Hit me up: My mother is sexting a man that is not my father, should I tell her I know?
08th Aug 2018
Our resident agony aunt Rhona McAuliffe offers advice to a reader who knows a little too much about her mother’s sex life.
My parents have been together for over thirty years and I can’t imagine them ever splitting up. My Dad is a difficult person to live with, he’s a control freak, very moody and frequently childish, and has always been very tight with money, with us and with my Mum. In the last three years, since we’ve all pretty much left home, my Mum has started working part-time and absolutely loves it. She has her own money and is investing in herself, she’s out meeting people and it feels like this is a fresh start for her. She’s less tolerant of my Dad now and doesn’t let him away with anything so they’re fighting quite a lot, which they never used to do. Before she’d just throw her eyes to heaven and try to ignore his behaviour.
Recently, I was out for lunch with her and she asked me to look after her bag when she went to the loo. Her phone rang, a name I didn’t know, and I answered it but the person killed the call. I’m embarrassed to say that I went into their message thread and it was pretty obvious from the often explicit texts that something’s going on between them. I’m worried that my Dad is going to find out and lose it, and also that she’ll leave my Dad. I know he hasn’t always been the perfect husband or father but I can’t help feeling sorry for him. Should I tell my Mum that I know? How can I persuade her to give Dad another chance?
Trying to Save a Marriage, Meath.
I know this isn’t the first thing you want to hear but I can’t help but rejoice in your Mum’s new life. In fact, I think that by the time we publish this letter, your Mum may well have amassed her own cheering squad. And that’s not to minimise the effect her infidelity will have on your father, or their marriage but to acknowledge that she is finally living her own life, in all its complex messiness.
At the same time, I completely understand how conflicted you must be, emotionally and in terms of personal allegiances. It’s impossible to have any sense of objectivity when your parents are the only parents you’ve ever known; when their seemingly unbreakable bond represents the security, familiarity and unconditional love that your life is built on. So, let me lay down my vuvuzela and pom-poms while we take a look at what’s going on here.
You haven’t painted the most endearing image of your Dad and although you may forgive him his ‘quirks,’ to the rest of the world he sounds like a bit of a tyrant. While you knew that one day you wouldn’t have to live under his rules, that you would eventually leave home and carve out a new life, your mother was staring down the barrel of another 25 years hard labour.
You say that your Dad was difficult to live with, moody and controlling, especially with money. Not knowing much background here, the nuances of your parents’ relationship or the winning aspects of your Dad’s personality, it’s hard to make a clear judgment on their dynamic. However, it sounds like, at best, your Dad was trying to parent your Mum; at worst he was exerting ‘coercive control’ over her.
Interestingly, and at long last, as of the 2017 Domestic Violence Bill, ‘coercive control’ is now punishable by law. This could be a pattern of sustained emotional and psychological abuse of an intimate partner, which might include threats, intimidation, control and restrictions of liberty.
Either way – whether he is parenting or controlling your Mum – his behaviour is not compliant with a healthy, balanced relationship. People often control because they are afraid of being abandoned and don’t feel secure in their relationship, or likely themselves. Your father is now facing the consequences of years of having things his way, of always putting his own needs first.
There’s every chance your Mum has been planning her exit for years; that she’s patiently waited for her children to leave home to embark on a new life. During a time when women across the globe are saying #metoo and the national conversation has never been more focused on the insidiousness of the patriarchy, and the prevalence of sexual harassment and misogyny, your Mum is rising up.
Look, I’m not glorifying or excusing her infidelity but as celebrated sex therapist, Esther Perel, said: “If you start to feel that you have given up too many parts of yourself to be with your partner, then one day you will end up looking for another person in order to reconnect with those lost parts.” Your Mum has sacrificed a lot of herself, by the sounds of it, just to keep the peace.
Much of the advice on whether or not to tell a friend or parent that you know of their affair is, don’t. Stay out of it, respect their privacy and let them work it out themselves. And that is certainly one tack but not the tack I’d take.
I would gently raise it with your Mum, try not to bring any judgment with you and hear her out. For all you know, your Dad may have signed-off an open relationship? It’s unlikely but you won’t know anything until you talk it out. Find out what your Mum’s intentions are – is she planning on ending her marriage? Will she ever tell your Dad? – and reconcile with the fact that you cannot influence the outcome, either way.
You can positively represent your Dad and encourage your Mum to empathise with him, if only to acknowledge that if she did choose to stay with him, his behaviour would have to drastically change. This might involve starting with couple’s counselling and progressing to one-to-one counselling for both of them. But she may be past that point and you might have to accept that too.
No matter what age you are, a parent’s separation will always awaken your six-year-old self, the one who screams IT’S NOT FAIR down the stairs before slamming her bedroom door and bawling into her pillow. I’m certainly not underestimating the huge emotional impact a separation could have on all of you but have focused here on your Mum’s motivations to offer some objectivity.
Most importantly, look after yourself. You may find that you’re a counsellor, best friend, personal assistant and mediator to one or both of your parents in the not too distant future. Exploring Trancendental Meditation would be a great route to focusing on yourself and blocking out the noise when you need to, especially in preserving your emotional wellbeing.
Very best of luck with it all.
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