Dying Father-In-Law And Distant/Cutoff Relationship

Question: “Hello this question is about my husband’s relationship with his father. Growing up his father was a very abusive man to his mother (physically and verbally) and he was more so verbally abusive to my husband and his brother. He has had a drinking and substance abuse problem all of his life. (my father-in-law) When my in-laws divorced we cut off all contact with my father-in-law and then 2 years later he became ill and so we again started talking with him and the relationship seemed to be going well. A year later he started fighting again at almost every conversation and that is when we had our first child and decided that this is not something we need for our children so again we cut off the relationship. It has been 4 years and we were called that he is in the hospital and we do not know how long he might live. My husband is torn if he should talk with him again or just leave the situation as it is. We know when he is in our lives it brings a lot of contention into our home and family and we think that “our” immediate family is the most important thing. But others have said “he is your father you should forgive him or you will feel guilty when he passes.” We just want I guess reassurance that this toxic relationship needs to not continue even though he is his father. Thanks so much!”

Answer: Glad you wrote in with this question. The bottom line is that at times, due to toxic conflict and or abuse one may need to engage in emotional cutoff with the family or friend. In this case, you chose to cutoff communication with your father-in-law. I only recommend emotional cutoff when things are really toxic and abusive.

In this case I find that you might benefit from closure with him by seeing him in the hospital. Go ahead and call him and see if he is up for a visit. If he is, I’d recommend going up there. I’d suggest putting off the memories of the past and the trauma he may have caused and attempt to re-engage with him. I would not expect any miracles but your attempt to reconnect at his death may provide healing and meaning for you. If it appears that he may be hostile I’d lay down a boundary that you’d like to see him but that he needs to be respectful and kind in word and demeanor. If he is not and things at the visit are not working out you’d need to be polite and cordial and then leave. You can’t make him change, you also may want some closure to that relationship should he die or pass at this time. I would spend less energy holding on to the old bones of the past and put more energy on reaching closure and ensuring that you’ve done what you can do to be supportive and kind independent of how kind or respectful he is of you.