was no wonder when any communication with any family members back east got pushed to the back burner.

BUT. We were still the only ones initiating phone calls or facetime’s. And the singular time his mother FaceTimed and we weren’t available, has been created as this HUGE problem. Why? Because I never called back, so something is definitely wrong, I’ve been super offended and apparently cut her off. They wouldn’t hear otherwise, and are thoroughly convinced that we’re not telling the truth. “It’s a pandemic!” is not an acceptable excuse.

Now, let me wrap back around to the beginning of this story; to the place where I knew – intuitively, and was half confirmed through comments Phil’s mother had made to him – I was the bane of his mother’s existence. I *stole* her son away from her, I took away her control over him. I was the problem, I was the person who was a thorn in her side.

Now how do I know this for sure? Because of every single thing she said about me to my husband. The vile and cruel things she willfully spewed from her mouth. Shall i list them out?

  • Maeve is unforgiving, she keeps bringing up the past, and can’t let that go.
    [explanation: We had a group video call that was supposed to be space for me to explain why I am not thrilled about talking with them, and what events have built that foundation]
  • Maeve needs professional help, she is choosing to be a victim and isn’t rising above her past. They (Phil’s parents) are very concerned that I can’t let go of the past.
  • Maeve is very rude, selfish, and inappropriate. Specifically with talking about uncomfortable things like her past.
    [explanation: when asked for examples, Phil’s mother refused to give a single one, and instead insisted that she would only tell them to me….i.e. completely blast me about every single thing I’ve ever done that she considers rude, mean, inappropriate, and selfish.]
  • Maeve slanders everyone who offends her publicly on social media.
    [explanation: when asked what she was talking about, Phil’s mother explained that I was slandering my dad and ruining his reputation by talking about what he had done to me. She couldn’t come up with anymore examples.]
  • Phil is not helping me by defending and supporting me. He is instead only causing me to sink further into the victimizing I am doing.
  • It is Maeve’s health’s fault that they couldn’t come to visit this past June. This was immediately refuted by both Phil, and his dad, that that was a unanimous decision to protect EVERYONE’S health for them to not come and visit in the middle of a pandemic. His mother barely and quite reluctantly backed down from that claim.

The phone call where all of this was poured out of her mouth also consisted on so many lies, blatant twisting and manipulating of the truth, and staunch refusals to hear “that’s not true!” from Phil. She didn’t want to hear anything that Phil said to try to correct her skewed perspective. Not only were their timelines wwwwwway off, but their perspective was almost laughably wrong if it wasn’t so infuriatingly cruel and delusional and purposefully made to make me look like a devil out to get them.

The gaslighting and condescending looks and manipulation of every.single.thing was enough to make Phil hang up on them. It had gotten to the point where it was obvious she wasn’t willing to even hear truth or even hear things from anyone else’s perspective except for her own.

The vastly disappointing part was his dad willfully backing her up, and refusing to hear anything Phil had to say. His patronizing sexist (towards me) gaslighting was disgusting to listen to. It was all the confirmation that was needed to grasp the full picture of what they, especially his mother, thinks of me.

Am I angry? Yes.

Am I bitter? Probably.

Do I have just cause? Absolutely.

These are people I have bent over backwards trying to please, trying to make them believe I have worth, trying to be included and a part of a family. I have no family, except for the chosen family Phil and I have now built. This is a woman, that despite knowing how much she looked down on me, I still tried to befriend, tried to honor and respect as the mother of my love and partner. She even turned to me at one point, probably about 8-9 years ago, and told me that she wasn’t my mother and wasn’t going to fill that role. This is the woman who after all these years of treating me like this was aghast that Phil would even dare to ask how has she loved me?

This is the woman who decided she couldn’t be on my social media anymore because I talked about “bad things….” i.e. my past, the trauma and abuse I have been through, and what I am doing to heal myself. All of the hard things, the difficult things I write about, those are unacceptable and inappropriate in both of their eyes. For me to talk about that and be open and vulnerable about my past, it means that I am not healing or am victimizing myself and choosing not to move on or rise above in their eyes.

I almost feel bad for them. Almost. Their perspective, their dismissal and denying of anything “hard” or “difficult” makes them part of the problem with silencing victims and making sure those who have been abused and been through trauma can never find their voices. They are part of the reasons why I am vulnerable, open, and honest about what it’s like to heal from severe trauma and abuse during my childhood. It’s people like them who have tried to silence me all of my life. It’s people like them who made sure I had no voice as a child, who made sure I was properly shut down and shoved into a corner so I didn’t speak up about my dad and mother’s abuse.

But the biggest, most important thing to come from all of this? I finally got to see Phil defend me so fiercely it made it his parents turn on him. I got to see without a doubt that he has my back and always will. He stood up to his manipulative, gaslighting parents and said “no more.” I am so proud of him for doing so, I know what he’s losing with this, but also, he’s not losing anything he hasn’t already lost when they decided I was a stain on their existence.

Instead of forcing us apart, which I imagine was part of his mother’s goal, her vitriol has only pushed us closer and stronger together. It was almost like we got a redo of those two years a decade ago when we were fighting for our relationship. We got to stand up and say our pieces, did not back down, did not let them cow us, they did not win. They didn’t win back then, and they didn’t win this time.

So, in conclusion, if you ever hear my mother in law praising us for being the longest married out of all of her children, just know that’s her two-faced ness showing. The praise you hear, just covers up the lies and gaslighting she then says to us. If you ever hear about how well we’re doing in Colorado, just know she doesn’t actually know anything about how we’re actually doing, nor does she care. She’s just trying to keep up appearances. It’s always about her good name and making sure the blame is not on her.

We’re about to hit our 10th wedding anniversary, 10 years of being married, 12 years of being together. We have two amazing children, who don’t even know who Phil’s parents are. We are happy. We are content. We are cutting ties with the parents who never were on our side and have never seen me as worthy enough for their son despite his choosing me wholeheartedly.

Phil and I went through several months of intensive couples’ therapy this past summer. The intention was to get help for breaking through some cycles that we kept getting stuck in. Not only did it make a massive difference in increasing and strengthening our communication, it helped us see how damaging his parents really had been on our relationship. Which was what pushed forward the conversations with them to begin with. But they don’t need to know that, they don’t even believe they’ve actually done anything wrong.

Families suck. I am finding myself feeling terrified of Phil’s siblings. Terrified that they carry their mother’s opinions of me and not wanting to find out if that’s true or not. I am grateful for Phil’s older sister who has moved out here and who we are both rebuilding relationships with. I explained to her my fears and how i was feeling so unsafe because I didn’t know if I could trust her. Her reassurances and actually hearing me was such a balm to my weary heart. I do not have any hope for ever having a relationship with either of his other two siblings, but I gave up on that years ago and I’ve walked away.

The cost of speaking up and trying to repair relationships has been high for both Phil and I. It was an act of speaking up that needed to happen, and we both willingly faced the expected consequences. Sadly things have ended how we both thought they would, and from where we stand? Things will never change with his parents unless something drastically changes in their opinion of me. So from this point on, I am grateful for a partner who fiercely fights for me and defends me and supports me unconditionally. We’re building our own family and creating space where our children are loved and supported and cared for. And for now, that is enough.

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