In The Middle

Thursday , 2, January 2014 Comments Off

Dear Susan:

My father has always cheated on my mom, starting on their wedding day, if you believe her.  Yet she has never left him for long.  When I was a kid, I heard about my father’s affairs all the time.  My mother even took me with her when she tried to track down my father and his current mistress.  I spent way too much time in the back seat of a car waiting outside a bar or someone else’s house.  Then if my dad did show up, there was a huge fight.  Sometimes the cops were called.

I’m grown now and out on my own.  I have a decent relationship with my dad, but my mother still calls me all the time to complain about his cheating.  I don’t doubt that some of this is real, but over the years I’ve come to suspect that she may be making a lot of it up because of her own insecurities.  I just don’t want to deal with it any more.  What should I say to my mother?

In The Middle

Dear Middle:

It’s a terrible thing when parents make their kids accomplices.  Your mother was out of line to dump her problems on you in the first place, much less actually making you a part of her investigative work.  But then, she wasn’t thinking about you.  She was obsessed with her own feelings.

People who find out their spouses are cheating have a decision to make:  Do I stay and try to work it out, or do I leave?  Most at least try to repair the marriage before giving up and moving on.  What you CAN’T do is make the spouse stop cheating.  You don’t control other people’s behavior.  You can only decide what YOU are going to do.

Your mother decided to NOT choose but to instead live in a dysfunctional limbo.  Perhaps she embraced the role of martyred spouse.  Perhaps she enjoyed trying to track your father down.  Whatever.  This was never your problem and she had no right to make it so.  If she really wants to improve her life, she should start working with a professional (like me!) to find out why she can’t seem to get off square one.

But for your own sanity, you need to set a firm boundary.  Next time she starts it up, let her know that you love her but you don’t want to hear any more about your father’s alleged infidelities.  If she won’t stop, you’re going to have to enforce your position by saying something like, “I told you I didn’t want to hear about this anymore.  I’ll talk to you later.  Love, you.  ‘Bye!”