Verge of nervous breakdown as houseguests from Hell abuse our hospitality

Tracy complained about the food we provided, even though they never gave us money or ideas for other food, we were financially strapped (paying for 8 people’s food and utilities with not a bit of financial help) and, with a small child running around (now four small children), didn’t have the time to prepare from-scratch meals every day.

If they found our food so offensive, why didn’t they plan, buy and then prepare meals for us?

I did two dishwasher loads a day, along with extra towels and sheets.  And of course, you can’t run a washer and dishwasher at the same time, because it strains the hot water.  I stayed up till 1 in the morning doing these things, then heard complaints from Richard and Tracy about how late I stayed up.

I’d overhear wailing children, arguments, and criticisms from the wife about how I run things.  I’d walk in on various things.  The TV was on all day and evening, which drives me crazy.  (I must have my music!)

I felt claustrophobic, wading through people and things just to get dinner or find a seat.  We did not have room for a proper dining room table (I told you this place is small), so people ate in the living room when they couldn’t fit around the little island.

The living room was full of STUFF.  I couldn’t believe what I found in each room as I began cleaning up after they moved out.

There were new illnesses all the time.  My son had to share his room and toys, and even had to give up his own bed, so he got pretty naughty for a while there and I had to lay down the law.  His behavior greatly improved after they moved out.

And with all that, I had this hostile, jealous, abusive woman in my house 24/7, and I was expected to excuse and accept her behavior.

Jeff didn’t like having to give the kids breakfast every morning because the parents were asleep.  He didn’t like never getting help taking out the extra trash.

And never a thank you from Tracy for putting up with all this, with her–just hostility.  Richard alone we could handle: He was far more gracious and easygoing.  But all these people, whom we didn’t know previously and who weren’t even family?

I also confided in my priest during this time about some of the things going on, especially since they kept neglecting to go to church with me, when Richard used to go with me all the time.  I felt stressed and sad even during the service, unable to get away from it in my head even at church.

My priest said that his own parents had once hosted family who arrived from Greece, that things got very tense after a while, and that it was time for Richard and Tracy’s family to leave.

Once I heard Tracy getting short with Richard on the phone while he was at work, then hanging up and saying “Bullsh**”–with kids nearby!

I did not just quietly seethe, but brought it up with Richard whenever I had the chance.  We agreed to chat with each other in the evenings while Tracy was on the computer and I was doing chores in the kitchen; this helped a bit.

Since I was not comfortable around her, she was too scary and hostile to safely confront, and he was my best friend, I felt it best to tell him I was upset so he could take things up with her in a way that she would respond to.

Also, it seemed proper to do things this way.  For example, the advice column Annie’s Mailbox typically advises to let your husband/wife/friend deal with his/her own family even when you have a problem with them.  Like, for example, here, on 1/26/15, when they say the writer’s husband should deal with his own grown son, not her.

I let my husband deal with his family, and I deal with mine.  So to deal with a friend’s wife, it seemed right and proper to go through him.  Something Miss Manners would approve of.

I told Richard every problem as it came up, through snatches of conversation grabbed when Tracy was on the computer, or letters, or e-mails, whatever I could manage, since she was being so overprotective about our time together.

But he did not tell me crucial information I needed to know, like the fact that she overheard my venting to Jeff, or that she had forbidden sleeping on shoulders.

I told Richard I was very upset about the complaints to her mother about the food while I was right there in the bathroom, but he didn’t tell me that she knew I overheard her, that she was deliberately being catty, that she felt herself justified in this cattiness.

It wasn’t until a year and a half later, June ’09, that he told me she knew I could hear her and that it was in response to my complaining to Jeff.

I was amazed that he scolded me in June ’09 for venting privately to my husband about real problems, rather than scolding her for being vindictive.

I wanted to throw them out–or, at least, her.  Keep Richard and the kids, but throw Tracy out on her ear.  But I felt bound by the rules of hospitality, and Jeff was being far too nice.

We didn’t realize that it was within our rights to go ahead and (kindly) show them the door, that if we didn’t, we were actually allowing ourselves to be taken advantage of by freeloaders.

I kept telling Richard from the very beginning that I wanted them to leave, but he didn’t until he made up his own mind that it was time to leave, after the events in the last section.  When he first told me this in June ’09, I thought it strange that he said they decided it was time to leave, when I had been telling Richard for four weeks that they needed to set a date and leave.

But this memory faded a bit until a few days ago, when it finally dinged in my head (after reading various comments online about freeloaders) what really happened: that they had it cushy here, we were not assertive enough about bills and pitching in and getting out, they were obnoxious houseguests whom we were sick of, but they wanted to decide when to leave.

We have cheap motels around here where people in their position often stay; they could have moved into one of those.  But no, instead of letting us decide how long they get to stay, they figured it was up to them, even though neither my husband nor I ever approved them all staying here to begin with.

Meanwhile, it seemed they never had enough money for a downpayment on an apartment, even though Richard had been working part-time for a few weeks before they all moved in, and they didn’t contribute to their expenses.

We were too nice, they were intimidating and forceful, they took charge and decided when to stay and when to go, meanwhile sponging off us and not contributing financially or getting full-time work.

And then they guilted me for making things “unpleasant” for them by disapproving of abusing spouses/children, and not being properly “welcoming.”

This letter to the Annies sounds very familiar:

Dear Annie: My brother and his wife recently stayed with us for nine months. He did some part-time work every now and then. His wife refused to find a job and mostly stayed home.

My wife and I work long hours. We also then had to do the grocery shopping, cooking and taking care of our kids afterward. During this time, my brother and his wife never spent a penny on food or anything else.

We politely said that we think it is time for them to find their own place and move out. A few hours later, they left screaming and shouting at us. We were speechless.

My brother says we are cheap because we asked them to leave. What do I tell him? Please help. — Cheap Brother

Dear Brother: Listen closely: You did nothing wrong. Your brother and his wife are first-class freeloaders. They took advantage of your generosity, making no effort to contribute to their upkeep.

They would have allowed you to support them financially for the rest of their lives.

They are angry because they couldn’t bamboozle you longer than nine months, which is plenty long enough. People who take advantage of others are always the first to cry “foul” when things don’t go their way.

We know you care about your relationship with your brother, but nothing will make him happy short of letting him move back in. Please ignore him. Do not defend yourself against his accusations.

Do not, under any circumstances, let him guilt you into helping him out again unless it’s to help him find a full-time job. Simply say as calmly as possible, “I’m sorry things didn’t work out for you.” Repeat as necessary.

Then this comment from a reader:

Listen very closely: The best defense is offensive attack (and as offensive as possible), especially when you’re dead wrong. What the Annies said – EVERYTHING they said.

We didn’t get screamed at for telling them to move out, but I did get chewed out (and, later, screamed at) for other things, as I show in this memoir–things related to how I was supposedly such a horrible host of these freeloaders.

I felt all along, for the next two and a half years, that Tracy should be making it up to me, NOT me making it up to her.  But she started throwing her weight around with Richard and making it sound like I had to suck up to her, or else I was a horrible person and couldn’t be friends with Richard.

This whole thing sounds very much like “echoing”: Basically, the abuser finds a way to accuse the victim of doing what the abuser is doing, then uses it as license to continue the abuse.

Another very destructive habit which I have identified in my relationship I refer to as “echoing”. This habit takes two distinct forms. The object is to feel whatever the partner feels whenever an “attack” is detected by the abuser….

The second form is to accuse the partner of whatever the partner accuses them of.

Scenario 2:

Partner: Please don’t raise your voice at me.

Abuser (Screaming): You’re the one that’s yelling.


Partner: Please stop cutting me off and let me finish my sentence.

Abuser (angrily): You’re the one who cuts me off all of the time.

When the conversation is discussed later, the abuser quickly takes the opportunity to first accuse the partner of the infraction and seize the high ground.

The abuser will then take every opportunity in the future to accuse the partner of doing what they do saying “See, you do it too.” This is generally viewed by the abuser as a way out.

Anytime they accuse you of an action similar to one of their destructive actions, that is viewed by them as a license to do it at will and a “win”. —An Analysis of the Abuser’s Language by Abused Judge

I was criticized by them both for everything I did: not being harsh enough with my son, my habits, not eating right, not potty training right, standing and quietly waiting my turn in the little kitchen when somebody was in front of me rather than pushing them aside (apparently they like rudeness, and politeness “drives them crazy”).

If I wanted Richard to call me and let me know he was going to be late and not dead in a ditch during a snowstorm, I was being his “mother.”  (Actually, it’s one of the rules of being a houseguest, so your host doesn’t worry about you.)

Tracy may have overheard me complaining to Jeff that she was abusing the children as well, because during one conversation, she said she figures she’s not abusive if her children love her.  (Actually, that’s Stockholm Syndrome and a natural defensive tendency of children.)

I confronted her for telling my son that he’d better stop doing something if he knew what was good for him.  To me, that sounded like a threat of violence.  She said she meant that I would punish him.  But I don’t know whether to believe that or not.

Then the couch–not up to the strain of holding some 300 or 400 pounds every night–began leaning towards one side, then finally that side broke down one day when a few of the kids jumped on it.

We had to quick buy a futon, which cost us even more money we didn’t have and put us even further into debt.  I wanted to be paid back for the utilities/food/futon, but they never had the money to pay for it.

We had a futon when we were first together, and that couch had been a wonderful replacement when we finally had the money in 2001.  No more metal bars! no more springs hitting you in the butt!

But now our wonderful couch–complete with washable fabric (great for kids and pets) and end recliners–was broken after only six years.  We only had money for yet another wretched futon.  Well, actually, we had no money for that, either, but everybody sitting on the floor was not an option.

Then Jeff put the futon together when it arrived (mail-order), but Richard complained that it wasn’t put together right.  While “fixing” it, he broke it, and we had to buy another futon frame with money we didn’t have.  But then he turned his puppy-dog look on me and melted me into forgiveness.  He had a way of doing that, of getting me to not be mad at him no matter what the infraction….

After they moved out the next day, I believe it took me about a week to clean the place properly, systematically going room to room, filling grocery bags with stuff they left behind and mail they were still receiving.

Then when I asked Richard to come pick up these bags and get them out of my house, Tracy would fight him “tooth-and-nail” and make life extremely unpleasant for him if he came over!

Then in the springtime after the melt, my son and I had to go around the parking lot around our condo, picking up all the cigarette butts which Richard and Tracy never picked up after themselves.

While they were still there, I had at least two breakdowns, one a crying jag that must have lasted for hours, the other just shutting inside myself and sitting and doing nothing.  I wanted them GONE.  NOW.  But Jeff had to be on board or it would be just little, cringing me against two big, forceful people.

I did tell Richard in a letter I slipped to him, that I wanted him to get an apartment right away because I couldn’t handle all this anymore, told him how it was affecting me, and begged him to come up with a move-out date.

But kicking him and his little children out on the street in the middle of a long, cold winter?  I couldn’t bring myself to do that.

From What Makes Your Control Freak Wife or Girlfriend Tick:

In order for me to win, you must lose.

Because this is a matter of psychological survival to her, she has to steamroll you in order to avoid feeling helpless. “To relinquish control is tantamount to being victimized and overwhelmed” (Schumacher).

Unfortunately, her fears also fuel her lack of empathy toward you and create the mindset: “Victimize or be victimized; dominate or be dominated.”

To the emotionally abusive woman, it’s not enough to merely control you. She only feels in control and good about herself if she makes you feel less than. Her mood becomes buoyant as she cuts you down. She has to make you feel useless, disoriented and helpless, so that she doesn’t feel this way.

This is evidence of a faulty belief system. She has a one-up/one-down mentality. She believes that in every interpersonal interaction there’s a winner and a loser and she will fight tooth and nail against being the “loser.”

This is why it’s virtually impossible for this woman to compromise or make concessions. To her, compromise and concession are humiliating defeats. She’d rather blow the house up and everything in it than compromise or take personal responsibility.

Her need to control, however, will come back to bite her on the backside. Instead of feeling and appearing in control, this woman comes across as out of control when trying to exert control and the people who are under her tyranny eventually stage a revolt and/or bolt from the relationship.

I did indeed feel steamrolled; this is the very word I used once to Jeff, and here it is in a webpage about controlling women.

Apparently it was “offensive” to Tracy for me to do housework, take care of my little boy’s needs, and take time to myself each day to recharge, rather than sitting on my butt talking to her day in, day out, for six weeks.  And she refused to see it any other way than as a deliberate, personal offense.

She decided that Jeff was “welcoming” while I wasn’t.  This despite the fact that I spent six hours socializing with her every evening/night, while Jeff spent that time in the basement on the computer.

What, was I supposed to let my son’s diaper stay wet and the house get filthy and the laundry stay undone?  You must allow your hosts to get back to normal life as soon as possible, because while you may be homeless and unemployed, your hosts are not, and have responsibilities, routines, and ways of doing things.

6. Let your presence interfere as little as possible with your friend’s normal routine, household duties, and career.

You friend may of course wish to take time out to hang with you, but you should never be the one to impose on their time. Do your best to conform your routine to the routine of the household, as to not get in the way or create an imposition….

13. Don’t overstay your visit. Try to keep your stay shorter than three days. Your host has things to do and they can’t put their life on hold forever. —How to be the Perfect Houseguest

I was very welcoming to her when she first arrived.  But I think even extroverts get tired of a small, crowded house after a few days, and want those houseguests to leave.  After all, Benjamin Franklin himself said that “Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.”

We had no spare beds or extra couches.  We had debts, a child in diapers, and all the expenses of home ownership and association fees, so we had no spare money.

They left their dirty laundry in a pile on the living room floor.  They left messes in the bathroom for me to clean up, and didn’t shower more than once every two or three days, but it was too cold to open windows.

They criticized everything from how I ran the house to my various introverted ways.  (So what if I “don’t go anywhere”?  Maybe I don’t want to go anywhere.  And where exactly was I supposed to go, anyway, especially with a toddler and no car?  All my business was in the house.)

I didn’t let them into my house to tell me how to run my life and that everything I do is wrong!  Is there anyone (at least in our culture) who would still be “welcoming” for long in this situation?

Of course, we are not just animals but social animals. Social norms requiring politeness and hospitality usually override overt territorially defensive actions (e.g., “You have to leave my territory, NOW, or harm may come to you”).

Instead, hosts typically communicate feelings of invasion through social withdrawal and short-temperedness.

Primary territories are also the most private of territories. We can control others’ access to us, which reduces stress and promotes recovery.

Most of us need time at home alone or with a few trusted others to recharge before we go back into the world. This varies based on culture and individual differences. For example, introverts, like me, have high privacy needs.

Mack upped his fishiness quotient by inserting himself into private conversations, intruding in private spaces (my bedroom!), and being omnipresent (in spite of the fact that he was not a Holy Mackerel).

Altman’s privacy regulation theory would predict that houseguests are stressful to the extent that they create a “disconnect” between hosts’ actual and desired levels of privacy. —The trouble with houseguests

They really could have used this list of houseguest etiquette; they violated all sorts of things here.

I had no idea I was offending, only that she was suddenly acting very hostile toward me and also toward Richard and her children.  In the beginning I had no problem with her at all, wanted to befriend her, chatted with her, told her a few secrets, had no desire to upset her–but then her hostilities began.

I kept begging Richard to set a move-out date.  He finally set one, January 16, 2008, and I counted the days.  Then as the day got closer, I’d hear, “We may not be able to move out then after all.”  But when the day came, they left.

And there was much rejoicing.  Except that I was so used to having Richard around to talk with and watch TV with, that I missed him dearly.

But for the next couple of years, every time I cleaned the basement and otherwise went about my normal household routine, I heard Tracy’s snotty little voice ripping on my “routine” as if there were something wrong with an orderly household.

Table of Contents 

1. Introduction

2. We share a house

3. Tracy’s abuse turns on me

4. More details about Tracy’s abuse of her husband and children

5. My frustrations mount 

6. Sexual Harassment from some of Richard’s friends

7. Without warning or explanation, tensions build

8. The Incident

9. The fallout; a second chance?

10. Grief 

11. Struggle to regain normalcy

12. Musings on how Christians should treat each other

13. Conclusion 

13b. Thinking of celebrating the first anniversary

14. Updates on Richard’s Criminal Charges 

Sequel to this Story: Fighting the Darkness: Journey from Despair to Healing