How can I help my Mom during her marriage crisis?
August 3, 2008 5:53 AM   Subscribe

My 60 year old mom, married 40 years to a husband with NPD, is drinking and crying in the evenings, angrily lashing out, taking sleeping pills in order to sleep at night, and anguishing over whether she can leave her marriage. How can I help her?

I think my mom has some borderline leanings, which makes her marriage with someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder particularly tough. Last year I found her a therapist so she would have some moral support in the face of constant belittling and criticism, and so she would have someone to help her decide what she wants to do (ie, stay or go). But after several months she stopped going, and is resisting my suggestions (urgings) that she see someone else. She's horribly depressed and angry (and I can't blame her, living with her husband is a gigantic mind-fuck on an hourly basis; I'm still dealing with my childhood stuff from him) and tonight, while visiting, it was evident that she'd been drinking, they'd been fighting, and while I talked with her and she cried, her affect became more and more blunt and incoherent. She had, it turned out, taken her sleeping pills 20 minutes before and they had just kicked in. She's not suicidal (never has been), but the episode disturbed me enormously. I should add that she's been on and off SSRIs for the past several years; I don't know about now.

So, I'm very worried about her, I care about her a lot, and I'm at a loss as how to help. For reasons I don't understand, she refuses to see her previous therapist, get a new one, or allow me to find her another. Marriage therapy is a nonstarter, as is therapy for her husband. I don't care if she chooses to stay married or not (both are upper middle-class retired professionals, financially they'll be ok, though a divorce might be nasty), I just want to help her if I can. What can I do?

How can I help?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
There's not a lot you can do, unfortunately.

The only idea I can come up with is for you to encourage her to take a trip or make some kind of visit elsewhere by herself. Ask her to come stay with you if you think that's possible and bearable for you, or hunt up some other family member or friend for her to stay with, preferably one on the other side of the country. Or perhaps you could get her to take a cruise or vacation. If she could get away from your father for awhile, she might be able to pull herself together and think more clearly about her options.
posted by orange swan at 6:14 AM on August 3, 2008

The one and only thing I know for sure about dealing with someone with NPD is this, unless she is willing to completely cater to the needs and wants of the narcissist, then she needs to leave him. Any efforts toward "working it out" with the husband is wasted time and energy. She's doing all these things to try to cope with the situation, to try to maintain, maybe she doesn't see her way out, you need to start letting her know there is one.

Emotional abuse is a wicked, wicked thing and there is no fixing it in situations like this, not with a narcissist. There is no "win" here, she has to leave. What you can do is start thinking in practical terms of what leaving him entails. What are the first, second and third steps -- talk to a lawyer, find a place to stay, set up a bank account, etc. Help her come up with a plan that she can focus on.

One other important thing is to help her see that there is a better life out there for her, that it's not about just running away from the bad, but running toward something good. Hope is a powerful thing.

Anyway, I wish you and your mom the best.
posted by SoulOnIce at 6:25 AM on August 3, 2008

I agree with orange swan. I think the only concern that you can check is the combination of alcohol and sleeping pills. This could accidentally go very, very wrong. Is it possible for you to make daily calls in the evening to see how she is, and by monitoring her voice, keep an eye on her level of consumption? I notice that you don't refer to her husband as your father. He may see you as a stranger to the family, and work on keeping you away from her -- I don't know, you know best about that.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:28 AM on August 3, 2008

I think the first step here is to ensure her physical safety, keeping a close eye on the alcohol and pill consumption and trying to ween her off them. It seems to me she's using them as a psychological escape, try talking to her about the situation from her point of view and eventually allow her to see the bigger picture of whats happening and the obvious risks to her health, physically and emotionally.

Obviously try talking to her face to face in a quiet environment, being careful to what you're saying as you don't want any potential confrontation to escalate and your advice to be discarded. make sure she's totally sober when you speak to her. Sometimes the way you phrase questions can help, try using open ended questions to allow her to think about things and probe deeper without you appearing intrusive.

SoulOnIce might have the right idea, i don't think that staying in such an emotional turbulent relationship is at all good, and she should try to leave it. Advice from a counsellor would be greatly beneficial, and maybe you could speak and seek advice from other family members, in confidence.
posted by ashaw at 7:06 AM on August 3, 2008

Can you get her to go on a get-away weekend or short trip to some place calming and relaxing? All the better if you can join her, but even if she can just get out of that toxic environment by herself for a few days. It might help clear her head enough for you to be able to convince her to do something.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:28 AM on August 3, 2008

I'm sorry to hear that this is going on in your family. Something similar happened in mine. From my own experience, here are some thoughts.

It seems to me that you have good insight into what's going on between your parents. You care and want to help. Please realize that you've already provided a lot of help and caring, in finding a therapist for your mother last year. That could have worked out well, in helping your mother understand her situation and find her way out. But your mother has stopped seeing that therapist and refuses to see another. Well, that's her decision and maybe you just have to accept that.

Now you can offer her your support and listen to what she has to say. Maybe just having you to talk with is what she needs right now, and maybe what she says will give you clues as to what else she needs.

Whatever you do, a few caveats. Please don't try to become her therapist. Be aware of the anguish and drama going on, but don't get enmeshed in it. Don't be manipulated by either of your parents. Try to keep an emotional detachment from their lives. (Yes, they are your parents, but the point is, what's going on is between them.)

In other words, take good care of yourself. Your own mental health is important, and by all means talk with your own therapist about what's going on and how it affects you. Best wishes.
posted by exphysicist345 at 11:45 AM on August 3, 2008

I'm with sondrialiac, your mother is an adult and she is forcing you to act like her parent. You're not her parent.

It sounds like she is not willing to leave. She knows she can leave and she isn't. It's her choice. It's hard not to get too invested, esp as you care for her a lot. Is her husband your father?
posted by beccyjoe at 10:43 PM on August 3, 2008

I can offer a simple starter...have a look at Melody Beattie's Codependent No More. If possible, get your mom to read it.
I don't have time to sum it up now, but I wanted to offer this suggestion as quickly as possible.
It really helped me in a similar situation. It deals with people that live with others that have mental illness or addictions of various kinds, based off the studies of victims and support groups of the spouses and families of alcoholics (if you get what I'm saying). Her experiences in valuing herself and more importantly REALIZING what was going on needed to be changed, saved her life in many ways.
Its an excellent read for all of us in relationships who want to have more healthy bonds.
I'm certain there will be ideas in there that will help you in this tough time with your mom.
Best of luck.
posted by talljamal at 4:53 PM on August 4, 2008

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