For as long as I can remember, my parents have nasty arguments with each other every few days, including shouting, harsh words, put-downs at each other. When I was a child, they involved me in their marital strife, and I feel damaged from it. I am now in my 30s. I've tried years of therapy for myself to learn how to not be bothered, but I am still very bothered. I want to reduce my contact with them to just occasional phone calls, but I am scared that we'll become estranged and they'll die, and then I'll regret it. Advice from MeFites who have reduced their contact with their parents?
posted by cheesecake to Human Relations (24 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Every 1-3 days, my parents get into an argument in a pattern:
1. Mom pushes boundaries. Examples: talks loudly in quiet public settings after being asked not to, reprimands Dad over & over for buying the wrong groceries, pressures Dad to run errands when he doesn't want to, insists on practicing her hobby no matter how inconvenient the timing is, takes photos in places where they're forbidden.
2. Dad loses temper and shouts angrily.
3. Mom goes into victim mode.
When I was 10 to 16, my mom would confide in me for hours at a time about how sad she was about my dad's temper, how she married the wrong person, how the arguments were causing her to vomit and be bedridden, how she can't wait for me to grow up so she can divorce my dad and come live with me. I was caught in the middle in many arguments where I would defend my mom and shout at my dad, crying, accusing him of the same things my mom accused him of.
At 16, I finally told her to stop confessing these marital issues to me. I felt like part of me died that day, when I cut her off. Worse, she refused to listen to my request. For 3 more years, every time I came home, she kept pouring out marital problems, literally talking over me. If I asked her to stop, she would just talk louder to drown out my voice. I had to shout at her at the top of my lungs to get her to stop, which she eventually did. This made me reflect on how she was provoking me into losing my temper, and perhaps this is what she does to my dad.
As an adult, I have gone to therapy for 5 years, on and off during my 20s and 30s, to learn how to deal with this. I read "The Dance of Anger" and "Drama of the Gifted Child".
During college and for several years after, I would rarely phone home -- maybe once every 1-2 months. I would only visit home for a few days per year. My parents then told me that I abandoned my younger brother (who lived at home) by never calling and never coming home. It was true that my brother was sad and missed me a lot. I still feel bad about this. My mom never dumped her marital issues onto my brother. He doesn't seem bothered by my parents' arguments and doesn't understand why it bothers me so much.
Each time before I went home for a trip, I would tell my parents that they absolutely must not fight during my few days home, and they would promise not to. Then they would get into a big fight. Once my dad said that my mom is normally more calm, but became more agitated and fight-inducing when I came home. During their fights, I would feel trapped and think about how I could take a kitchen knife and jab it into my stomach and then at least they would have to stop fighting in order to take me to the ER. (I have not actually done this.)
A couple years ago, I told my mom how painful it is for me when she would badmouth my dad. During this conversation, I would say "It's really hurtful when you criticize my dad". She would answer by doing it more, e.g "your dad is a good person but his temper is so horrible that ..." or "I wouldn't do it if he didn't do terrible things such as ...". I got so frustrated that I started ramming my head into the wall over and over, shouting, "Stop it! Stop talking!"
I have a lot of conflict in my romantic relationships, which I believe is a result of growing up with this.
Around 5 years ago, I figured out the only way to get them to not fight is to take them on lavish trips where I pay for the trip. They are frugal and want to make the most of the time we spend in these exotic countries, so they would avoid wasting time fighting, in order to spend the time on sightseeing. So I've been doing that a few times per year. They were generally well-behaved on the trips. There were entire week-long trips where they did not fight! I was so happy. I thought I had found the magic bullet. I thought about buying a big house and bringing my parents to live with me after they retire, and then when I have kids, they could help take care of their grandkids, and we'd be a big happy multi-generational family.
Right now we are midway through a trip. They were well-behaved for the first half, but it broke down today and Dad shouted harshly at Mom because she wanted to go back inside a tourist attraction and he didn't want to wait for her.
The awful thing is that we have a guest with us on the trip (my brother's significant other). I thought they would control themselves and put on a happy face in front of a guest, but they did not. The guest and my brother actually don't seem bothered, but for me, this was extremely upsetting.
I told both parents today that this is unacceptable, and that if they do not stop this pattern, this is the last trip. Their responses were:
Dad: "Ok, I'll control myself."
Mom: "This is not under my control. It's all your dad's doing. His temper is even worse at home. You should save yourself and not travel with us and be happy."
MeFites who have cut off or reduced contact with their parents, please give me your wisdom:
1. I want to stop in-person contact with my parents for the time being. I would just do phone calls with them. But they are in their 60s / 70s. The thought that they could die and this would have been the last time I see them feels panic-inducing. How can I deal with this fear?
2. Should I tell my parents or my brother about my reason, or just make up an excuse ("I can't take you on any trips due to work")? If I tell them the real reason, it just invites more drama, which is precisely what I don't want. If I make up excuses, they'll criticize me for not prioritizing family and for abandoning them.
3. How do I not feel guilty about doing this? My parents' and brother's attitude is "you're the only one who's upset by the arguments, so why don't you just get over it?" It makes me feel like I am causing family friction due to my issue that I should be able to just "get over" but can't. Or do I feel guilty and just live with the guilt?
4. Does anyone have a personal experience where they reduced contact for a few years and then were able to reconnect in a more healthy way?
Thank you! I am very grateful.