Posted by fxckfeelings on August 26, 2013Share This Post
Dealing with a loved one who is fucking up his life or with his family who are the captive victims of his behavior is a lot like being held hostage and being your own hostage negotiator; it’s hard not to become both helpless and emotionally pushy. If you are careful to remember what you don’t control, however, you can give good, strong advice without feeling guilty about not doing enough or causing conflict by voicing blame. You may first need to get coaching from experts, particularly those who’ve been through the process themselves, before you can negotiate well, but, once you’ve picked up the skill, you’ll be as helpful as possible. You can certainly free yourself, and you might do much to help your captor, as well.
My 30-year-old daughter got married late last year to the father of her baby and they bought a house, have jobs and seemed to be doing well. I was concerned about the brevity of his previous marriage, his jealousy, his attitude to money and a niggling voice in my head, but I tried to be positive and support her choice. I put her unhappiness down to post natal depression until she admitted that he has huge debts, is a liar and a bully, and she suspects be is having an affair. He has spent all her money so she can’t afford a lawyer. Now his mother is getting involved—she covers up for him and called his last wife “evil,” but we have discovered that her experience was similar and that he has a long trail of debt, infidelity and general chaos. I am willing to give my daughter and grandchild a home but am going through my own divorce so it’s tough. My soon-to-be ex is worried but subject to the demands of his new partner so most of it falls on me, and we’ve already lent them money. How do I give support without taking over when my daughter seems overwhelmed and doesn’t take my advice?
Unfortunately, your daughter suffers from a very specific colorblindness—the kind that impairs the ability to see red flags—and now she feels very stuck in a situation that only she could not see coming.
Even as you swoop in to guide her through the aftermath, that doesn’t have to mean that you’re taking control of her life, though her dependence on your resources means you’ll have a strong influence. You can be a good teacher and firm manager and also respect her independence and choices; she’s not totally blind, so your guidance need not be absolute.
Since her problems require you to draw on your resources, you have to make your own judgments about what you can afford, what will do good, and what she needs to do to make your contributions worthwhile. Think like a parent and investor, which means you care, but you also don’t just donate.
On the other hand, never imply that not taking your advice will cause you great distress, thereby resisting the temptation to use the heaviest of parental weapons, guilt; you’re simply telling her the way things are and the conditions that go with your help.
Don’t accept the notion that she can’t afford a lawyer. It’s not unusual for someone in her position to be paralyzed by the fear that she’ll be worse off no matter what she does. Some of those fears may be planted by her husband and some by her own imagination, but very rarely are they caused by actual research into cheap legal help. In any case, your experience tells you that, regardless of worst case scenarios, there are good ways for her to move forward and they all involve her knowing what she can do, legally, to protect herself from her husband’s debts and out-of-control behavior.
Help her prepare her questions and make it your priority to buy her an hour of legal time. Before her consultation, have her prepare a brief written account of her marital situation including the money she put in, her income, and the family’s weekly expenses. As long as she stays focused on the facts and does not use legal time to vent or seek emotional support, she can get her questions answered cost-effectively.
I assume the enormous number of negatives she’s discovered about her husband have had the positive effect of making her decision to leave him easy and inevitable. Otherwise, you need to wait until she’s ready. You can’t help her or your grandchild by pouring resources down the black hole of their dysfunctional marital finances, but you can let her know that, when she’s ready to separate and protect her resources, your help is available.
If she remains paralyzed and helpless, continue to remind her that there’s a positive way forward, that her fears are lying to her, and you’re confident in what she can accomplish when she gets going. If she needs help with depression, there are affordable ways to get it.
You can’t rescue her or take over, even if you want to, but you know she can rescue herself. If you deliver the advice without judgment or guilt, she might not just see her way out of her marriage, but away from future red flags altogether.
“I worry about my daughter’s future almost as much as she does, but we’re a strong family, we have resources, and we’ve all learned from the terrible experience of her bad marriage. I will remind her to trust herself, explore her options, and take advantage of whatever support I can reasonably provide.”
I know my son needs help but I don’t know what to do. We all love his wife, and they have a terrific marriage and two beautiful kids, but he started drinking a year ago and, since then, it’s been hell. He’s just not himself any more and his wife says he often nods off during dinner—he’s probably not sober when he picks the kids up after school, which has us all very scared. We had an intervention six months ago and he went off to a 30-day program, but started drinking again the moment he got home. Now he won’t go to treatment and insists it won’t do him any good until he’s ready. We’re all helpless. We love our son, but we’re worried about the welfare of our grandchildren, and are desperate to get him healthy. How can we help him so he can be a dad again?
When someone isn’t ready for treatment, then the main way to help him, aside from being patient and kind and keeping your offer open, is not to make it easier for him to be sick and do harm to others. It’s hard to accept the helplessness of knowing you can’t do more, but that’s an absolute requirement if you want to be as helpful as possible and not do harm to him, his family, or his possible future sobriety.
Right now, his alcoholism endangers your grandkids and may soon reach the point where he’s more of a burden to his family than a support. Your first priority then, since you can’t help him, is to protect those close to him who are at risk. If your actions also cause him pain and he blames you for punishing him or making his recovery more difficult, remember, it’s not really you he’s blaming, it’s the illness.
Encourage his wife to do whatever’s necessary to prevent him from driving drunk, particularly with the kids. Make sure she knows her legal options, and help her get financial advice about protecting her savings. If you feel like you’re betraying your son, remember that, if he wasn’t sick, he’d value protecting his loved ones as much as you do.
Show her how to talk to him firmly and without guilt or anger. That doesn’t mean you don’t have a right to feel angry or that you can avoid feeling guilty, regardless of whether you deserve it. It does mean, however, that you will be most effective with him when you keep those feelings out of your communication.
Most people need coaching to achieve this kind of communication, and they can get it from experienced peers in Al-Anon or from therapists. The goal is to avoid accusations, piling on guilt, and inviting more drinking; it’s to remember the good guy he was before he got sick, point out the bad things he’s going to do to himself and others if he can’t stop, and urge that good guy to get stronger so he can save himself. In the meantime, if you can’t limit the damage he’s doing to himself, you can help those in his wake.
“I can’t stand watching my son destroy himself and put his family in danger, but I know alcoholism is often uncontrollable and I will learn whatever skills are necessary to help me manage his illness and show his wife how it’s done.”
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