Dear Thelma: Still caught in the middle of parents' fights after 30 years


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Dear Thelma,

For 30 or 35 years, I put up with my parents' fighting and I am tired.

When I hang out with my dad, he complains about my mum all the time until I don't feel like hanging out with him anymore. My mum is the same – she complains about my dad all the time.

Whenever they fought, I had to be in the middle of it. They were going to separate about 10 years ago but they still hang out with each other. My dad comes to the house like he owns the house but he has his own house.

My dad asks me all the time to fix his marriage but I told him only he can do that and to go for marriage counselling but he said no because he didn't want her to say bad things. I asked my mum about going for marriage counselling too and she answered the same thing.

I told dad that I can't fix their marriage, only they can. I've told him that for years but he doesn't seem to understand that.

Their problem is communication.

Over the years, I've put up with all that and it has ruined my life. I can't go forward in life with this problem.

I am almost 40 years old yet they treat me like a teen. I want to grow up and do my own thing but I keep being dragged down by their fights.

I envy my sisters because they have moved on and have their own families but not me.

I am tired and sometimes it stresses me out and I can't sleep. I've put up with it for years. I don't know what to do.

Caught In The Middle


Dear Caught In The Middle,

Your parents live in different houses, visit each other regularly but spend their time quarrelling. You're right: it's their issue and they can choose to address it themselves or with the help of a neutral third party.

But they have refused. That is their right, they are adults. That means they make their own choices but they also have to accept the consequences of their decisions. If they want to stop fighting, they know what to do. The fact is that they are refusing to change.

Nobody likes being stuck in a fight between others, and it's even worse if they're your parents. You have stated your opinion clearly, and told them you don't want to hear any more. That is a very clear statement and perfectly proper.

They insist on moaning about each other to you but you need not stay to listen.

Like your sisters, you can make your own life. They moved out, and have families of their own. Your dad moved out too. I'm puzzled as to what stopped you following their example.

I'm also concerned that you believe your life is ruined. To have two other people fighting is not nice but it should not be colouring every moment of your day. Therefore, I wonder if your view of disaster and hopelessness stems from depression.

Depression is a very nasty condition because it affects how you see yourself and the world around you. It is a condition that leads to all kinds of dark thoughts, including feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and sadness.

Depression can be brought on by stress, so with your situation plus 18 months of pandemic and lockdown, this is a possibility you should consider actively.

I suggest you put a plan in place.

First off, see if you are depressed. Only a psychiatrist, a medical doctor specialising in mental health, can diagnose and prescribe medication. Make an appointment and if you are depressed, discuss with her whether you need medication.

But you also need to talk through your problems. For that you can consult a mental health professional like a therapist, psychologist or counsellor. I suggest you pick one who specialises in working with clients to manage depression and toxic relationships.

Figure out how you can improve your mood, and what support you have. Then create a plan that will enforce boundaries between you and your parents.

Although you have already told them your needs, they ignore you. It will take some practice in a safe space to figure out an approach that will work for you. A mental health professional will help with that.

Also, you should work out what you want for yourself. A partner? Marriage? A vibrant social life? A different job? Some hobbies and a small circle of good friends? Formulate your goals, and then create and follow a plan that will help you reach them.

Of course, at the moment it's hard to get out but the pandemic and lockdown won't last forever. So use the next few months to untangle your emotions, discover your needs and to plan for a happy future. Then, when the lockdowns lift, you can embark actively on a happier path.

If you're thinking this may take some work, you're right. But it can be done, people do this successfully all the time, so please just reach out for the happiness you deserve.

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