Dear Thelma: Caught in the middle – a family torn apart

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Dear Thelma,

I hope you can provide some guidance on a complex family issue that has been causing a lot of stress and tension in my life. It's a situation that involves my parents, my siblings, and me, and I'm at a loss about what to do.

The problem started when my parents, who have been married for over 30 years, decided to get a divorce. While this was a shock to all of us, it wasn't entirely unexpected, as their relationship had been strained for quite some time. The divorce itself was relatively amicable, and they parted ways with a mutual understanding that it was for the best.

The real issue, however, arises from the aftermath. My parents, both in their 60s, are now dating new people. My mother has found a new partner, and so has my father. The problem? My mother is dating my father's best friend of over 20 years. It's as if they've crossed an unwritten line of loyalty and trust, and it's causing a lot of pain for my dad.

My siblings and I are caught in the middle. We love both our parents, and we want them to be happy, but the situation is tearing our family apart. My father feels deeply betrayed by his best friend and is devastated by the fact that our mother is with him. He has asked us to choose sides, and this puts us in an impossible position.

We've tried talking to our parents individually and together, but it often turns into a shouting match or a guilt trip. We're struggling to maintain a healthy relationship with both of them without taking sides or getting involved in their romantic lives. It's taking a toll on our own mental and emotional well-being.

How do I navigate this difficult family problem? How can my siblings and I support our parents without getting caught in the middle of their romantic entanglements? Is there a way to help them heal and move forward while preserving our own sanity and relationships with them?


Oh dear, that is a tricky situation. From your father’s point of view, his ex-wife and ex-friend are betraying him. From your mum’s point of view, she is a free woman and can date who she likes.

Your father believes he has been treated badly, which is fuelling rage. Therefore, he wants to punish. He wants your mother ostracised by everyone, including her own kids.

I find this very sad. Divorce takes a terrible toll, and after many years of unhappy marriage, it can really sour people.

I wish your dad could set aside his feelings and choose to be happy that the woman he once loved has found someone – just as he has! Life is short; being happy is a gift.

However, your dad is giving in to rage. He is entitled to his feelings, but to tell you kids that you have to choose is unacceptable.

In fact, it is unacceptable to pull you kids into your parents’ relationship. As children have a unique bond with parents, kids cannot be involved in their parents’ relationship.

When parents quarrel, kids struggle with conflicts of loyalty. This impacts on the relationship and the child’s mental health suffers, including an increased chance of anxiety, depression, and disconnect.

You note you are already suffering from some effects, so from now on, stay out of it.

If mums and dads want to fight with each other, married or not, they sort that out between themselves or they rope in their friends, brothers, sisters, cousins – anyone except for you and your sibs.

This will be tough because your dad is using emotional blackmail and conditional love to pressure you.

Your dad is trying to frame his demands in terms of moral outrage, “She’s bad and needs to be punished” but you recognise deep down that this is a dirty move. What he is really saying is, “Do as I want, or I won’t love you.”

It’s hurtful, disrespectful, and manipulative. As a result, every time someone uses this method, it kills a little bit of love.

Your dad may think that he can do what he likes because of your family ties. However, this would be a mistake. Family ties are strong but they break when the bullying goes too far.

So I suggest this: Have a short chat with one of your older relatives, someone your dad respects, and point out this has gone too far. If you like, show him this letter.

Then you and your sibs issue a joint ultimatum that states you love both parents unconditionally, that you won’t be involved in their fights any further, and that you intend to continue your relationship with your mum and your dad.

At worst, your dad will sulk and withdraw. Hopefully it won’t last too long. If it does, your older relative can keep an eye on him and alert you if there is an emergency.

At best, your dad grows up, realises life is often difficult and unfair, and chooses to embrace his blessings – kids who love him so much that they write to a stranger for advice.

Good luck, and know my thoughts are with you.

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Divorce , family conflict , betrayal


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