DEAR AMY: I’m 36, married, financially independent and living hours away from my mother, but she still wants to run my life. She expects to be involved in all decisions my husband and I make. When we don’t consult her (or don’t do as she suggests) on the most minor question, she rants that nobody cares about her. Even the most benign conversations escalate to her claiming that I don’t listen, don’t respect her and don’t appreciate her. A common point of friction is the topic of vacations: She’s an extremely disorganized person who never plans her own time, but wants me to commit months in advance to visiting her over any (or all) vacations. (She’ll start pressuring me about Christmas in October.) We have been generous with our time, but my husband and I both have demanding jobs. We don’t want to spend every Christmas holiday sitting on my mother’s couch. I’m at a loss. Conversations with her often end in her feeling attacked and/or abandoned. Attempts to politely refuse invitations or set boundaries have been fruitless at best, and can result in toxic rant-fests in which our parenting and life skills are called into question. At least once a month, I’m faced with the decision to fulfil a perceived obligation to take my kids to her, or face an extreme guilt trip for choosing not to do so. I can’t ever have a guilt-free weekend with my family. How can I take this pressure off of my marriage and family without deeply hurting my mother?
DEAR EXHAUSTED: You wonder how you can get what you need without “deeply hurting” your mother. Short answer: You can’t, because she’s not going to let you.
Your mother’s emotional manipulations have affected you so profoundly that you continue to basically put her (perceived) needs before your own. Stop that.
You should assume that — for any boundary you draw, your mother will always perceive it as a deep wound, and will act out.
But it is her job to figure out how to feel better about her own life. You do you.
Turn your focus toward strategies for deflecting your mother’s control and guilt, knowing how she will retaliate to any change in your behavior.
Jump the gun and email her a rough outline of how you and your family plan to spend your vacations over the next 12 months, based on what you want to do.
As a parent, you know that you don’t respond to a tantrum by giving in — you step back and let it run its course. A natural consequence for her ranting and attacking you is that you will not want to take her calls for a period of time.
Respond with statements like, “I’m sorry you’re so unhappy” without assuming responsibility.
Both of you could use the help of a therapist — she, especially, because of her extreme self-focus, rage and inability to cope with any disappointment. You should suggest it.
DEAR AMY: My husband and I have been married for many years. We have grown children. Some time ago, he created a separate email address for himself. I didn’t give it much thought. One day he left his email open on our shared computer, and I discovered its primary purpose — to secretly communicate with another woman. She is a younger woman and happily married, so there’s not a romantic relationship. However, by the tone of his messages and some of his remarks, it is obvious that he is very smitten. I don’t much mind that he is communicating with her, so much as the efforts he took to keep it secret. I’m very hurt and will never again view my marriage — or my husband — in the same light. Am I justified in feeling a sense of betrayal?
DEAR HURT: Yes, your feelings are justified.
Now, what are you going to do about it?
I hope you will be brave enough to confront your husband. Be completely honest about how his behavior affects you. It is time for him to communicate with you about the intimacy he has been reserving for this other woman.
DEAR AMY: “Sad” was a woman who’d had a devastating breakup decades ago. Recently the man who rejected her recognized her at an airport. “Sad” told him he was mistaken, and that she wasn’t the woman he thought she was. Well, Sad is right! She is NOT the woman she was 30 years ago. I wish you’d pointed that out.
DEAR BEEN THERE: Brilliant. Thank you.