My husband’s parents are very abusive now and in the past. Recently they’ve started bringing me into the mix, and so my husband decided to cut them out of our lives. They still text me to curse our marriage and say awful things about both of us. I know that filial piety is very important, but what if it’s an abusive situation? Does Buddhism teach anything about this?
Its good that you are staying away from them. You have made the right choice. Follow this technique to deal with them in the future.
This may be difficult to practice at first; but you need to gradually extend truly heartfelt Metta (loving kindness) towards them (refer: SN1.8 Mettasutta). This is a very powerful technique to deal with abusive people who hate you.
Hate is like a virus that jump from person to person and, corrupt and make the mind ill. If others are throwing burning coal at you and your husband. What is the intuitive thing to do? Throw burning coal back at them in return? But that will create even more calamity and create a fire that will destroy everything. Instead, each time they throw burning coal at the two of you, throw them cold calming water of Metta. If you do this from the bottom of your heart, they will not be able to throw burning coal at you any longer. This is because their coal does not burn you, its because you grow beautiful flowers on their coal (bad thoughts) their efforts become fruitless. If this method changes them, keep your guard up dealing with this kind of people. My experience are, they are deceptive in nature, and may try to use a good face to get through to you. Metta is the best medicine for all these occasions.
This is a long tried and tested method to deal with bullies, haters and abusive people. The best advantage of this method is that you do not allow hate contaminate your mind, so the situation cannot affect you anymore. Refer AN15 Mettanisansasutta to learn the benefits of practicing Metta. You can't go wrong with this technique. Once mastered, you will be like a super hero!
- Understand that people who abuse others suffer a lot. They are always in the clutches of the demons of greed, anger, ignorance; and because they don't know how to skillfully deal with the negative emotions arising within them, the only thing they can do is project their anger and hatred onto others. People don't choose to be unhappy; they can only behave from the level of maturity they are currently at. Given the choice, no one wants to be abusive, everyone wants to be happy.
- The only way to skillfully deal with a abusive person is love and compassion. However, many times this is not possible or we have not developed the level of compassion for the abuser yet, which is fine. Then the next best thing to do would be to have compassion for yourself and realize when you have to cut off ties to the abuser. Allowing the abuser to cause harm to you is not doing you nor the abuser any favors; you are indirectly reinforcing the abuser's behavior and essentially telling him that he can get what he wants through his abusive behavior.
- This probably won't be helpful to tell someone who is currently suffering from intense abuse, but abusive people are here to teach you a lesson about self-clinging. When we perceive ourselves to be in an abusive situation, we always make it about the other person and not ourselves. We should learn to take responsibility for the role we played in that situation. We came to be in this position because of our karma. Sometimes the abuser is a karmic debtor and we should take the opportunity to practice patience and forbearance, rather than revenge which perpetuates the cycle of abuse.
I recommend this answer.
My limited experience of an abusing relationship is that it can stem from something like:
"I'm unhappy because you don't love me"
... but then being rather vague about what love and proof-of-love is (which of course must vary from one relationship to another). I don't know whether modern "relationship counselling" might help to clarify that communication, but it's outside the scope of what the Buddha usually talked about in the suttas.
Another experience is that sometimes people kick the dog
When someone in power over you forces something upon you, and you in turn force something on someone under you. like when parents punish you, then you turn around and beat on your little brother.
For example one parent complains to the other, and the other then complains to (or kicks) their child or their child's wife and so on. In that case the cause is indirect i.e. more to do with their unhappy relationship with each other, with someone else, with themselves, than with you.
In this situation, it's two parents, your husband, and now you. Perhaps your husband feels a need to protect you, or his relationship with you.
One idea might be to try to reduce the stress your husband feels, e.g. tell him it's no big deal, i.e. that you are A-okay.
I think that main thing that Buddhism teaches, not only about filial piety but relationships in general, is the brahmaviharas. Those essays suggest that one or more of these is always appropriate for every relationship (perhaps most immediately your relationship with your husband).