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Dad emotionally/verbally abusing mum - what can/should I do?

(24 Posts)
Justwanttohelp Thu 18-Dec-14 06:51:12

My parents have been married for over 40 years, both in their mid-60's.
My dad has always pretty much always been a 'grumpy old man' - pessimistic, short tempered, moody, etc.
However he seems to be getting worse as time goes on and his behaviour / moods are getting more extreme with my poor mum bearing the brunt of his outburts.
He is very critical, he belittles her, he calls her names, he shouts & swears at her - basically as the title says, he is emotionally & verbally abusive.

Some examples include:
- he criticises her appearance saying she is fat, her clothes are rubbish, her hair is a mess...
- he mocks her for some of the hobbies & interests she has (eg. she goes to church and he says things like 'you're a goody goody' or tells her there is no such thing as God / why believe in that rubbish etc.)
- if she, say, spills a drink or drops something he'll swear at her (something which he knows she doesn't like) and makes her feel awful for something which was just an accident and really is no big deal
- he speaks to her like with little or no respect; very abrupt, rude, often shouting
- he seems to look for any excuse to have a go at her, she can't do right from wrong. And if, for example, she has been out and was due back at 7pm but rolls in at say (God forbid) 7.15pm, he'll fly off the handle saying she's late, demanding to know why etc.

He is quite controlling and overall just not a very nice man sometimes.

My mum understandably gets very upset - she'll ask him to stop, tell him how he's hurting her, and she'll cry / physically breakdown in front of him but he doesn't seem to care (not in that moment of time anyway; sometimes he does apologise after the event when he has calmed down but not always).

I think my dad is depressed or at least unhappy to a certain degree. He retired fairly recently and although he was really looking forward to it, he just doesn't have enough to do to fill his days so (and I know this is no excuse whatsoever) but I think he is bored. He has no real hobbies or interests, no struture, no routine. He will, for example, go to the shops about 3 times a day, obviously just for something to do / pass the time.
I also think he is jealous of my mum who (also retired) has a very active social life - she sees friends, goes out for lunch/coffee, goes to bingo/keep fit/various church activities, reads, sees family, etc. She is always willing to try new things, plan things, make an effort, whereas he is just not.
He also has a random sleep pattern which I know won't be helping things. He'll often sleep during the day, maybe just for an hour or 2 at a time, but will then be up half the night, and probably on average is only getting about 5 hours sleep a night.

And although it is my mum who is on the receiving end of this most times, it does affect me and the wider family too. For example, he was meant to be coming to visit me and my 2DC (his grandchildren) yesterday with my mum but because he was having one of his moods, he said he didn't want to (like a mardy teenager!). He didn't ring to tell me though, my poor mum just turned up without him! DS was asking after 'Grandad', and although he is only 2, notices when he is not there and asks why. When my mum tells my dad that DS was upset, my dad just doesn't seem to care (this has happened more than once).

I know (I think?!) that my dad is a loving husband, dad and grandad deep down and sometimes he shows this - he can be very funny, generous, nice to be around - but this 'dark' side of him is just ruining things.
I feel so sorry for my mum especially but just don't know what to say or do.
I know if my dad sorted himself out somehow and he was happier, that would pretty much solve everything, and I just want them both to be happy.

Oh, and for what it's worth, I don't think my mum would ever leave him. Like I said above, they have been married for over 40 years and my mum (and dad actually) are very traditional and I feel they would want to make it work / stay together whatever. Even though I would rather have two happy parents living seperately than two unhappy parents living together.

Has anyone else been in a similar position and/or have any advice please?
Thank you.

FunkyBoldRibena Thu 18-Dec-14 06:59:40

I'd suggest that your mum thinks of leaving her abuser.

I do not think it is depression or boredom, sorry.

43percentburnt Thu 18-Dec-14 06:59:43

Depression doesn't cause men to be horrid to their wives. I have known several people with depression and they were nice, kind people who were not in the best place for a while. They didn't shout at their dp's.

How was he when you were a child? The same but to a lesser degree?

You cannot make her leave him. But you can tell her that his behaviour is not normal in a relationship. He probably doesn't want her to leave him, he would promise to change his ways etc if she threatens to leave, but then slide back to the way he is now.

Have you asked her if she is happy? Have you read why does he do that? It's a very sad way for her to live for possibly another 30 years. I hope he doesn't get her to stop her activities.

Hissy Thu 18-Dec-14 07:28:23

I think i'd talk the to bully himself and tell him to stop being an areshole.

I'd tell dm that her H is abusive and that if she ever needs a safe/kind space, she has one, and that you'll believe her and back her every single time. NOT him.

EhricJinglingHisBallsOnHigh Thu 18-Dec-14 07:28:38

Your dad isn't a loving husband! You can't be loving deep down if you are horrible and abusive on the surface.
I'm sorry about this situation if as you say your mum won't leave him. Maybe you could talk to her and just say it's an option - and you would help her in any way if she chose to pursue it. And leave it there.

arlagirl Thu 18-Dec-14 07:29:52

How sad.

Hissy Thu 18-Dec-14 07:31:00

oh and your dad isn't unhappy.

being a tosser to your mother makes him happy

he LIKES treating her like this.

QuickSilverFairy Thu 18-Dec-14 07:45:41

Your poor Mum is being emotionally abused sad Your father sounds like a jealous and nasty bully. Please don't excuse his behaviour as any type of depression or boredom. He is making the choice to be demeaning and hostile to your mother. Aggressive verbal attacks can often be a precursor to a physical assault.

You know your mum best. Can you think of ways to let her know you support her and will assist her if she is in need of help? Does she have a mobile phone so she can ring you or another close friend if things become unbearable for her? Women's Aid is an excellent source of information and guidance.

This must be heart breaking for you..watching a loved one being abused must be shattering. I will be thinking of you and your mum flowers

StockingFullOfCoal Thu 18-Dec-14 07:55:51

ExFIL was like this to ExMIL and I was shock the first time he was like it towards her in front of me. ExDP said he's always been like it. I found it quite upsetting in the early years of our relationship but what made it worse for me is that ExMIL was so used to his behaviour that it didn't bother her any more. He also spoke to me like shit several times and got short shrift from me each time he did it, all the other women seemed to roll over and take it but I wasn't. It was awful but there was nothing I could do about it. I witnessed him several times actually stamping his feet and screeching like a toddler would do.

DetonationStation Thu 18-Dec-14 08:34:40

Oh how familiar first post sounds, I was actually wondering if OP is one of my siblings!

Its so hard to observe as a bystander, and I have also wondered about depression in our case. It would add up. And has certainly got worse as he hit over 60. Isn’t there something in elderly men that turns them into ‘grumpy old men’, physiological changes, I seem to recall hearing/reading in the last year somewhere. (I could be confabulating)?
There’s a danger there of generalising though, I guess not all men over 60’s are grumpy, are they?

The hobbies thing, and the belittling of DM’s interests is beyond awkward. I have wondered how this marriage (in our situation) has lasted - a similar span to your parents too, Just, and have just accepted that I only see part of it; I have to hope, for my mums sake, that there is something deeper and better underneath it all for them both.
And in our case there is a kind of ‘skill’ he has, that she could be so much better and proficient as and is something I really think would benefit her life, yet he talked down to her and made out what she was doing was all a joke whenever she had tried so she remained unable and dependent on him to ‘take care of that side of things’, she’s pretty much given up there.
 We have concluded that it gives him a sense of power, and my feeling about it all is that DF is so insecure and lacking in sense of self-esteem (not that he would admit it) and personal sense of power over his life (health issues that are worsening) that he does whatever he can to feel bigger and better than someone. Bullying, I know.
But whenever I have broached the topic of him with her alone previously, she defends him to the full and won’t say anything against him! I don’t think he’s physically violent with her though.

I don’t live close by, by any means, but do speak to them very regularly and usually at the same time. I think the physical distance and obviously being adult now with a less blinkered perspective of how the world is has worked to be able to see them both a bit more objectively.
 I realise there is nothing I can do to ‘cure’ the situation, but when I am interacting with them both at the same time, and he is being a dick or belittling her or showing any of the behaviour you have described, I will call him out on it, or I use his words (long-standing script) back at him in a jokey way, or maybe say something like “thats a really rude/inappropriate/offensive/whatever adjective best fits” thing to say. I don’t let it slide (unless he really has left me gobsmacked!). Mum sometimes has stood up to him, but this is what he wants, then he can lose his rag properly, so as I recall she pretty much chooses her battles, but won’t COMPLETELY take ALL his shit.

Its sadder just seeing him as an ultimately sad and powerless little man whose life must be so shit that when he speaks to the person closest to him the way he does, that actually makes him feel better? Maybe it does, maybe it makes him feel worse, I don’t know. There’s so many subtle and not-so-subtle control games we have grown up with and the scary thing now is when I see and feel it playing out between DP and I. Its hard to shrug off easily what you have grown up with and I hate to admit I seem to have picked up some of the not-so-cool perspectives of DF :-(
I had some counselling about 15 years ago and my counsellor seemed to believe I had been verbally abused as a child (we all would have been) which I had always found hard to accept and never quite ‘wore’ (‘abuse’ sounds so serious and was linked in my mind to physical or sexual abuse); thats the first time I had heard of emotional abuse. There were loads of incidents, one that springs immediately to mind was having to cook dinner for everyone when I was about 14 or so because I “didn’t do enough around the house to help” (an endless PA guilt theme) and being yelled at for ruining their fried eggs (I had no idea how to cook them anyway, as I didn’t even eat/like them!!). And while I know there will be people reading this thread who had to endure far FAR worse from parents, hearing the prevailing message I experienced can be something that shapes self-perceptions despite our best will to get outside all that bloody parental conditioning. So I really am oversharing here to get to a point, Just, about how their relationship carries on affecting you: was your father like this with you, do you see recurring themes in how you relate with DP/kids/perspectives?? Hoping you’ve not been as ‘spongy’ as me and this really does stop with your parents

queenoftheknight Thu 18-Dec-14 10:45:14

Yes, it becomes internalised and normalised throughout childhood.

I had no idea that my family were as abhorrent as they actually are. Looking back, after years of therapy, it is mind boggling.

I stood up to my brother in law, on the phone, as he yelled at me. I told him quite calmly, to never, ever shout at me again, and if he did, I would simply end the conversation. I REALLY hoped his wife heard it. I am aware that it caused trouble...It needed to.

It is terrifying to begin to stand up to these people, and start to name the process. But the process should be named. It is abuse, and should be called out. You don't have to shout, just say..."you do realise that this is verbal/ psychological abuse don't you?"

That is what I would do. I would stand up to him on her behalf. Quietly and calmly. Let her know that you know. And give her a bloody great big hug. Validation is worth a lot.

queenoftheknight Thu 18-Dec-14 10:48:35

To add...the words sad and powerless jumped out at me there.

My father in law is a sad, powerless, illiterate, little, bully, who terrorized his family, and caused the premature deaths of two of them, including his wife. He continues to terrorize. I no longer allow my dd to see him, as he physically assaults both her and her father with his stick.

Nasty little shit.

CogitOIOIO Thu 18-Dec-14 11:22:27

My DM treats my DF the same way. It has got worse over time, can be totally irrational and we've now discovered that she has a form of Alzheimer's which is resulting in various alarming psychoses. Not that I'm diagnosing your father as such but just to say that deteriorating behaviour in the old can have more than one explanation.

Does he ever speak to anyone else like? or have anger issues in general, i.e if someone annoyed him while he was driving, or was rude to him on the phone?

My dad was like that but worse (physically aggressive when younger) very very unpleasant man. He used to totally control my mum and do all of the above. I know he wass on tablets for his rage as well as depression, as a lot of it was down to a chemical imbalance. I'm not saying nothing is your dads fault but if he has an imbalance it could help to get it checked. My dad got way worse (emotional and verbal abuse wise) when he finished working. He was bored, and looked to mum to create a perfect home, be the perfect woman etc. Criticised her constantly. He was even jealous when she got terminal cancer because it focused people's attention on her instead of him.

If it isn't a chemical imbalance and/or he won't take meds or have counselling, then she needs to get rid. My mum died at 60, I hope that yours has many many many years left in her but what if she doesn't? She deserves peace.Life's too short.

My dad's tablets for his depression and rage were so strong that if he missed one day I knew. They helped immensely. He was much less of a complete and utter bastard on them.

Miggsie Thu 18-Dec-14 11:40:49

I suspect your Dad is unhappy as he has retired and he entirely defined himself by his work - now he's stuck with your mum all day.
If he is a typical traditional male he sees the house as HER work - so he essentially now has no role.
He is belittling her because she is the only one who has anything to "do" in work terms.
He has lost his identity and is lashing out at your mum. I suspect he was a bastard at work - you just wouldn't have seen that.

Sadly, he isn't a nice person nor is he very caring. He obviously has no respect for your mum and blames her for his unhappiness.
This won't get better unless he admits his problems - but at his age they will be deeply ingrained and he doesn't sound much like the type to look inside for his unhappiness - he will lash out at external explanations, you mum being the easy target here.

You can't help your dad unless he chooses to help himself and your mum will have to put up with this from now on unless she decides to leave.

AnnyMummy Thu 18-Dec-14 11:48:09

It makes me sad to see how some couples stick together just because they were always together. A habit can be so strong that you loose all self respect. And I guess that's what your mother did when she lets him treat her like that. I hope she is strong enough to leave him soon!

skolastica Thu 18-Dec-14 14:21:29

This seems to be an aspect of 'traditional' marriages, which probably wouldn't last anywhere near as long these days. My parents have been married 51 years and the dynamic is similar. Mum is a people pleaser and Dad is controlling in a very subtle way. My 26 year old daughter sees it clearly: 'I don't know how Grandma puts up with Grandad'. But it's not nasty in the way that you are seeing with your parents.

As to what you can do about it - give extra support to your Mum. Ignore your Dad. Point out to your Mum where your Dad is being unreasonable and why it is unreasonable. If she can become aware that she can't please him, she might be less likely to cry when he gets nasty.

Destinycalls Thu 18-Dec-14 15:04:13

Was he always like this? Depression and anxiety can bring out the worst in people and this may be his trouble.

Ultimately all you can do is support your mum in this but it's not right at all. He has probably held all the cards through their marriage and been controlling but control is slipping and he doesn't like it.

The best thing your mother could do is divorce him but I suspect she won't but if you can talk to her about his behaviour it may help her be strong enough. After all peace in your home has got to be better than what she has at the moment.

Justwanttohelp Fri 19-Dec-14 14:31:36

Thank you so much for your replies so far, and apologies I'm only just responding now.

I've been thinking about it a lot.

For the record, he isn't like this all day, every day. He can go for weeks without any of these 'episodes' and that's when we see the nicer, kinder side of him; he'll take my mum out for meals, to the theatre / cinema, be kind to her and the rest of us. I think that's why it's so hard for my mum to even think about leaving him - she thinks of all the good times and the nice things he does and she seems to think they out weigh the bad stuff.

Also, I wasn't saying boredom or depression was the reason he was behaving like this, neither is an excuse at all. I just meant that if he perhaps had a more fulfilled life himself and participated in more things, it would be a focus for him and give him something to do. If nothing else it might get him out of the house away from my mum for a bit!
And I know depression can make you behave in different ways, I don't think he is clinically depressed but I do think he is unhappy. I think he is angry and/or resentful though I'm not sure what about.

Anyway, I was going to challenge him about it yesterday but he actually (rather surprisingly) got in first and apologised to me saying he knows something isn't right and that his head is all mixed up. He went on to say that a couple of things that have happened in the last few months are playing on his mind - namely that he was diagnosed with diabetes which was a complete shock to him, and that my brother (his son) was involved in a very serious car accident which left my brother on life support. My brother is ok (ish) now but my dad says he keeps having flashbacks to when he saw him in hospital.
Again I know neither of these things excuse his awful behaviour towards my mum and I'm very wary that he might go down the road of using these as an excuse to 'get away with it' but I can see how it might mess your head up a bit. He is a big worrier and will dwell on things.

When talking to me he also admitted that he treated my mum badly sometimes and that he always regretted it and was sorry, but at the time it was like he couldn't help himself. I know he should be able to control his behaviour but at least he has taken step one and admitted his is out of order sometimes, which I was surprised but pleased about.
He also told me he can't / doesn't sleep properly which obviously won't help the situation.

I suggested he talked to someone (ie. a counsellor) thoug being the traditional and proud man he is, I'm not sure he'll go down that route.

I feel both my mum and dad need some help - my mum to help deal with his behaviour, and my dad to help him conrol his behaviour.
Maybe it is a chemical imbalance as someone mentioned above....?? Or an underlying condition??...

I spoke to my mum too and she said she was ok and that she is happy overall and that she loves him. She is quite strong and will just get on with her life including her hobbies & interests regardless of what my dad says so at least that is something.

I just want them both to be happy and get on - I really don't know how they've lasted 40+ years together???!!!

DetonationStation Sat 20-Dec-14 01:53:53

I think the fact that he consciously distinguished how he has treated your mum at times as not appropriate is quite hopeful.
I also honestly believe that diabetes can have an effect on mood and irritability, may be worth doing some research into that or discussing with GP, it also sounds like there are a number of situational things like the diminished sleep, his son being in that accident.

Do you think your mum and dad would benefit from seeing someone counselly together, or would you think separately might be more useful? Do you think if your mum went first and then he came for some sessions together or alone - whatever he was easiest with - your mum might be willing to do this 'for' him (ie not that she wants/needs to talk to anyone but if she recognises it might benefit him) roundabout way of going about things maybe, but we know what the majority of men can be like regarding emotional' things.
Does he have a good GP, one that he respects and listens to?

DetonationStation Sat 20-Dec-14 01:56:05

also don't underestimate the massive life change of retirement: loss of longstanding life roles (huge), possible financial stress, change in daily dynamics and routines, increasing sense of your morbidity or failing health perhaps, certainly with the diabetes shock

CogitOIOIO Sat 20-Dec-14 07:14:39

Diabetes is linked with irritability and mood swings if it is not managed properly. If he's feeling apologetic and recognises something is wrong, take advantage and tell him to get an appointment with his doctor.

FunkyBoldRibena Sat 20-Dec-14 07:33:09

When yoir dad said he knows he does these things, did you say 'dad, those things are abusive, and you need to find other ways of behaving'?

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