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My wife has been experiencing anxiety and increasingly, depression, as a result of her relationships with family treating her like she is worthless. It is never by words that they give this message to my wife but by their actions {ex: leaving her out of get-togethers, giving thoughtless gifts, being inconsiderate and simply failing to truly listen to her}. It has come to the point where even slight and excusable mess-ups are seen as reinforcing that she isn't worth their time.

My wife constantly complains that she feels like she is a warm body to be in place of (her sister, an employee, maid, listening ear when others aren't available) and that no one values her for just her. I think my wife has been reluctant to tell her parents again about this because she fears another half-hearted or cursory response would just further confirm her lack of significance to them.

How can I communicate to my in-laws that the way they treat my wife is making her depressed?

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Well, this is a lot to unpack. Since telling you what to say is impossible given that we don't know anyone, the suggestion would be to ensure first that you are taking care of your wife. As someone with a mother who barely talks to me, and pretty strained relationships with extended family for similar reasons, I can tell you that the people in my house, my husband and my daughter, are the ones that make the most difference in my day. My husband constantly tries to assure me that my mother's behavior is not normal, we spend a lot of time with his parents, who are wonderful, and when my mom calls - which is rare - I go ahead and get through it knowing that whatever she says, I still have my people around me who care, as your wife clearly does, too. There will likely be many ways you can help - this is just one person's suggestion:

  1. Continue to show the care and support you clearly have so far. Knowing she has you does make a difference.

  2. Consider her seeing a therapist or going together, so she can get the feelings out (and have you there to support her if you go together). Therapists are trained to deal with depression and also may have good strategies after understanding the dynamic better.

  3. Reassure her that just because they call or email doesn't mean she has to answer every single time.

From the sounds of it, there is no real surprise that her sister has left the family. The behavior sounds toxic and if I read between the lines it seems that there is more to the story with your in-laws, whether it is an inability to communicate, or perhaps depression (which can be hereditary) that is untreated.

I'm not suggesting that you not speak with your in-laws, but ensuring your wife is safe and working on making herself happy without them has the potential to work best for her in the long run. A person can control their own feelings and how they are affected by others much better than they can control other people.

Making your own fun plans, booking your own fun trips, and limiting exposure to toxic people while you work this out might be one way to handle it.

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I'm going to challenge your base assumption here. That base assumption is that continued contact is desired and beneficial. You note "...my mother-in-law seems to forget or have not listened to important things my wife says." Gifts appear to be afterthoughts or for someone else. At least one parent doesn't acknowledge her birthday.

I don't believe any existent human culture would consider these signs of a healthy relationship or would find these desirable behaviors.

There's a reason that the sister cut them out of her life. I don't know what that is and it sounds like there's not much certainty here, either. However, for the sake of your wife's mental health, the relationship desperately needs to change. And if the family won't willingly change to a more healthy, affirming relationship, it's time for your wife to seriously consider the same step her sister did: to remove these toxic people from her life.

You as the husband can't force her to make this choice. You can, however, make it easier for her to make it. Be there for her. Support her. Ensure it's not just you and her - include her in your activities and do things with your friends and their spouses. Let her experience healthy relationships while she ends this toxic one.

Good luck; this won't be easy for anyone.

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How can I communicate to my in-laws that the way they treat my wife is making her depressed?

You don't. They already know that they are hurting their daughter. But they do it anyway. First of all, you have to face this fact.

Of course, they don't think and make a plan like "Let's make our daughter feel worthless by leaving her out of our get togethers." But they instinctively synchronize and instinctively choose the actions that lead exactly to this result.

They do it because they are selfish. That is a very easy thing to do and everybody does it in some periods of their life.

Now, what do you do? You forgive. You forgive your in-laws for treating your daughter like she is some piece of furniture. You forgive your in-laws for not thinking about the results of their actions. You forgive that your in-laws do not love your wife.

Now, what do you actually say to your in-laws? What you say is something like this:

Remember that time when your daughter suggested a trip to that place? And then you all did it but left her out? I forgive you for doing it.

This will solve all your problems. You don't need to actually feel forgiveness to be able to say those words. Just say the words and then you will feel the forgiveness.

Or you can imagine yourself saying the words first. This way you can practice until you can actually say them. Maybe after each imagination you will also feel more and more forgiveness towards your in-laws.

This will bring forward true change. Discussions are something for the parliament. There is no place in your family for discussions. Forgiveness is the way.

Of course, after you have forgiven your in-laws and you see that they kind of are starting to change their behaviour towards your wife, then you can discuss something with them. Because now, you are friends. But as long as you are enemies, you must forgive.

My source is the account of Jesus Christ in the Bible. And this article about forgiveness in marriage. The article is about forgiving your spouse, but I think it is also applicable to the parents of your spouse.

Good luck!

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She may, as a result of all this, have an inbuilt lack of trust in people's motives.

If you can hand-on-heart say and mean the following, you could say something like:

"All this is going on, but I want you to know that, come what may, I will always be on your side and support you."

Having been in a number of relationships I know that making such a declaration puts you on the vulnerable side. Decide whether you are big enough to live up to this.

Also note that there is a well-known effect whereby helping someone to grow may eventually mean that they outgrow the helper and move on. I met this myself in my very first serious relationship so I know. She had lots of family hangups and I tried to provide a 'safe' background. In the end she felt so good about herself that she went off with someone else!

You might be interested in the old movie "Educating Rita" that covers just this scenario.

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