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My mum and dad are ruining their marriage and I don't know what to do

(42 Posts)
Worriedaughter Tue 24-Nov-15 06:55:38

My mother has always been the more extroverted and charming of my parents whereas my father is the quiet, dependable one. Nevertheless, they always had a happy, companionable married life. However, in the last few years my mum's career has really taken off. She's now far more successful than my dad and also moves in a more rarefied social circle as a result.

I've noticed that mum has also made a lot of quite impressive male friends. Like I said, she's always been charming and a bit flirtatious and it never bothered my father. But I can see that he feels threatened by the company she now keeps. For example she was in Lisbon for work a few days ago and then went to a little beach town nearby to spend the day (alone) with one of her business colleagues who has a summer home there.

I was at my parents place for dinner today and my mother was telling me about how much fun she had, how he taught her to ride his vintage motorbike and so on. My father made a lot of passive aggressive little jokes throughout this conversation and the atmosphere between them really saddened me. It felt like my mum has become contemptuous of dad and he's become resentful of her. How can I tell her gently to stop flaunting her fancy new male friends in front of my dad?

Cookingongas Tue 24-Nov-15 06:59:05

Do nothing. It's not your marriage. It's theirs. I can't see how interference from you will end well in any scenario.

Worriedaughter Tue 24-Nov-15 07:04:18

I am their daughter though and it saddens me to see them like this because I know that they still do love each other. Do you think I could mention it obliquely somehow without sounding like I'm accusing her of anything?

Worriedaughter Tue 24-Nov-15 07:06:10

Also, please tell me if you think the behaviour I've described above is inappropriate or I am just overreacting.

AttilaTheMeerkat Tue 24-Nov-15 07:13:28

The only people who have known what has gone on in their marriage is your parents. You do not know for certain that they have had a happy and companionable married life; its the impression that they have given you.

I would not at all interfere or take up any position in their marriage; it is their issue alone.

Cookingongas Tue 24-Nov-15 07:14:31

I don't see that there's anything wrong with her behaviour. She's made friends. Who she is open with her husband about. You've described her friends as 'impressive menhmm' - has she?

You've described her as extroverted and charming- your dad introverted and dependable- you appear to have pigeon holed characteristics. One can be both charming and dependable.

You've said that your dad was making passive aggressive comments towards her- surely he's in the wrong there?!? If he is unhappy he should speak to her about that as an adult.

And lastly you don't know the ins and outs of their relationship. Nobody ever knows whats going on except the two people in the relationship. You're their daughter and should love them both, but whilst I see it's hard not to be-you can't be invested in someone else's relationship. Not even your parents.

Worriedaughter Tue 24-Nov-15 07:22:04

CookingOnGas- Yes, my mum has described her new friends in clearly glowing terms- how successful they are, the families they come from and with this man, how beautiful his summer home is and so on. To be fair, I think she's just very pleased at the success she has achieved and the new social circle she's entered and she has every right to be. But I also do feel like its unfair to my father on some level. And of course he is not helping with his passive aggressiveness which is a very new habit and which I was saddened by.

StrawberryTeaLeaf Tue 24-Nov-15 07:32:04

the families they come from and with this man, how beautiful his summer home is and so on.

Those are strange things to comment on to demonstrate pleasure in your own success, TBF.

If anyone near me started being vocally impressed about 'the families [anyone] came from' I'd have to mercilessly take the piss out of them until they stopped. Is that an option? smile

StrawberryTeaLeaf Tue 24-Nov-15 07:33:20

You teasing your mother, I mean, not necessarily mercilessly wink

Worriedaughter Tue 24-Nov-15 07:35:54

StrawberryTeaLeaf- my mum and dad came to the UK from a less developed country. For my mother, it feels like an achievement to be a part of upper middle class English life feels because she's there due to her intelligence and success rather than her upbringing. Does that make sense?

Worriedaughter Tue 24-Nov-15 07:37:15

But thanks for that idea- I could tease her gently about how she's become too fancy for us and it might get the message across subtly!

Limer Tue 24-Nov-15 07:45:04

And maybe have a quiet word with your dad about his comments - is he jealous? Why? Isn't he pleased that she's so successful and happy? Can't he bask in the reflected glory rather than snipe from the sidelines?

StrawberryTeaLeaf Tue 24-Nov-15 07:49:05

Can you tell us what industry she is in or is that too identifying?

Isetan Tue 24-Nov-15 07:49:55

The only people who have known what has gone on in their marriage is your parents. You do not know for certain that they have had a happy and companionable married life; its the impression that they have given you.


How many times have you read the 'everybody thinks we have a happy marriage' line on MN. I know you mean well but think very carefully before you intervene because there are probably a number of things about your parents marriage, that you'd probably not want to know. You are not trained and a far to close them to be an objective counsellor.

LineyReborn Tue 24-Nov-15 07:56:57

What were the passive aggressive remarks?

ladymariner Tue 24-Nov-15 08:23:25

Well I feel sorry for the Dad, and if the op was posting about him going off to spend days alone with a female colleague and raving about how wonderful they were, then there would be post after post advising op to help her mother to LTB.

I don't know if there is actually anything you can do, op, apart from maybe having a diplomatic chat with your mother about how the atmosphere is making you feel, perhaps she may talk to you about her work and you can take it from there. But I do sympathise with how you must feel, it's your parents, of course you are going to feel involved.

SleepyForest Tue 24-Nov-15 08:32:21

If she wants to have an affair it is not illegal , but it is stupid to make these decisions blindly. I would have a quiet word.

Worriedaughter Tue 24-Nov-15 08:37:29

LineyReborn: He said things like 'I don't know what my wife gets upto when she's away' (in our native language, it's hard to translate idiomatically). He was hinting that my mother was having an affair, in a very roundabout and jokey way. I have to admit that the thought occurred to me as well. She sounded quite enamoured with this man but the fact that she was so honest about it gives me hope as I highly doubt she would be if there was something going on.

BernardlookImaprostituterobotf Tue 24-Nov-15 08:42:59

Yes you are their daughter and you love them both but that doesn't give you a position in their marriage.
They have always had emotional lives that are separate from you.
My children certainly don't know, or actually have any right to know, the intracacies of my relationship with their father. Our job is to parent well, part of that has been a buffer between our children and our issues or the working machinery of our marriage so there have been many things that form the context of our relationship that they don't know about, nor should they or will they.
They know that we have an overall happy marriage and sometimes we have disagreements and how we get through them.
They don't know about our sex life (apart from the bare bones of it being a loving part of a healthy adult relationship) so they have no idea that a mid life crisis lead to problems sorting out erectile dysfunction and the impact that had - do you? They don't know about the work done to recover from a breach of trust and near infidelity - do you?
I'm not intending to be rude but do you know if your mother is so renewed by these new people because your dad has had problems for years that has meant she has had her self esteem buffeted by sexual rejection or a lack of affection? That one or other has been sexually or emotionally unavailable for years? That she has always wanted to do X but children gave him a reason to demure and now it's become clear he never will support or want to do X? Not saying that's true but why would you know?
Has she felt unsupported? Has he? Has he just found the plans they made together that got them through night wakings and overtime mean nothing to your mother?

You may feel it is appropriate to tell your mum you are proud of her achievements but that she is being tactless or you, you not your dad, are finding her ebullient reports trying but further than that you don't have the information to give you the full picture.
Your mother might be treating your father poorly, taking easy domesticity for granted and has had her head turned by a new set of opportunities, she may be about to behave very badly. Equally your father may have taken her for granted and is passive aggressive because she is no longer within a comfortable sphere of wife and mother and her independence is threatening.
It could be nothing more sinister on either part than reaching an age of renewed freedom, adult children, time for themselves, better financial position and realisation they want different things or are not the people who got through child rearing together anymore. It happens.
But none of that is anything to do with you.

It often seems that the outsider sees most of the game and how well you know your parents cements this but the spadework of marriage is mostly done behind the scenes, and while you know your parents very well that's different from knowing them as two people.
You are not their mediator or counsellor, you have bias and they don't actually owe it to you to continue a marriage that isn't working for them. Or to include you in redefining the boundaries of their marriage for the future.
You have all the rights in the world to tell your mum how her behaviour makes you feel and your dad how his makes you feel and could they stop in front of you. They can choose to reflect on this and do or not do it. But be aware if you meddle in things you don't understand and don't have a right to be then it may have a detrimental effect on your relationship with either parent in the future.
You might cause problems by going off half cocked because this could be entirely nothing of concern. If your mum has done nothing but your dad is jealous of her achievements and being petulant and you steam in to tell her to buck up - well, how long would it take you to forgive such hurtful behaviour? Punish her after any crime perhaps.
Nurture your relationship with each of them but you aren't the guardian of their relationship with each other. They've been adults for longer than you, they've known each other longer than you, they probably know what's going on without your help.

Worriedaughter Tue 24-Nov-15 08:46:11

Ladymariner- I do feel sorry for my father because this behaviour will make any spouse feel insecure. But I hope it doesn't come to them leaving each other! My mum is a lovely woman she has just become a little contemptuous of my dad for not being as successful as her but I feel it can be salvaged between them.

StrawberryTeaLeaf Tue 24-Nov-15 08:49:19

(Contempt is a really big danger signal in a marriage. Huge. More than most other negative interactions and emotions)

Do you feel that your DM's level of socialising, networking etc is normal for her industry or above and beyond?

PeaceOfWildThings Tue 24-Nov-15 08:51:59

I'd say something like 'so when are you going to take dad to meet this/that man?' and try to open up a dialogue between them about that.
My husband is the same, but the difference is I am always welcome over there, I have met many of the lovely people he talks about in glowing terms and I know that he talks about me and the rest of the family in glowing terms with them, too.

LineyReborn Tue 24-Nov-15 08:53:57

I think it's unfair of your dad to put you in that awkward position of feeling that you now have to do something about their marriage.

My mother was a great one for this. We - the adult children - were asked to get involved, would get involved, and would then be set upon for getting involved (the marriage was imploding anyway with or without our involvement because of their actions, not ours).

He needs to talk to his wife, not perform dissatisfaction in front of you. And I think Bernard has some wise words.

It's hard, I know, to watch.

Worriedaughter Tue 24-Nov-15 08:55:29

StrawberryTeaLeaf- I feel like my mum's networking is fine but what surprises me is that she is meeting male friends alone for elaborate, non-work outings. I don't think this is normal and it's not something that I ever recall her or my father doing before. But maybe I'm just being overprotective / overreactive because it is my parent.

maybebabybee Tue 24-Nov-15 09:00:30

I know this must be difficult for you to contemplate but if there's one thing I've learned as a child of divorce it's that you really have no influence whatsoever on your parent's choices.

Maybe they are happy, maybe not. But it's not your place or your job to try to interfere. In the nicest possible way, because I know you mean well, there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.

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