Tell Me About It: 'My mother is seriously ill and my father is having an affair'
My parents are rowing over my father’s affair, and my boyfriend is pressuring me to move in with him. What should I do?
Q My boyfriend is pressuring me to move in with him, and threatens to break up when I say I’m not ready. I love him but I’m still in college. He’s several years older, and has a child from a previous relationship. He thinks I need to move out of my parents’ house, because they’re fighting constantly. It’s painful to watch because my mother is seriously ill. I want to be there for her.
During a bad row between my parents, another family member urged my mother to throw my father out. I objected, as my father hadn’t done anything wrong. The relative took me aside and said: “This isn’t about you. Your father is having an affair.”
I was stunned, but there’s worse. My father talked to me alone and told me about his affair. He said he really loved this woman. He needed her because (I can hardly write this): “Your mother is cold. She never really liked sex. We haven’t had sex for a long time.” He said he loved my mother but had his own needs.
I didn’t know what to say. My dad was upset and kept saying: “I love you. Do you still love me?” I said: “Don’t worry, Dad, I understand.”
I didn’t mean to take sides. But then he told my mother that I was sympathetic to his side, and she said I’d betrayed her. I’m completely confused, skipping a lot of classes. Nothing makes sense any more. I want to escape, and I spend some nights at my boyfriend’s, but I worry so much about my mother. I want to be there for her, even if she’s angry at me.
A Your father and boyfriend are making unreasonable demands when all you want is to be free to support your mother. Don’t jump from your father’s house to your boyfriend’s, from the frying pan into the fire.
“Pressure and threats in a relationship are not a healthy sign, especially as your boyfriend is older and one would hope would have a more mature outlook on things,” says Bernadette Ryan, psychotherapist with Relationships Ireland. At your age, 12 years older is a big gap. “For you to take such an important step as moving in with your boyfriend under such pressure would not bode well for the future of the relationship,” she advises. “When you are not ready, you are not ready. It has to be safe to say no.” Apart from that, moving in with a man who is a father could lead to yet more complications when you’ve enough on your plate.
Your father is more concerned about his own needs than yours and your mother’s, while the other relative, who should be supportive, has instead dumped you in the middle of your parents’ conflict.
“Your relative’s interference, albeit well-meaning in the light of your mother’s illness, seems inappropriate. Your father’s confiding in you about his intimate relationship with his wife is completely inappropriate and unfair. What goes on in the intimate relationship between parents has nothing to do with their children,” says Ryan.
“You are entitled to have a relationship with both your parents and it is really tough on you to be put in a situation where you feel compromised,” she adds.
Your father has to figure out his own problems and neither parent should see you as taking sides. If living at home feels intolerable, you should only move out on your own terms independently. You are young and at college. Your responsibility to yourself is to live your own life, and that means study, establishing friendships, having fun and working towards your own dreams.
Take a step back from the drama and establish your own priorities. What relationship do you want with your parents? What do you want to do for your mother? “Even here you are not responsible for your mum, and need to know your limits,” Ryan advises.
Your college might have a counselling service where you can share your thoughts with someone impartial and discuss your needs. And remember, if your boyfriend truly cares for you he will wait until you are ready.
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