My dad is getting married to a woman with whom he's had a very tumultuous, difficult relationship. They are moving across the country together, and I'm scared.
Lots more details inside.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
My dad has been in an off-and-on again relationship with L for four years. Early on, there were several seismic fights between them that affected the whole family. In one, she opened my dad's email without permission, found a message I'd sent to him, and ended up reading something that (long story) she held against my mom. From that point on, his previously amicable relationship with my mom was over. In another, she got angry with my cousin for rearranging my dad's kitchen cabinets while she was visiting. From then on, my cousins' annual visit to my dad's, which has been a tradition since I was a child, has been hugely fraught with tension. I can provide details of the fights, if necessary, but the point is that they were the kinds of inexplicable, over-the-top explosions that have us all, in my dad's words, walking on eggshells around her.
In addition to the fights, day-to-day interactions with L are, for lack of a better word, difficult. She is casually degrading and disdainful of my dad in a way that is hard to watch. She also has a way of jabbing at you, verbally, in a way that is difficult to address in the moment but that, by the end of an hour of conversation, leave you feeling bruised and miserable. Two areas of "contention" are who is in control of my dad's house (as evidenced by the bizarre cabinet fight) and money. It's hard to explain, but it's like we're involved in a turf war with my dad as the prize. If, for example, I bring up staying with my dad over the holidays, she hints that it's because we want to save money on a hotel and that we're taking advantage of my dad by coming to his house. My dad is a big gift giver, no matter how much we tell him to dial it back, and I can tell L hates when he gives us expensive presents. I found myself, this Christmas, spending way more than I could afford on my presents for them as an attempt to "prove" that I wasn't trying to exploit my dad by getting gifts from him. In retrospect, that sounds insane, and it kind of is. The whole situation is exhausting, confusing, and upsetting. She never says anything to us directly - it's always subtle hints and insinuations, or -worse - if we really upset her, she'll turn around and take it out on my dad. Not surprisingly, it is slowly driving a wedge between my dad and the rest of the family. Every visit becomes about not setting off L, or managing her moods if she's angry. As a result, visits have become shorter and shorter, and we see him less and less.
My dad knows the relationship isn't healthy. He and L have broken up four or five times, and in that time, we've had frank conversations where I've told him straight out that their relationship didn't seem good for him, and he agreed. But then, a month later, they were back together. My dad's explanation for all of this is that L has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, but that she's a good person 'underneath.' I buried the lede on that because I'm not quite sure how useful it is as an explanation (I think it's a kind of fuzzy, gendered diagnosis), but there you go.
My dad and L talked about getting married within six months of meeting. This plan was interrupted when he discovered that she'd had several short term marriages she hadn't told him about. Now, though, they are planning to move across the country together. Today, my dad called and told me they are getting married, once she signs a pre-nup. It was a strange conversation. He sounded miserable about it, but he said it wouldn't be fair to ask her to move with him without getting married, which in a way I understand. In any event, I think this just formalizes what I've known to be true for a while: my dad has made the choice to be in this relationship, and there is nothing any of us can do about it.
I am pretty sure L thinks of us kids as the enemy right now, as competitors for both my dad's money and affection. I want that to stop. I truly do not care about any of the material stuff and I've tried to think of a way to convey that to her - or say it straight out - but I've been stuck. For my dad's sake, we've always done our best to avoid making her angry, but now that they've moved, the only way to see my dad will be to stay at their home, which she will hate. She's already hinted that we won't be welcome to stay in the house for more than a day or so. We need to go against her on this, right, or else we'll never end up seeing my dad? I worry about him being isolated and about her convincing him that he has no one to rely on but her.
Should I try and talk about any of this stuff directly? If so, how? I feel like, especially now that she's part of the family, we need to stop white knuckling it through the visits and bring at least some of these tensions out in the open, so that they can be resolved...but I'm scared of the repercussions for my relationship with my dad if it explodes into a big fight. Basically, I want to call a truce with L. I am worried for my dad. I want to stay close to him, and so I want to have the healthiest possible relationship with L that I can.
Can you tell me what I should do?