Forgiving a parent's infidelity
December 26, 2013 7:42 AM   Subscribe

I'm unsure if and how to forgive my father for having an affair. I feel that being unable to get past this, is affecting me as a person and has complicated my relationship with my mother. I'd really like to hear from others who may have come to crossroads with forgiving a loved one, especially anyone who's dealt with a parent's infidelity.

As a background, my father had an affair a few years ago, with a woman who lives in our home country. (We're Indian, but I grew up in the US.) I believe the affair continues to this day, with heavy financial support to this woman, who is a widow, and her grown children. Additionally I believe my father continues to speak to this woman on the phone, I assume at least weekly.

A few years ago, my father asked my mother for a divorce. She suspected that there was someone else, and he openly admitted the relationship when we asked him. Although this was shattering news, my mother refused to give him a divorce. Her reasons? For one, she couldn't imagine her life without him. Also, she felt that staying with him and tracking his every move, would be punishment to him. Lastly, culturally, divorce isn't widely accepted in the area of India we're from. Case in point, out of all their friends and relatives, we only know one couple that is divorced.

For as long as I can remember my parents have had an extremely unhealthy marriage, often times verbally abusive, sometimes physically. They were ok as parents, when they managed to get past their intense dislike of each other. In fact, my father and I were very close when I was a little girl, and I thought he could do no wrong. As a teenager, I was more affected by their fights, and withdrew from him a bit. Yet all those years, despite feeling disappointed in the way my parents treated each other, I never imagined my father would have an affair until it happened. And when it did, I had no idea how to communicate with him normally anymore.

At first, I pleaded with him to sort things out with my mother, and not to throw our family away. Eventually, after many tearfilled days, he reluctantly seemed to give in and simply said he wouldn't leave my mother.

My mother, to complicate things, often insists on throwing my sister and I into the middle of things, telling us that no other children would allow their fathers to "get away" with having an affair and "giving away" our money.

So fast-forward to the current state of things: I barely ever talk to my father, though I know he cares for me. He often sends me emails and tells me he's worried about me, but I usually don't reply because I have nothing to say - numb is how I feel. My mother and I are sometimes ok, but recently I don't talk to her much either. It's draining to hear about their problems. I feel guilty for saying this, because I want to be there for my mother. But time has shown me that things go in circles with my parents, and I feel incapable of solving their issues.

In an ideal world, my mother would have allowed the divorce, and she would have moved on slowly but surely, and my sister and I would have been there for her. But this just isn't a possibility, at least not one that I can control. Even in this ideal world, things with my father would still probably be unresolved.

My parents will soon be moving near me, and I feel this could be a chance to resolve issues and start on a new page.

My questions:
How do I forgive my father (and should I?) if 1) I'm not sure how to communicate him while I hold this enormous grudge and 2) I'm unsure if he is continuing to have this affair? As mentioned above -- I'm PRETTY sure he is, but if I knew for sure, I don't think I could truly forgive him. Perhaps I'm afraid to know for sure.

And with my mother, how can I develop a healthy relationship with her, when most of our conversations end with her complaining about my father?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (31 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
As far as your relationship with your mother goes, please read this post from Captain Awkward and see whether its advice might work for you: "Setting a boundary with your mom feels like opening its own can of worms, but you are very smart to know your own limits for listening to complaints about your dad and knowing that fixing the problems in their marriage is not your job."
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:51 AM on December 26, 2013 [7 favorites]

I think you should probably talk to a therapist, but I have a lot of sympathy for your father, who has tried to get out of his marriage, and has been manipulated into staying by his wife and child. Some marriages don't work out.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:54 AM on December 26, 2013 [9 favorites]

Honestly, I don't really think your father needs your forgiveness. He tried to do the right thing and end the marriage with your mom, but she didn't allow it, and you're actively punishing him for it with your coldness toward hm.

He's actively trying to keep you in his life and he in yours. I think the issue is you and the wall you've built on your own.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:56 AM on December 26, 2013 [29 favorites]

Young blood runs hot, and one of the most difficult things for a child to accept is the rationale a parent uses to make a decision. ("How could she choose to still live with dad after all he's done to her ...").

The sooner you come to peace with this reality, the better your chances of both forgiving your father, and understanding your mother. Good luck.
posted by Kruger5 at 7:58 AM on December 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

You could reframe this in your mind. You are sort of thinking of your father as the "bad" one here, which is why you think you need to forgive him. But what's really happening here? Your father and your mother are no longer compatible life partners, for whatever reason. Your father loves someone else and wants to be with them. He has so far been guilted into staying with a partner that he no longer loves by his family, so he is staying, day after day, in a toxic relationship. I understand he has broken trust and it's hard to see someone fall off a pedestal. But the loving thing to do here, as a son or daughter, is to support his quest for love and happiness and to support your mom in finding her own path to happiness. Which may or may not happen. Good luck.
posted by gt2 at 8:00 AM on December 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think you should forgive your Dad and let him back into your life. He didn't abuse you or your mother, he just tried to find some happiness for himself and do the right thing by your mother. But I feel this way because my cultural background accepts that sometimes marriages don't work out. If you don't or can't see things this way then you have to do what's right for you. But you could try, because parents don't live forever.
posted by bleep at 8:01 AM on December 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Having similar father issues, I understand your struggles. See my former post. For me, attempting to resolve issues with my father was not successful. Your situation seems much different and you father is making a true effort.

You seem enmeshed in your parents' relationship. I agree with Monkey that setting boundaries with your mother is an important step. You do not have to participate in conversations about your father unless you choose to do so. From experience, I would also ask yourself why you personally are angry at your father. Not your mother's reasons, but your own. This situation has caused quite a bit of havoc in your life. Imagine being in your father's shoes.

Lastly, I would also suggest you accept your feelings may not resolve for awhile. Life isn't tidy and no matter how much you wish it, sometimes situations take years to resolve. I struggle with this personally but sometimes you have to just be in the conflict. Best wishes.
posted by Kitty Cornered at 8:09 AM on December 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

Your parents marriage is none of your business. You are correct, it is unhealthy and toxic and no one is happy. Is that what marriage is supposed to be?

There is nothing wrong with having a relationship with your father. You love him, he loves you. You don't have to agree with his decisions to run his life this way, but he is still your father and he has done NOTHING to you. Don't judge him and don't punish him because of how he has decided to live his life. Give yourself the gift of your your father's love. Forgiving him isn't for him, it is for you. By forgiving your father, you will receive peace. Technically, it's not for you to forgive him, he doesn't need forgiving. But if it makes you feel better, you can say it to yourself.

Your mother is being very selfish. Your father does not love her, yet she has blackmailed him into remaining married to her...for what? Does she love him, or is he just her meal ticket? Your mother can conceive of only one way of living, and even if your father is miserable, she is miserable and by association you and your sister are miserable, what? That is not love, that is something else.

Do not allow yourself to be drawn into this drama. If your mother starts in, simply say, "Mother, I refuse to talk to you about this. I love you, I love Father. If you are unhappy, you have options, but I will not be a party to a relationship that has nothing to do with me."

Some customs do not serve us well. So what if in your part of India, divorce is not accepted? Thank heavens your family isn't there. Sure, some people will judge your parents, but at the end of the day, what is more important, being happy, or looking good to other people?

It may help your mother to know that she has rights in the US. If your parents divorce, she may be entitled to support, community property, etc. Perhaps if you could encourage your mother to discover what her rights are, and what her financial expectations might be, she may change her mind about divorcing your father.

If your parents no longer love each other, there is NOTHING that will change that reality. People are entitled to be happy, to feel loved and to feel appreciated and needed in their relationships. Neither of your parents has that now, nor will that change.

You know this. You have my permission to continue to love both parents and to not be brought into the middle of their mess of a marriage.

Hang in there. This is not your problem to solve.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:20 AM on December 26, 2013 [15 favorites]

For what it's worth: on hearing of a long-lasting affair over the course of a long (eventually ended) marriage, I raised my eyebrows, and the response was 'But the marriage never would have lasted as long as it did without the affair!' The fellow in sort-of your father's shoes had framed it a bit as the right thing to do for his family under the circumstances. Relationships are not always straightforward and there aren't always easy solutions.

In re. "I pleaded with him to sort things out with my mother" -- this probably didn't help your mother grok that it's inappropriate to moan to you about the state of her marriage. You 'feel incapable of solving their issues' because you are. Parents shouldn't burden children with this stuff. On the other hand, children shouldn't nag at their parents about this stuff, either. I can't understand why all the blame falls on your father here, especially as you note in an ideal world, my mother would have allowed the divorce.

Would it make any difference to your parents if you gave them your 'permission' to divorce? I don't want to advocate for further involvement in their marital woes, but if you think there's any chance they are partially sticking together for your sake, maybe that's a delusion that could benefit from gentle disabusing.
posted by kmennie at 8:43 AM on December 26, 2013

Were your parents an arranged marriage? Try to picture "making do" with someone who is a bad match and you may have some sympathy here.

Also, maybe now is time to 1) identify less with your mother (him cheating on her is not equivalent to him not loving you) and 2) see your parents as just people who are struggling just as your struggle to get along with those in your life and struggle to find some happiness in this world.

I don't know if a therapist is necessary but you could talk to a good friend or someone older and maybe they can help you see the bigger picture of your parents relationship, separate from your relationship with them.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:51 AM on December 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Forgive your dad because he is human and trying to be happy. His marriage to your mom is unhealthy and makes them both unhappy.

Your mom is the real problem. She refuses to give a divorce, denying him and herself happiness. Worse, she drags you into it. That sort of behavior is hurting all of you.

Walk awY from this situTion, not your parents. Have a relationship with dad, realizing it's ok to seek happiness when your refuses to allow him. Everyone deserves to be happy.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:52 AM on December 26, 2013 [8 favorites]

In an ideal world, my mother would have allowed the divorce

I think this grudge you're holding against your father only exists because you can't bring yourself to hold the "victim" - your mother - responsible for her part in this.

It honestly sounds like your father loves you very much and has given up a great deal to try to do the "right thing". I can't imagine how much it grinds down a soul to have to be with someone with whom you share 1) intense dislike, 2) abuse, 3) children you care about.

telling us that no other children would allow their fathers to "get away" with having an affair and "giving away" our money.

What does she expect you to do? Hold him hostage? Something creepier? This is remarkably not okay. It's verbal abuse.

I think your father deserves forgiveness and your mother deserves to be held responsible for her behavior. And you and your sister need to keep yourselves out of it and form relationships with the two of them separately.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:00 AM on December 26, 2013 [8 favorites]

telling us that no other children would allow their fathers to "get away" with having an affair and "giving away" our money.

Children are categorically not responsible for what their parents choose to do of their own free will. She's manipulating you.

As to forgiving your father... he wronged your mother, not you. Forgiveness isn't relevant or appropriate coming from you.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:12 AM on December 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

Your dad could have filed for divorce as well. I think it's important to recognize that both of your parents suck and need your forgiveness
posted by spunweb at 9:15 AM on December 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

In reading your telling of this tale it's hard for me to see that one person in that relationship is the obvious Good Guy and the the other is an obvious Villain. Is that the value of being outside the situation or are you (sub)conciously seeking some validation that maybe you shouldn't be hanging onto this grudge against just one person in the scene?

Personally I think situations get to a point when it no longer matters who precipitated it. Nobody sounds like a gem here; maybe this was bad all the time. Maybe your dad ruined something good but has since coped the only way he knows how while your mother has chosen the low road at every opportunity.

Does it matter?

Personally I don't come from the camp that believes a biological or familial tie means you must find a way to work things out. If your conclusion is that their actions reflect truly repellant and hateful behavior then maybe you don't want one or both of them to have a part of your life, ever, at all. Someone can be so horrible that it's not acceptable to find a way to compartmentalize some of their past and current bad actions/poor choices.

From the outside that doesn't sound like the case here. It would probably be easier for you to set boundaries and not let their marriage be a subject of discussion with you if they were divorced and living apart. But you can still try and the above linked Captain Awkward stuff is worth a look. If you can see loving your mother & father for their other qualities and actions then you should try to set a path where you can enforce those limits and have some sort of relationship with them.

Maybe you need a decompression period first - that's totally fair. But I think that'll work best for all involved if you make it clear that's what's going on.
posted by phearlez at 9:23 AM on December 26, 2013

This isn't exactly answering your question, but I don't think the issue is whether or how to forgive your father. The issue is your mother putting you in the middle of their marriage.

It's kind of hard for me to answer your direct question because I definitely did not have a traditional relationship with my parents, so I don't know how applicable my anecdotal advice is to your situation. But, my father and mother were both unfaithful. I had to really work on having a relationship with them that was separate from their relationship with each other. This meant, among other things, limiting our time together and the types of conversations that we could have.

Spoiler alert: I'm completely estranged from my family now, for reasons that have nothing to do with infidelity, but it was much easier for me to set boundaries with them than it might be for you.
posted by sm1tten at 9:27 AM on December 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

The issue is your mother putting you in the middle of their marriage.

Yeah, this. Him cheating on her is about them, not you. Neither of them should be making it about you. The only forgiveness you should be entertaining here is forgiving them for using you as a pawn in their (apparent, from your description) codependent misery.

Personally, I wouldn't give them any forgiveness for that. I'd tell them to work out their problems between themselves, and until they stop trying to involve me, we won't be talking.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:52 AM on December 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

Oh and I should have added the same spoiler/disclaimer as sm1tten
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:53 AM on December 26, 2013

@Lyn Never has it. Your mother sounds like a master manipulator who has crossed a major boundary on you. You should definitely talk to a therapist, in particular one who understands Indian culture, and also read up on how to have healthy boundaries. The Adult Child's Guide to What's Normal by John C. Friel would be a great place to start.

"my mother refused to give him a divorce."

I'm a bit baffled by your blind belief in the so-called truth of this statement, OP. This is 2013. In every US state, either member of a married couple can file for divorce at any time. There may be waiting periods until a court actually grants the divorce, but nobody can permanently "block" their spouse from doing so.

Whenever your mother brings up your father again, suggest that she be the one to divorce him, and give her the number of an attorney.
posted by hush at 10:06 AM on December 26, 2013 [8 favorites]

If you don't practice forgiveness, you may find it hard to obtain when you need it.

Most people I know, (the live ones), spend their lives doing stuff that in one way or another, offends their planet mates. This applies to men, women, children. Forgiveness is essential unless you just like playing games and making the world a worse place.

This is not India. We at least make lip-service to thinking that revenge is not a good thing. (And just as often, today's dream mate is tomorrow psycho BF or evil bitch ex. Spend more time here for daily reminders.... Amazing how many people are making such good decisions going INTO brilliant, scintillating new relationships and how many are making demonstrably poor ones staying in/leaving bad ones. Oy.)

If your mother thinks revenge is good, perhaps it is she you should forgive, too?

Then maybe forgive them both for giving you such questionable tools for dealing with modern life in North America in the 21st century?

Really.... refusing to "give" someone a divorce is usually a really.bad.idea.

Nonetheless, you don't need to forgive your dad. Or your mom. They'll be dead soon enough and a memory. And in the grand scheme of things, your forgiveness is as meaningless as most lives. What makes them more meaningful is when they are spent healing, not destroying. We all get to choose what kind we want to have, every time a choice like this comes up.
posted by FauxScot at 10:06 AM on December 26, 2013

I was tempted to do what some others are: that is, to defend your father as not being the only "bad guy" here, and suggest that's why you ought to keep trying to find a way to forgive him. But I realized, that's premature. It took me 10 or 15 years worth of distance and experience before I was ready to forgive this kind of thing in my parents, and you have no distance at all. You can't forgive him now, because you're still in the middle of it and you can't have perspective while you are.

So, I'll sort of enlarge your question to one where I'm addressing what your next steps might be in getting a more stable and appropriate relationship with both your parents. And I think that should be to tell both of them, as often as required: "You are my parent. I will always love and honor you. But it's wrong for you to place me in the middle of a conflict between you and my other parent." Don't tell your father that all is forgiven. But short and polite answers to emails will not hurt you or betray your mom. Just speak to both parents civilly, on any other subject, and refuse to discuss or listen to this one at all.
posted by tyllwin at 10:28 AM on December 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

So he's had a long term affair with a woman who has children, and has been financially supporting her. Isn't there a good possibility that you have a half-brother/sister? Would that put their actions in a different light?
Your parents moving near you is a chance for them to make things much worse for you, and to continue using you as a pawn in their relationship.
posted by Sophont at 11:08 AM on December 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think the grudge you are holding against your father is the fact that he acted on the thinly veiled truth about your parents' relationship, that until this point, as his child you had been able to deny: your parents aren't in love, they haven't been role models for love, and they aren't healthy together. Your father finally did something to shatter the illusion you had as a child that even though they fought, somehow, it was going to be all right. Now there is no more ability to deny that it's not going to be all right........ and that's okay. This is part of becoming adult: realizing your parents are human, not gods.

Realize your parents each had full lives for themselves long before they met, long before they had children, and long before this affair came up. Your family's karma was well in motion long before your parents arrived at the precipice they're at now. To believe, as their child, that there should have been more control somehow is to try assume the role of god. It is what it is; in fact, it is what it always was, just much more clearer now.

I think maybe too, what might be hurting for you, is that you probably knew on some intuitive level that your father was genuinely unhappy, but went along with the charade of 'functional family' in hopes that the problems would somehow (magically and invisibly) take care of themselves. In the back corner of your heart, you might even feel that you're responsible somehow, for not helping him to avoid this (even though you couldn't have, because you're his child). Honestly, that would have never been possible because that help needed to come from your mother. They needed to meet each other halfway a long time ago, and because of their own respective damage coming into the marriage, they just couldn't. Especially if it was an arranged marriage, there probably was very little actual choice for either of them (and I say this, having an Indian mother who was married off to a non-Indian man she did not know, who cheated on her multiple times throughout the marriage... only this year does she seem to finally be embracing the idea that his behavior did not have as much to do with her as she originally thought, and that YES she DOES deserve loving happiness in her life because she is a GOOD person). That might be a very difficult but rewarding conversation to have with each of them, one day.....

Anyhow, I think your mother sounds very bitter because she probably knew for a long time that things weren't working, but did not exercise her power of choice to put sufficient effort into improving her contribution to the relationship. I also think that she's not just punishing your father by holding onto him, but punishing herself too, believing in a very self-defeating manner that she's not even worthy of having a man who loves her to begin with. There's probably a potent core of self-loathing beneath her visible misery.

I strongly recommend you draw your boundaries with her (no more playing sounding board to her bitter feelings about your other parent; just loving support for her to focus on herself and what her emotional needs are without making you her full-time mental health support). Lovingly support her to go for some counselling, so that she can realize and believe that even she deserves love and happiness in her life -- that this amount of self-punishment and suffering is not as absolutely necessary as she currently seems to believe. Support her to get out of the house too and build relationships in the community, so she can see that she's not sailing over the edge of a cliff here -- that there can still be a very full and rewarding life for her in the times ahead. But ultimately, respect that it's your parents' issue to manage, and really not your place to counsel what's best for them to do. You're an adult now; live your life, and support them to do the same. Whether they decide that's ultimately best done together or apart will be up to them. Keep out of it, so that it's their decision to live with -- not yours. Their unfinished lessons are not there for you to complete.
posted by human ecologist at 1:01 PM on December 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

tl;dr but surely someone pointed out that there are 2 people in a marriage and they are the principals who decide the principles. Every one else is an outsider. Your mother should not expect you and your siblings to take sides or influence your father. Perhaps your mother should speak to a divorce lawyer with the goal of leaving this toxic lifestyle and relieving her children of it.
posted by Cranberry at 2:15 PM on December 26, 2013

How do I forgive my father (and should I?) if 1) I'm not sure how to communicate him while I hold this enormous grudge and 2) I'm unsure if he is continuing to have this affair? As mentioned above -- I'm PRETTY sure he is, but if I knew for sure, I don't think I could truly forgive him. Perhaps I'm afraid to know for sure.

By understanding that this is his way of coping with being in a loveless marriage.

And with my mother, how can I develop a healthy relationship with her, when most of our conversations end with her complaining about my father?

Suggest that if she hates him so much, she should get a divorce. Otherwise, steer all complaining onto a completely different topic.
posted by heyjude at 2:45 PM on December 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

I sure wish you'd posted a throwaway email, since I don't want to splash all the details on the internet . . .

My dad left my mom for the other woman when I was very small, like a toddler. I am at peace with him now, but I couldn't say that I've entirely forgiven him. I have, however, forgiven myself for holding it against him that he walked out on a woman who loved him and two very little children, and I've forgiven myself that I just don't like his wife or their daughter. I just don't. I've tried, I've guilted myself, I've gone to therapy. Whatever. That was his decision, as an adult, and my decision, as an adult, is to not be around people I just don't like or respect.

I had the added dramz layer of working with my dad, for several years, and his wife, for a year or so. Doing divorce law. Watching the aftermath of people cheat on their spouses with whom they had little kids. It sucked. I compartmentalized.

You should compartmentalize, too. Your dad is your dad, and he's also your mom's husband. His relationship with you is not 100% based on his relationship with her. He's a shitty husband, but it doesn't sound like he's been a terribly shitty dad.

Everybody here is an adult, and therefore has a private sex life. Would you want either of your parents getting emotionally wrapped up in the details of your sex life? Like, ever? Nope. It's hard to compartmentalize like this when it's your parents and your home, but just repeat to yourself --- ew, that's Dad's sexy time, I'm not going to think about it. He's an adult and frankly can do what he likes. He knows the consequences and has made his choices with that knowledge.

(Bear in mind if his relationship with this woman is long-distance, there's probably a lot of escapism going on.)

As for your mother . . . well, my mother is quite similar. I couldn't really describe a day at work to her without it ending in a tangent about my lying, cheating father and his no-good homewrecker wife, and if I think it's bad that the printer jammed, well, I should have just been there when he was out all night . . . . (It's been like, 25 years since their divorce, but hell hath no fury, you know). My mother did this in a lot of other ways -- I think now, knowing what I know, she blurred boundaries with her children and over-shared grown up people problems with kids and that trend just continued. I finally laid down the law when it came to her trash talking my step-brothers because, I explained to her, it was really impacting my ability to have a relationship with them as people. You need to set this boundary with your mother. It doesn't matter if you're 3 or 30, your parents' sex life is none of your business.

You will have to explain this to her and explain that you're not choosing sides. "I'm angry at Dad for how he's treated you, but it's affecting my relationship when you direct your anger about it to me." Repeat again and again, change the subject, leave the room, hang up the phone. Honestly, if I were you, I'd probably just shout down the phone one day that if he's such an asshole, she should divorce him and go do better. (Maybe that's an option for you?)

Also, as someone above pointed out, if they are in the US (or possibly anywhere else on the planet) he does not need her permission to file for divorce. She's not being unreasonable by not wanting a divorce -- my mom didn't want a divorce and there are people all over Metafilter who post about being betrayed by a spouse but who need to hear it from strangers on the internet that divorce is an option. She's in denial right now (lapsing over with anger, it sounds like).

You should get yourself into some talk therapy to prep for their move close to you and to practice the boundary-setting skills you're going to need. (This may sound harsh, but it's not our job to be there for our mothers. It's not. They can hire therapists, vent at friends or take up journaling. It breeds codependence and it's not good for any parent-child dynamic to drag a child into marital problems. You are not the person who can fix this (if indeed, anyone can), and you can forgive yourself for that, too.) Best of luck to you.
posted by mibo at 4:53 PM on December 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think it's fair to be angry at a parent for falling out of love with someone they vowed to love unconditionally (if they made such a vow.)

I don't believe in marriage the way a lot of people do, I don't think you magically start or stop loving someone or that if your feelings change there is nothing you can do about it.

If you stopped loving your child would you feel powerless to stop it? Say "it just wasn't meant to be"? I don't think people who stop loving their partners are the victim of Fate magically taking away their love. It's a choice and they stopped choosing to cultivate love for the parent of their children, to the detriment of their partner and children.

I'm going against the grain here and going to say it's totally legitimate to be angry at your father both because "all feelings are legitimate" and in some people's perspective he actually did something wrong and it hurt your mother and it hurt you and your family.

You mother is half of you, how could your father say he just stopped loving her and that not impact how secure you feel about his love for you?

These ARE things you can work through, and I think you CAN forgive your father if you want to, but I don't think you have to skip the part where you give yourself room to be angry and really process why that is ok. Get some support with what happened in your family, let yourself have space to NOT forgive your father if you don't want to, and process things untill you can decide what you really want out of this, and if it is to forgive and rekindle a relationship do that. It's also ok to just move on and not offer any particular forgiveness. It is your life. These kind of family issues can be really hard and I do think therapy might could help you work through a lot of this.

In a weird way I find it easier to forgive when there is not a bunch of pressure to forgive like it was nothing from people who seem to think there wasn't much of a wrong done or the harm is no big deal. I feel like that can be harmful to. Seek the support you need and go from there.
posted by xarnop at 5:02 PM on December 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

I don't think people who stop loving their partners are the victim of Fate magically taking away their love. It's a choice and they stopped choosing to cultivate love for the parent of their children, to the detriment of their partner and children.

Yeah, no. Love comes and goes. All emotions come and go. Love is no different.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:39 PM on December 26, 2013

It isn't your place to forgive your father for cheating on your mother. You are the daughter, not the wife. You can still be angry and upset but you don't get to forgive or not forgive him. Your father is not answerable to anyone on this except your mother. Its not even a question of him "needing" your forgiveness. You are not in that picture at all, and how the two of them deal with it is really none of your business.

Speaking of which, it isn't fair or just of your mother to drag her kids into this. She is using the kids as pawns. You do realize that its coming from a woman who is likely not financially independent and needs this marriage to work out, and may or may not have the emotional or financial resources and support that she needs at this time. And its not just using you as pawns, its more of manipulating you and making YOU feel guilty to get to her husband who then will hopefully provide her with what she needs.

You could suggest counseling to your mother and stop engaging and physically leave the room when she goes in that direction. At the same time, you could let her know that you'll support her in the ways you can, and this is not one of them. You need to stay out of your parents' relationship, for your sake and theirs. You were never supposed to solve their problems and you cant let them make you part of it. As difficult as this situation may be right now, think of it as an opportunity to learn about and exercise boundaries.
posted by xm at 12:18 AM on December 27, 2013

At first, I pleaded with him to sort things out with my mother, and not to throw our family away. Eventually, after many tearfilled days, he reluctantly seemed to give in and simply said he wouldn't leave my mother.

I think you should apologize to him and tell him you'll still love him if he gets a divorce. Tell him you want him to be happy. Tell him you are sorry you interfered when he and your mom were having this discussion and you realize now how much harder you made it for him. Say that you realized that their relationship is their relationship, and that you came to a decision that it would be better for all of you if you stayed out of the middle, and had independent relationships with them both. Reasure him that you will always be family no matter what happens between him and your mom, and that you love him.

I think that (in addition to telling your mom that you want to stay out of the middle and that she needs to solve her own problems, as others have suggested) this will help set you free from this space in the middle where you currently find yourself stuck.
posted by salvia at 12:32 AM on December 27, 2013 [6 favorites]

I think most of the answers here are missing the cultural background. For one thing, cheating is a big deal in any circumstance, especially when there are kids involved, but an affair in an Indian marriage where your dad knew that divorce would be crippling for your mom, and subject her to societal humiliation, was just thoughtless. OP, I was fuming at your dad while reading this post, so I can only imagine how you feel.

That said, I agree that your mother should not be burdening you with her problems and poisoning you against your father. It's a terrible situation for your mother, though, and my heart goes out to her. Are there any other relatives that she can confide in, who might give her some perspective, and be there for her if she were to get a divorce? She's leaning on you for that, and she should not be.
posted by redlines at 9:35 AM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

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