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My relationship with my parents and sister is broken, my 25 year plus relationship with my wife P feels as if it is coming to an end, I fear that I am not setting a good example to my young teenage sons and am damaging them whether I stay or go. I swing between feeling that I am the perpetrator or victim of emotional abuse, between being certain that right is on my side to being convinced that everything is my fault and that I have treated P appallingly.
I posted some aspects of my situation on Mums Net a couple of weeks ago, the dialogue was helpful and I now feel that I know what to do, albeit am somewhat fearful of the potential consequences.
A Mums Netter suggested the cathartic value of posting here, another pointed me at Shrink4Men – a helpful site but given the length of my story I thought this a more appropriate forum for posting it. So here I am sharing my story in the hope that a few of you have the time and stamina to read it and can be bothered to give me supportive insights, advice, can identify with my situation or even if your situation is similar know you are not the only one.
I do not need telling I am a weak, spineless naughty boy who is still too firmly attached to his mother’s apron strings. Some Mums Netters implied this and from some standpoints there may be truth in parts of their diagnosis but please give advice rather than belittle and “tell off”. – If it helps you to empathise, swap the genders, consider P to be the husband and that I am the wife.
I met P shortly before my 27th birthday. I’d had previous girlfriends, those that had met my parents has got on with them fine. I think two are still friends with them, one came to P’s and my wedding with her husband. I’d always assumed that one day I’d marry and have children. When I met P I felt she was the one and sensed that my parents were pleased I’d found someone. I’d grown up - or so I thought. Within months I’d proposed but P declined, it was too early and with hindsight I can see perhaps it was.
Something happened when P first met my parents, I thought it all went well, P took them a small gift, my mother picked some flowers from the garden giving them to P in a nicely made up bunch. Sometime later P later told me that whilst making up the bunch with P my mother had told her not to marry me. This seemed an out of character thing for her to have said but I put it to my mother. She denied it but did say that in conversation she might have said things about how single minded and perhaps intimidating I can be which might have put P off or that P might have taken as a warning off. P saw it as black and white, either she or my mother was lying. P tends not to see shades of grey, there is only one truth (hers) a trait which now causes some difficulty when, as I think we all do she sometimes misspeaks or mishears in front of the boys who pick her up on it. “I know what I said” she says, “We know what we heard” say the boys. “Are you calling me a liar? One thing I don’t do is lie!” says P who then expects me to support her even though I heard what the boys heard - the reality is a slip of the tongue, what she said and what she meant were different, no one is lying but there is only room for one truth and the idea that my mother may have meant one thing and P perceived something different cannot be countenanced.
Within a year of our meeting I brought my first house, my parents contributed half the deposit as an investment; they lived in tied accommodation and were not on the property ladder. P would stay over most weekends; when collecting furniture from my parent’s home (I’d gone alone with a van) my father offered me a spare single bed, I declined explaining that P & I would buy a double. My mother (a strict believer in no sex before marriage) suggested we should marry. I recounted this to P. She was not happy! how could I have shared such intimate detail with my parents?, what business was it of theirs to suggest we wed? With hindsight I can see that I should not have allowed a discussion to develop with my mother about the advisability of prompt marriage and been more circumspect in what I relayed to P, my excuse is that perhaps belatedly I was only just finding my feet as an independent adult – but that was over 25 years ago.
As my relationship with P matured I put her name on the mortgage to benefit from the then available tax relief and eventually she moved in with me full time, she did not make any contribution to household running costs or mortgage repayments and at the time I was happy with the arrangement.
As time went by P sensed that whenever I had contact with my family my attitude to her changed. There is some truth in this, although after the bed debacle I did not allow discussion about P’s and my relationship, contact with friends and family did make me question whether P was right for me (though I always told friends and family that she was). I started to question, in my own mind how well P & I were really suited; she had declined my albeit premature offer of marriage, always wanted to know every detail about my conversations with friends and parents, been very angry if she felt I had disclosed things that were none of other people’s business (it became easier to only see my few friends with P present and take her sometimes seemingly arbitrary lead on what it was alright to disclose), been in written communication with my parents – (some of which I never saw but that they described as inappropriate, a criticism P levels on theirs to her as well), accused my parents of setting a past girlfriend up to compete for my affection, seemed to resent that my parents would one day be entitled to their investment in our home (which at the time was doing well) and lived with me at no cost but seemed to resent that she was not on the property ladder. Contact with my family and the few other friends I had brought this into focus – it did not stop me loving P but did mean that when P started making noises about how nice it would be to marry I backed away slightly. In P’s defence I can see that my natural disposition is to see the other person’s point of view, to defend them, tending to see fault first with myself and then by extension with P, I should have learned more quickly how to behave as a partner and not for example to put prior family commitments second to P’s needs.
P resented thay she had chosen to delay moving in with me full time, she had said that the bed debacle and my reaction had changed everything and she didn’t want to force things, I maintained I loved her and wanted her to move in full time. She did not do so, but this did not delay getting her name on the mortgage. When we first met P had been on the cusp of buying her first home and had put it off in expectation of moving in with me, now if there was the slightest hint that we should part she would draw attention to the opportunity cost she had incurred in not getting on the property ladder and suggest that though she had never contributed to the mortgage I would have to buy her out, mentioning a figure of about £10 K (1988/90 money values, house price inflation was rampant at the time) not an attitude that endeared her to me.
P suggested that I should cut myself off from my parents for “a week, a month, a year” to find my own feet and make my own decisions about her. I tried this but having been boarding school educated found separations of a month or so fairly normal – and more importantly having no contact did not change the fact that my parents and I were and I think still are, essentially friends on the same wave length so that when Christmas or Birthday contact arose we still shared the same values and were on the same wavelength. P made it clear I should cut off all contact with both my parents and sister, (For a few years she forbade the exchange of Christmas and Birthday cards) I went along with this but I resented it and P knew I resented it. I found it hard to visit P’s parents, which we did often, particularly at Christmas, and not resent being unable to do the same with mine. P’s parents were always hospitable albeit it as a family P, her sister and parents were more distant and reserved with each other than mine, for example no greeting kiss or handshake something that seemed odd to me, but I adopted the when in Rome do as the Romans approach which to my mind is the polite and sensible thing to do. Occasionally I asked P to be allowed contact with my parents and sister; such attempts never ended well but at least initially we made up fairly quickly.
At P’s instigation I saw a psychiatrist, I had a meeting with him alone, he suggested he meet P (also alone) then both of us together. P had her meeting, we compared notes, both of us appeared to have been told our behaviour was reasonable and that fault lay on the other side – not very helpful, we never had the joint session.
Despite what in hindsight seems a flawed relationship I did love P and at the age of 33 we married. P’s mother had recently had a stroke; neither family was represented at the wedding, just a few friends. It was a happy day culminating in a memorable wedding night a new beginning! At least that is how I recall it.
The honeymoon did not live up to the wedding night promise, P was worried our wedding night sex might have made her pregnant; the honeymoon was all long strained silences – explained in part by P’s mother’s ill health but mainly I felt because P did not want to be pregnant, she proved not to be.
I’d visited my parents before the wedding to tell them it was happening, P had not wanted me to tell them where or when so I had not (I think she thought they might turn up, at best their presence ruining it for her, at worst stopping proceedings). My parents wished us well, said that hard as it was they could see, given P’s mothers health, why a non-family wedding might be best. They gave us a small (£100) cash wedding present. P took its small value as an insult and returned it.
P’s mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, the frequency of our visits increased I tried to be supportive, neither P nor her parents can / could drive so I did a lot of ferrying (I’m better at practical support than being there and saying the right thing) but I did feel some resentment, not a real resentment of P’s parents but a “dog in the manger” resentment borne of realising that if it were my mother who was terminally ill such visits would be strained at best and in all probability not allowed.
We moved house, losing my and my parent’s deposits but buying at a bargain price – the market had crashed. I wanted to carry my parents investment forward into the new house and pay it back with profit at some point in the future, P argued it was an investment on their part and they had lost it just as I’d lost my deposit, I argued that the investment had been intended to give them a foot on the property ladder and a percentage share of total value and that we had cashed it in at a time of our choosing not theirs, P did not agree and as I did not have the spare cash to return the initial investment I said nothing to my parents (not difficult given the lack of contact). The new house was a wreck, doing it up was a joint project though P now says she really only undertook it to please me. We lived in a building site for 5 years, it was something I’d always wanted to do, I could not have afforded it without P who having inherited from her parents and saved by living cost free with me for several years before contributed 2/3 of the purchase and refurbishment costs, I’m grateful to her for that. At some point several years later I had some spare cash and though as an investment my parent’s initial contribution was then worth more than it had been when they made it I was allowed to return just their initial investment. P’s view was they should think themselves lucky. Now retired they live in rental accommodation, I don’t think the zero return on their one foray in to property investment was a deciding factor in their never having their own property and they have never mentioned any resentment about it but I feel I treated them badly.
Shortly after we moved P’s mother died. P says I gave her no emotional support over this and have never really asked her how she feels about it since, I know I’m not good at “doing feelings” I do have them and feel empathy but I’m not good at talking about them – also I think is that in some ways I have come to think it would be easier if my parents had died, that would be a normal thing to grieve and I do not want conversations that would make me face up to this, (P would say I’d see it as socially acceptable rather than something to be ashamed of which is how I now feel about my relationship with my parents). Later P’s father fell ill, P & I discussed the possibility of him moving to be near us or even living in our building site, “dog in the manger” thinking took over again, how could I think about accommodating him when I couldn’t even talk about my parents? So I fabricated arguments about the impracticality of an invalid living in a building site - behaviour I’m not proud of. He died alone in a nursing home and I seem incapable, even after 18 years of saying anything to P to ease her pain.
My parents and subsequently my sister and her husband visited the new house / building site once; both visits were very strained and my recollection is that P made it clear they should leave promptly so as to allow me to get on with working on the house, but the visits did represent a slight thaw and I know took a significant effort on P’s part, though I try to tell her I recognise this she tells me that I obviously think it counts for nothing.
As the house approached completion the allure of having children grew; our first son was born in 2001, P had a breast scare and could not breast feed, was livid that I’d told my parents that they were now grandparents (I’d made a call from the hospital having kept the pregnancy a secret) when I should have been showing concern for her (Talking to my parents and showing concern should not have been mutually exclusive but P seemed to feel they were). Later after hearing nothing from us for about a month my parents rang, in the course of a strained conversation that P listened in, standing close to me so she could hear what they said on the one hand set, but not making her presence known to them, my mother said something to the effect that P should make the most of our son’s one surviving set of grandparents and have got over the loss of her parents, I did not pick her up for insensitivity. P was angry with me for not doing so, I defended my mother unable to recall her exact words but eventually coming to accept that she had said P should be over the death of her mother; a thunder cloud of anger and resentment hung about for days but within months we were trying for another child. He was born only just over a year after his brother. Raising two children with such a small age gap was hard work particularly for P. It was all consuming and coupled with completion work to the house distracted me from the pain of being unable to share my sons with my parents. I realise that my coping strategy for life is to absorb myself in work or DIY and generally to avoid trying to talk about feelings and that I should talk more about feelings.
Soon after our first son was born I read Le Carre’s Smiley’s People - Maria Ostrakova’s mantra for withstanding interrogation; “Never to match rudeness with rudeness, never to be provoked, never to score, never to be witty or superior or intellectual, never to be deflected by fury, or despair or the sudden hope that an occasional question might arouse. To match dullness with dullness and routine with routine. And only deep deep down to preserve the secrets that make the humiliation bearable” resonated as did her sense of longing for something to happen and her subsequent realisation that she no longer longed but felt no sense of fulfilment either.
We re-established contact with my sister and her husband, visiting them several times. It always felt slightly odd, my parents seeming to me to be an ever present elephant in the room, but it was better than no contact and even led to P inviting them to spend a Christmas with us. They declined, citing prior commitment to spend it with my parents and I sense also feeling that Christmas with the elephant would be too big an ask. All credit to P though she did try to build a relationship with them which they not she brought to an end
We had the boys baptised, didn’t invite my parents but did invite my sister and husband. She came, he did not citing the abnormal situation with my parents. The event was strained, we had 80 guests, P told me not to talk exclusively to my sister but to make an effort to talk to everyone, I didn’t do much talking but hid in the fact I was doing the catering. Afterwards my brother in law rang to berate me for our treatment of my sister – she was apparently upset that we had ignored her. P listened in fuming, why was I being so weak and accepting his criticism of us, why didn’t I shout back at him, tell him how hurt we were by his decision not to come to the baptism, to turn down the earlier Christmas invitation, to have applied his standards to judge our behaviour? Perhaps I should have for P’s sake though I think I agreed with him but did not have the courage to say so to P. I have not spoken to him since.
Around the time of the baptism we took the boys to see my parents, (the first time they saw them). This was another strained meeting but at the time I thought given the circumstances about as good as it could have been. I left with hope for further meetings. P thought otherwise, as soon as we were in the car to go home she decreed “never again” – Why? Because it was so strained and she felt like a fish out of water.
P wanted a daughter; the two boys were too much work for us to countenance a third straightaway but within a couple of years we were trying again. My heart was not really in it but I felt that if it would make P happy then it was worth a try. Nothing happened and I became increasingly convinced that given the state of our relationship, that we were now in our mid 40’s and anyway a third child would probably be a boy, the two children we had were enough - but I went on trying for P’s sake. Then P said she realised how I felt, understood I really did not want a third and that we would stop trying. I was massively relieved and whole heartedly agreed.
Within days P announced she was pregnant, I tried to be pleased. The pregnancy came to nothing I know P regrets this, I regret it, we seem incapable of sharing the regret.
P believes that the whole situation is my fault – She says I’ve always focused on what I don’t have with my parents and sister over what I could have with her or other friends if only I’d make some. I observe that in general, including disciplining our boys, P’s approach is more stick than carrot, “things” are taken away rather than other things being nurtured to make the original “thing” less all consuming – so thing that has been taken away becomes forbidden fruit (which always tastes sweeter). If I suggest P has any culpability for my frame of mind having made my parents and sister the forbidden fruit, she points out that I never blame my parents and sister. P sees the relationship we have with them being primarily down to them, they made her feel she was only acceptable if she did things their way – my father once wrote to her telling her that something she had said or done was not the way we did things, “not the done thing” – she has a point but is the relationship I had with my parents and sister really so unacceptable, are we not all to some extent “damaged” and isn’t it normal for you to adopt some of your in-laws ways of doing things for the sake of your partner? – When in Rome do as the Romans.
Life settled in to the humdrum of two young boys and work, we agreed to disagree about my parents and sister, P allowed the exchange of Christmas and Birthday cards but any mention of them normally started a row. If the row coincided with Christmas or some other holiday P would complain how once again they had ruined the holiday, I’ve tried pointing out that the sense of enforced loss spoils every holiday for me whether we row about them or not. P’s response is that she has to cope with having no parents and getting no support from me so I should focus on what we have as she does. She does not respond positively when I say that because if I could give her contact with her parents, or help her mend her relationship with her sister I would, so she should do so for me. She usually points out that If my parents and I had behaved differently the situation would not be as it is, but given it is I should get on with life. At one point P suggested that perhaps it would be ok if I (but not the boys) saw my parents occasionally, discreetly, without drawing attention to it – regrettably I did not take her up on the offer straight away.
After some years I was traveling on business near my parents’ home, not going home that night but staying in hotels for the best part of a week. I judged that if I visited my parents and became upset and as P used to say “changed by contact with them” the subsequent nights away would give me time to get over it before seeing P again. I rang my parents and arranged to call in that evening. They were concerned that I was seeing them behind P’s back but pleased to see me. They have always said the right things to me about P, showing concern, wishing her well, trying to understand why she behaves to them as she does. (P says that’s the point they say the right things but then do the wrong thing – my mother once wrote an apology for some perceived slur, then when P did not accept it, withdrew saying she did not know what she was supposed to be sorry for and had only apologised because I’d asked her to and did not really think she had done anything wrong anyway). After supper with my parents I went on with my business trip. P did not suspect. I felt less of a void and enjoyed being able to see my parents knowing that my visit would not be followed by the inevitable interrogation and argument that had come to typify any open contact.
I made further covert visits; I justified these to myself and my parents using parallels with deniable talks between UK Government and IRA to broker peace. My Brother in law felt this to be wrong (something P holds him in high esteem for) so I did not have clandestine meetings with my sister albeit we did communicate by e mail – and emboldened by the memory of P’s suggestion about discreet contact failed to delete some of these mails.
The covert visits began to show signs of bearing fruit, I felt less stressed by lack of contact and able to suggest open contact without P’s rejections upsetting me as much. My parents visited our house and saw their grandchildren for the second time in their lives (they are my parents only grandchildren), another strained meet, I hoped for some time alone with my parents so that when in future something came up in conversation that related to an earlier clandestine visit we could say it had been raised then – P hovered over us all the time, felt the awkwardness but did not suspect. Buoyed by the relative success of that meeting we arranged to visit my sister and her husband.
2010 - 2014
Before we got to visit my sister P discovered some of my email communication with her, immediately ringing me at work to confront me over my deceptions and summoning me straight home. I’d deceived her, she could never trust me, this was worse than if I’d had an affair (there was an inference that if I was a real man I’d not be so focused on my parents and sister and might have had an affair which she and others would find easier to understand), my parents should not have colluded, their morals were beyond the pale, she would seriously consider throwing me out. Prolonged silent treatment followed, within a few months P was diagnosed with breast cancer; surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy followed, that was over 5 years ago, now she is as cured as one ever is from breast cancer – always the nagging fear of terminal recurrence.
During P’s treatment my employers gave me unlimited compassionate leave. I did practical things and tried to be supportive but needed something to loose myself in, so juggled time off with continuing to work. P says she felt that whilst I ferried her to appointments I was rarely “present” and began to rely on her friends for transport and support. With Hindsight I should not have continued working but should have focussed on looking after her.
After the cancer sex became a thing of the past. When I mentioned my desire for sex P suggested I use a prostitute, I have not, I want to be wanted by someone who wants me as much as I want them, but I don’t want a covert relationship. P, whilst suggesting a prostitute, won’t countenance the idea that I have a relationship with someone else and goes on to ask who would have me anyway suggesting I am emotionally incapable of a meaningful loving relationship. I know the early menopause that cancer treatment brought on impacts sexual appetite but being told that cuddling in bed made her think I was going to force myself on her and that she no longer found me attractive or desirable and that I should use a prostitute has killed the desire I once had, love I fear has followed close behind, we are now colleagues bringing up children..
P is convinced that the discovery of the covert contact between me, my parents and sister, (the deception as she calls it), was a significant trigger for the cancer and blames us for it. She says she did not throw me out there and then for the sake of our children then aged 8 & 9 who at that time faced the possibility of losing their mother, that she was sorely tempted to do so and that today I should be grateful for that as were I to leave now the impact on my relationship with the boys would be very different to what it would have been then.
For the last 5 years the deal has been that my parents, sister and I can exchange Christmas and Birthday cards and the odd emergency communication but that is it – or I can leave. P has been happy for me to work away from home a lot, meaning she has shouldered most of the child care burden while I lose my self in work, I’m grateful for this but do resent being forced to choose between my parents and sister and my marriage and children. I really do think that regardless of the balance of past rights and wrongs it is in P’s gift to allow me contact (who knows with contact perhaps I’ll feel less resentment and some love and intimacy between P & I might return)
P says that our deceit trumps all our earlier misdoings, shows us all for what we really are, does not want the boys contaminated by contact with people that have such a low opinion of her and such questionable judgement (going along with covert contact). With hindsight I can see that covert contact was the wrong thing to do, I’ve told P I’m sorry I did it and for the effect it has had on her and her trust of me. She asks how I could have brought myself to deceive her, how I my parents or sister could possibly have thought it the right thing to do. Just saying I’m sorry does not move things forward, she says all I am really sorry about is that I was caught, I try to explain, say how given the preceding years of banned contact we felt she had given us no option and that what I am really sorry about is that my misguided efforts to bring us together failed so spectacularly and affected her health as they have. This is not acceptable to P, she says it is typical of us (me, parents, and sister) to justify everything and not to admit we are ever wrong and try and pin the blame on her rather than accept our culpability, so the resentment deepens.
Sometimes I take my resentment out on the boys, some times when they are being disrespectful to P they are my enemy’s enemy so no matter how despicable some of their behaviour to her, they become my friends. P thinks I’m too soft with them, I think she is often to harsh, “going to war” over issues that I’d let pass. The truth is somewhere in between but P can make it clear in front of the boys if she thinks I’m too lax while if I say she is too harsh in front of them it is a major crime; one she tells me I commit all the time and that is damaging the boys respect for women. She may have a point, but it is difficult to behave as one should when seething with resentment and sometimes hate.
A few years ago I got a letter from my father telling me my mother had been diagnosed as Asperger’s. I looked it up, the symptoms resonated with both the way she is and the way I am. I told P, she was scathing, said my mother was always looking for labels and excuses and that I should pull myself together (or words to that effect). On occasion since she has thrown being Asperger’s at me as an insult.
Two years ago my Father was diagnosed as needing a heart bypass, he wrote to tell me. To her credit P suggested I visit him before the surgery (she did this before I plucked up the courage to ask permission) albeit she was also adamant that if I went I must confront my parents about how their deceit had led to her cancer. I went, my sister was there (my parents said this was a last minute visit on her part so a coincidence), I raised the deceit issue and sought an apology, my parents and sister showed understanding and sorrow about the situation but the discussion did not result in an apology to P. Despite the discussion about our deceit we had a pleasant afternoon – as pleasant as such a gathering can be when you all know it may be the last and it is set against the background of a strained relationship. When I got home P was scathing about us having had a “nice cosy time”, livid that my sister was there and we had not been told she would be in advance, accusing my parents of deceit in arranging it, I can see it may not have been a coincidence but when P asked me what I thought I just repeated their statement that it had been a coincidence. I can see that P thinks they planned it and did not tell us for fear that she would then forbid my visit. This is something P now says she might or might not have done had she known, but that out of respect and to show they had learned not to deceive us they should have told us. Perhaps it was not a coincidence; I can understand that it might have been planned and that my parents chose not to tell us so as to ensure we were all together for what might have been the last time.
My father’s surgery was delayed 2 months, this prompted P to say it obviously was not so urgent so there had been no need for me to visit when I had. I was not allowed to visit again before the postponed surgery. After the surgery I was allowed one further visit. I did it at the beginning of a long business trip, P urged that I only spend a couple of hours with them then get on the road – she says this was because she was worried about me having a long drive late into the night – perhaps she was but I was left feeling that it was a pretence, that really she did not want me having another “cosy time” with my parents and sister (we knew my sister was staying with my mother for the time my father was in hospital and for some of his convalescence). I stayed as long as I judged right set off on my trip and texted P to tell her my estimated time of arrival at my destination – P was not happy it was late she was worried about me, I’d obviously ignored her directive to only spend a couple of hours with my parents. I’ve not seen them since but have spoken by phone and written.
Six months after my Father’s surgery an aunt of mine died, I’d never been that close to her family but a cousin rang saying how nice it would be if I went particularly as my parents were unable to attend – I went as did my sister, P was not happy. Later in the year my father collapsed due to undetected internal bleeding from a perforated ulcer. My mother only rang me to tell me after the reason he collapsed had been diagnosed, P saw it as no reason to visit and said that if I did that would be the end.
At a particularly low point early in 2015 when P was goading me, saying if we were honest I and my parents were probably disappointed the she had not died from the cancer, I told her that whilst I did not wish her dead I sometimes envied the husband of her deceased (from cancer) best friend at least he did not have to seek permission to do reasonable things and have such permission unreasonably witheld. This was not a sensible thing to say, reflecting on it. I tried to have a rational conversation with P in which I suggested mediation, she did not react positively, reiterated that the choice was mine, leave and have contact with my parents and sister or stay and don’t. Her opinion on mediation was that I just want someone to tell her that right is on my side and that she should let me have the contact she forbids. She blames us all for her cancer, believes that the stress of contact or talking about contact will bring it back and so would not allow contact and therefore sees mediation as pointless.
As P would not do it with me I then had several weeks of one to one telephone counselling. The main things I took from this were; not to beat myself up over the situation, not to believe myself, parents and sister fatally flawed or abnormal, to try to work with P to understand what it is she fears, perhaps through counselling and not to be frightened of taking tough decisions if I knew them to be right. I was left feeling right to be predominantly on my side and that P’s ban on contact was unreasonable. I’ve tried to share this with P, in a past job role she was involved in procuring counsellors for employee counselling – she says it sounds as if my counsellor was very unprofessional, far to directive, I should complain, but no she P won’t have counselling what she needs is for my parents and sister to apologise for colluding in the deceit and to recognise the effect they have had on her health and our marriage. At about the same time as I started the counselling and unbeknown to me P wrote to my parents asking for an apology and there was quite a lot of correspondence, I’ve not seen any of it but both “sides” imply that what they wrote was reasonable but the other side was unreasonable.
During the counselling an uncle died, I was no closer to him than the aunt who had died the previous summer, but I wanted to go to his funeral, P reiterated that I’d made the choice to stay with her over my parents and that if I went it would be the end. I chose not to go determined that if I had to leave P it would be over something more important than relative I hardly knew, but my resentment was and still is significant. I spoke to my parents and sister by phone, told them that if there was to be any chance of reconciliation they needed to apologise to P. My father wrote a very non-specific apology (which I have seen). My sister, I think at her husband’s request, has taken the view P has as much if not more to apologise for than she does, would welcome the opportunity to “have it out” with P face to face, but won’t write an apology. I’ve spoken again to my parents but can’t get any more of an apology from them, they say they don’t know what to apologise for and sense that whatever they say won’t be enough. They also say they are reconciled to the thought that they will probably never see their grandchildren again and that contact with me will remain as difficult as it has been for the last 25 years but that that is okay, I should focus on my marriage and the boys happiness. P says she is sorry for me that I obviously mean so little to my parents and sister that they can’t apologise and goes on to imply I’d be daft to leave her and the boys for contact with them because I’m obviously not that important to them.
At the beginning of this summer P & I rowed about contact again, I think I made it clear that I could not go on hearing of relatives dying, waiting for the next communication from my parents to be one saying one of them was terminally ill or dead, that I have to be allowed contact. We agreed to let the summer holiday pass before I did anything precipitative, such as contacting my parents.
The summer was not too bad, if you ignore my internal feelings of enforced loss, I pondered what to do and harboured naive hopes that P might look positively on a request for contact when I plucked up the courage to make one.
A month ago a letter arrived on the door step from my father, P was out, I was reduced to a quivering wreck, would it say one of them was badly ill or even dead? I opened it, a few lines from my father; my mother has had a malignant melanoma removed and was to have further surgery to ensure that everything has been excised. When P came home I told her, said I’d like at least to ring them, preferably visit. She would not let me citing how insensitive I was not to see that wanting to support my mother through cancer “rubbed salt in the wound” given how little support I’d given P during her treatment. I have not contacted my parents, I’m upset, angry and think P is being unreasonable but P says it is my parents, sister and I who have been unreasonable, I should be angry with them, it is in their gift not hers to make amends and she does not want to waste more time discussing it, if it is that important I can leave and if they are really that important to me, more important than her, my marriage and children then I’m a pretty dysfunctional person.
P’s reaction to subsequent discussion was to reiterate my choice, stress her low opinion of my parents and sister, remind me of the efforts she has made which she says I always “conveniently forget”, question why may parents and sister won’t apologise for our earlier deceit saying the fact they won’t shows how little they care about me, tell me that given how little they care I’d better “think very carefully” before leaving her for them and that she is disappointed that a marriage and two children count for so little and that I’d give it up to have a relationship with people who have never put me first. She does not see that she is pushing me away only that I am thinking about going and choosing others over her.
P has said that if I leave she will try to keep things amicable, letting me have free access to the boys. We own a rental property nearby that I can live in, so on face value living apart amicably should be possible. Obviously I’d want that but have questioned why if she can offer that she cannot countenance me staying with her and the boys but having discreet contact with my parents and sister (which need not involve her or the boys). She says she would know when I’d had contact, that limited contact would never be enough, I’d always be pushing for more – particularly for the boys to meet their grandparents, and that this would lead to rows and tension that she does not want – I can understand not wanting the rows and tension but surely if I leave her then visit her and the boys she will know I have probably had contact with my parents and sister which will generate the same tensions and I fear might lead to her trying to limit my access to the boys. I really do not understand the logic that says I can either; stay with P and the boys having no contact with parents and sister, or move out, have contact with parents and sister and provided I don’t introduce them to my parents or sister, have free access to the boys. Perhaps it is a ploy to limit my access to the boys if I fail to keep the bargain, but I don’t think that is her intention, all our disagreements are about my parents and sister, we trust each other (except over my parents and sister), see pretty much eye to eye on almost everything else. We both have a good relationship with our children albeit it is typified by P being perhaps over focussed on the importance of school work and me being a bit of a soft touch when it comes to limiting screen time – but that does not seem abnormal and does not to my mind signal that there is anything wrong with our relationship with them beyond their sometimes being caught in crossfire.
This week I told P that I have to see my parents, she was upset saying I was choosing them over her and the boys, I repeated my view that it is she who is forcing the choice, I want to stay and be allowed the contact I that she forbids. It has been a strained week, I’ve been ousted to the box room to sleep on the floor (given we never touch this is no hardship, in fact I think I sleep better but it makes me ponder what I stay for). We have had further discussions, some heated some more rational. Now she says perhaps I can, given they are in their twilight years, see my parents (but expressly not my sister) but I must change; be more sociable, support her in disagreements with the boys, set them a better example and if I do see my parents accept she will feel threatened, will interrogate me on my return, that I must respond openly to the questioning, understand her reaction to the answers, not get angry and above all show her she comes first and that I have made this clear to my parents. If I don’t do this she says our relationship will be over and I’ll have to go. I have said I will try but I have tried before and I know it will be difficult. P at last seems to take the Asperger’s dimension seriously and has undertaken to read up on it. I’m unclear of the extent to which some of P’s conditions are to be met before I get to see my parents or if I can really accept never seeing my sister again. When I ask which are the conditions precedent she tells me not to be sarcastic and says she has said I may be able to see them before Christmas, I respond that I want and fully intend to do so. I’m hopeful that I will and that I’ll be able to show P that seeing them does not have to mean the end for us
I have seriously thought about leaving P but I am worried about the effect on the boys, there is a view, (which I can understand) that children find it easier to cope with loss caused by death rather than desertion, I don’t want P or I to desert them but I do sometimes think than an amicable separation in which both P & I maintain happy contact with the boys is a pipe dream and that life would be easier if one or other of P & I were dead. Suicide would be desertion, I’m not considering that. I think P thinks I’ve decided already that I will leave her. I have not but think I have reached the point where if I have to I will go.
I have read your post and felt compelled to offer some form of support, your comment about switching the genders of each person in the story was very valid and actually made me consider the situation in a different light.
I do not think I have a definitive answer for you but I can offer advice, entirely up to you whether you even consider it or not.
I have always tried to live my life with one overwhelming core value, that value I never break - I will never compromise myself, my feelings and my life for another person. If I feel that if I am being forced to live in a situation that is not true to myself, I am unhappy. This in turn effects everyone around me. I suspect this may be the case here.
Whilst you may not think that a amicable seperation will be achievable, if you continue as you are you will have no control over the situation when it eventually breaks down in an uncontrollable manner.
Whatever you decide I wish you, P and the children all the best and hope you can resolve this once and for all.
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