When Another Family Member is Abusive To Their Spouse

I've been pulled into a situation and I am thinking I have to act but am not sure where to start. 

Long story short, my FIL is staying with us for a few weeks and he is abusive to his wife (she is not currently staying with us). 

I have been the recipient of bullying from time-to-time, but I have never been involved in an abusive relationship; I'm very green when it comes to any nuances of relationship abuse.

My FIL married a very young woman (legal age), who is from another country and was brought to the country where he formerly lived in a group of workers. He prides himself for having "rescued" them by letting them live with him, while paying for them to attend trade school (baking, cosmetology, etc). Meanwhile, one stuck around and my FIL married her. She clearly stated to me that she was doing it to become a US citizen (subsequently, after many lawyers, hearings, etc., she was denied citizenship). So, to "make her happy" (his words), they moved to a Europen country as a married couple, bought real estate to become residents; almost a year in, she has changed up her interests and he is not happy about it. I know they have been having couples "issues" and I never intended to get involved. However, about 6 months ago, she began contacting me on social media via private messaging asking for help (in broken English she'd write : "help me, he's hurt me fear for my life" or "lock up under bed help please help." "I want to kill myself"). I was told by a friend who used to work with abuse victims NOT to respond because he probably monitors her account and that would not be helpful if he knew I was involved. He's with us for 3 more weeks and she stayed back because of visa issues. Which means, we hear all of their conversations. My family lives in close quarters (kids are homeschooled as we prep for travel) and my FIL refuses to leave the common area to converse with her (or yell at her); he opens every conversation on Facetime with, "you have 2 rings to answer the phone or I will cut off your money, you four-letter-word" and continues to spend the next ten minutes vomiting profanities and "you are -isms"  onto her (this goes on throughout the day and night and he does this in front of my kids; yes, we are addressing this aspect. I've seen and heard a lot and I'm not sure I've ever heard someone talk to anyone the way he talks to her. It's horrible. We have worked very hard to build a positive home environment, so we pull our kids away to discuss how this is NOT OK. By the way, he never does this when my husband is around. My husband is aware of this aspect of his personality - and happens to be the opposite of him in this way). 

I'm thinking this is a carefully crafted eggshell walk.

The situations: 

1. He is doing this in our home in front of our kids. We are working on this. Tirelessly. 

2. Do I look the other way? Laws do not apply to me because of our different countries. Any words of advice or wisdom on how to assist/handle his spouse who is clearly stuck in an abusive relationship? I have never been a sufferer or anxiety but I am not sleeping at night because this is not sitting well with me.

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I would reframe your question to the following: What to do when another family member who is not your spouse is verbally abusive to YOU.  Your FIL is doing this in front of YOU (and your kids) but not your husband?  That's not a coincidence.  It's because you're a woman and he wants to show you how he treats women. Great, he's shown you. Now show him how women stand up for themselves, and kick him the f__k out of your house. NOW.  Call the cops if necessary, but get him OUT.  I feel sorry for his wife, but you aren't helping her by continuing to put up with this.  You may or may not be able to help her, but you can help yourself and your kids.  He needs to leave your home asap, even if it means he is sleeping on the street (which I doubt it does).  Forget eggshell.  And I don't know what you mean by "working on it."  You don't need to work on it. You need to get him out of your home. 

So sorry you are experiencing this abuse. I agree with the previous responder. Get this FIL out asap. I’m

Get him out of your house. Your husband should be the one to do this. If your husband refuses to help or hedges, you go stay somewhere else with your kids until your FIL is gone. Do this today. I'm not sure you can help his wife but you can help yourself and your kids. 

I’m not sure how you can help the wife who is being abused, but I hope others will have ideas because it sounds absolutely awful and life threatening for her. 

I do have advice about the fact that your FIL is living with you. Witnessing abuse as a child is considered an Adverse Childhood Event that greatly increases a child’s risk for later PTSD, mental health problems, substance abuse, and being a victim of abuse themselves. You can read more about the research on Adverse Childhood Events by googling it. Please strongly consider kicking your FIL out of the house, for the sake of your children. If they are witnessing this abuse then they are experiencing trauma. 

Oh, what a difficult situation.

First, you and your children need to be safe. You have to make sure your attempts to help your MIL don't endanger you or your children, so start with guarding and protecting yourself, and proceed outward from there. Your FIL's refusal to abide by your home rules is extremely troubling, as is your husband's apparent lack of involvement in curbing his father's misbehavior.

Secondly, you need expert advice and support from outside: domestic violence organizations, friends, and authorities. Contact some local and national organizations on domestic violence in private. They can advise you whether a trip to the police is wise and otherwise how to proceed. Guard your phone and computer carefully from your FI; be sure to use passwords he doesn't know.  Use a friend's phone/computer or the local library if necessary.

Third, you need to know where your husband is on keeping you and your children safe, because he is the sole reason your FIL is there. Either he hasn't laid down the law to your FIL, or your FIL doesn't care (in which case he needs to leave). Watching a man terrorize and abuse his wife, even long-distance, has got to be traumatizing your children, as well as you.

If your FIL only does this when your husband isn't around, and he won't conduct himself properly in front of the kids, that's very telling. It means you have no authority in your FIL's eyes, and your children are watching him ignore you. But still, he's allowed to stay under your roof. So you absolutely need to know what your husband is willing to do. FIL's only claim to being in your household is through your husband, but YOU and your children are paying the price. Surreptitiously record your father-in-law's behavior.  Make some backups and store with friends or elsewhere. You need to know if your husband will actively support you or not (i.e. tell his father "behave or leave"); if he dismisses his father's behavior or minimizes it, you know you've got a 2 generation problem.

Fourth, your MIL needs support and help from resources close to her, and a domestic violence group will know a lot more about how to help her than you will, long distance and working with a language barrier. Ask if possible for a contact who speaks your MIL's language to provide her with direct support and put her in contact with local resources who can do much more than you can, short-term and long-term.

I wish you good luck and PLEASE let the community know how it works out, for all of you.





Why are you allowing him to live with you? I would tell him that he is not allowed to stay with you if this behavior continues. This is completely unacceptable. 

The solution is simple.  Never allow this abusive man in your home again.  What he does in his own life and his marriage is his business, but your job is to protect your children.   Record him next time and play it back for your husband.  If your husband will not make him leave, then you leave and take your children somewhere safe. 

I agree 100% with previous poster.  Get him out.  

1. Contact domestic abuse authorities or services in the country that she is living in, ask their advice. Find out what protections spouses have. 2. Tell her how to get help. 3. Confront your FIL directly, immediately. Don't waste another minute. Search on the Internet for the punishments for domestic abuse in the country they live in. Then say this: "What you are doing is domestic abuse. It is punishable by xxxx in the country you live in. You don't sound like you love this woman, and you should divorce her. You are no longer welcome in this house. You have 15 minutes to get out of here." Don't make "I" statements. Give him directives.

There's a woman being abused who is in your family and you are asking if you should look the other way? Absolutely not! You need to help her! And it's been six months already and you haven't done anything to help? Really??! Her life could be in danger and it sounds from her desperate messages that she is begging for help. The fact that you have witnessed this behavior is further proof of how horribly she is being treated. This situation isn't about your kids--he doesn't have to visit you ever again--but he will go back and terrorize her so you need to figure out how to help. What country are they in? Please look up local resources in that country that can help her. Ask around--this is the Bay Area, there are likely plenty of people from that country around that can help and know resources.

This is your husband's father--he is your family--and you should NEVER turn your back on a woman being abused. It is situations like these that women can get killed. I am honestly shocked that you are even asking if you should look the other way.

Perhaps she can contact a local women's shelter and get some advice from them, with translation, while he is not there.

Also, here are two books that can help you to understand what is going on, what you can do to help, and what she can do to survive:

  1. "Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men" by Lundy Bancroft
  2. "The Gift of Fear: Survival signals that protect us from violence" by Gavin de Becker

I, too, recommend that you get him out of the house ASAP: 1) The abuse is damaging to the children to witness. 2) It is also damaging for them to see an adult (you) not taking any action to protect them from an unsafe environment. I know this from how my own life was affected as a child witness. It is a terribly difficult thing you are dealing with. I am sending you my best mojo for courage and a good outcome. May all be well.


Thank you for the insight, recommendations and tough love. My husband heard his father talking to his wife via FaceTime, confronted him and my FIL is now staying with friends. 

In the decade I’ve known my FIL, I’ve never seen this side of him. Ever. He trained me for medical residency and I suppose I’ve been blindsided. I have heard he can be harsh and he has lost many (male) friends over the years. My husband said he grew up with this erratic and emotionally abusive behavior; he was lucky to have had a mother who divorced his dad, moved to France and continued to protect him starting at the age of seven. 

I know I need to help this young woman. She does speak enough English and some Spanish (so I am able to communicate with her pretty well). To be clear,  I need resources for women in Spain. She is from Syria and he is from a country near there; since they couldn’t come to the USA due to her citizenship being rejected (he is an immigrant and US citizen), they can only stay in the EU. I am researching resources but haven’t found many). When he returns to her, I know it won’t be good; apparently she took “his” money and lent it to relatives. 

The one thing that can work against him is that he’s a well respected physician in the area (retired). He does have an ego and his pride. Or does this not matter in this personality type? 

1.  PLEASE do not let this man stay in your home anymore.  2.  Up to you - an embassy?

Most of what was needed to be said has been said.  I would like to add that his talking to her on the phone in front of you is grooming behavior.  He was grooming YOU and your kids.  I highly recommend you get some therapy to unpack it and have the therapist help you decide if the kids need some too. I’m so sorry you’ve experienced this.

i also second the recommendation for Lundy Bancroft’s book “Why Does He Do That”.

glad he’s out of your house.