How do you deal with angry or toxic family members?


My S/O is in inpatient at the moment. Due to this I am dealing with his mom who is very angry and bitter towards her son. She has been dealing with his alcoholism since he was 11 so although I do understand her anger, I do not feel the same way. She feels he is a lying, deceitful, snake and con-man who only cares about himself. I get the impression that she wants me to feel the same way. However, maybe due to my therapy I am able separate between the addict and the real human underneath. Her emotions are all over the map. One minute she is willing to help and is doing things like calling in his bills and feeding his tortoise. The next minute she is raging and angry and saying she wants nothing to do with him. I am left in the middle as a communicator between the two. My therapist has told me that I need to stop this triangulation. They need to communicate with one another and not include me. For a while I was doing ok at setting those boundaries but now I’m right back in the middle of it all. Tonight I set her off because he wanted me to ask her for help with paying for some cigarettes. She got so angry and in a lot of ways took her anger out on me. I think it bothers her that I’m willing to help him and give my support. I guess my question is, how do I deal with this? She basically told me he will never change and has no capability to love. I agree there is possible truth to that. But I want to believe there is help and that anyone can change with the proper attitude and support. Am I being naive? I have often felt that their toxic relationship has been the root of many of the issues. He definitely is a 40 year old man who needs and requires a lot of support from the women in his life. Through my therapy I am working on my co-dependency Issues in that regard. However, I am comfortable with the help and support I am offering him at the moment. That is I drop off stuff to him 1-2 times per week, help take care of his tortoise, accept his calls, and will soon visit him once per week. His mom doesn’t think he deserves any of it. She feels it’s all a part of his manipulation tactics to keep us around. I feel as long as he is seeking help, I’m there where I can be. My bottom line is he needs to be actively working a program of sobriety. How do I support her feelings while still believing and acting in accordance to my own feelings? How do I stop the triangulation between us three so I am not in the middle of this mother-son feud? Also, should I share with him what’s happening on the outside? I don’t want to rock the boat while he’s working so hard on keeping sober. Trust me he has hurt me too but I don’t feel the sheer amount of anger she is feeling. If anything I feel more worry that he’ll relapse when he gets out.


Update: He called me tonight. I told him that his mom got heated and upset about the cigarettes. I could tell that it just agitated him. He doesn’t want his mom stressing me out. He said he’d call her and put her in her place. I told him not to. He said I need to put my foot down with her. Anyway, I think it’s time I step out of the role of relaying messages. They need to talk to each other. Now I feel more anxiety because I really do not want to make people mad or upset. Its stressful enough with all the other worries of having a loved one in treatment. Ugh.


Thank you for responding. I feel like she is taking her anger out on me. Tonight she asked me how much cigarettes are and said she’d leave money. So I told her. Then she sent me a text saying that I don’t understand and that’s she’s been doing this for 40 years. She then told me to tell him to pay for his own food, own cigarettes, own bills, Own rent, etc. and she doesn’t want to take care of his ass anymore. So it’s almost like she’s doing these things to help while he’s in rehab and then holds huge resentments at the same time. One minute she’s sweet as pie towards me, the next minute I’m reading paragraph long texts about how done she is. In the process she throws digs at me. I’m really not sure why. I’m not even asking her for money. She offers it and then gets pissed. I’ve mentioned books for her to read and gave her the name of my therapy place. She believes everyone else is the problem but herself. She doesn’t need help.

It’s not easy. Because really I’m mostly concerned with him. He’s who I love and I’m trying to support him in my own way. And now I’m dealing with his angry mother too. She refuses to come to the visitation which they offer a 30 minute informative meeting every week. They discuss topics she needs to hear such as not bringing up the past or blaming. She won’t go to Alanon. So I don’t know. I feel like I need to somehow stick up for myself. Honestly, I want to say if you aren’t comfortable helping him financially, then don’t. She’s right he is 40. He did do this to himself. He does need to pick up the pieces on his own. However, he needs support. Which is why I only help with what I feel comfortable with. On the other hand, how is her behavior going to help with his sobriety? It seems so toxic.

Any advice on what I can say to her? She’s a very blunt, bold, hurting woman. I hate to be blunt back but I’m feeling like I may need to be. I need to set boundaries with her.


That is such a tough spot to be in. I agree with your therapist that if there’s any way to stop being the mediator, it might be beneficial to you. When my husband was in rehab, I saw the same attitudes of family members towards their loved ones and I couldn’t help but think that there was no way that approach would be helpful to someone struggling with addiction. Of course, these feelings are all valid and there is a lot of pain behind them. Does the treatment center he’s at do any work (individual or groups) with families? Maybe if she learned about addiction from professionals, she might develop a little more compassion towards him and be able to work through her feelings of resentment. I wonder if she would be willing to join a village meet up on the topic of addiction on the brain or even the causes of lying? Those were very helpful to me and I’ve worked to share tidbits of that information with both of our families to increase their understanding of addiction, but that’s been a bit easier in my case because they were coming from a place of not understanding but less anger or resentment.

He’s very lucky to have you in his corner!


And I will say. I do believe her feelings are valid. We’re talking about a 40 year old alcoholic who’s been receiving help on and off from this woman for years. I agree. It’s time to stop relying on mommy to help dig him out of his financial crisis every time he loses a job or spends all his earnings during month(s) long binges. But it’s a two way street. She’s allowing it. Less than in the past. But she’s choosing right now to put herself back into the midst of this. It’s tough because he’s sick. I’m sure she has guilt and confusion about helping or not helping. But I believe the day she takes care of herself and starts setting boundaries, it will be a better outcome for both of them.