My boyfriend Chris has had an extremely tough year, battling severe depression and anxiety. Recent events have led him to reconnect with his estranged parents.
He cut off communication with his father about 8 years ago after a long history of physical and emotional abuse, control and manipulation. He also severed ties with his mom about 4 years ago after she began to steal money from him (she was not in his life for much of his late childhood and early teens as his parents divorced and she chose to live her life several hours away).
However, his mother reached out to him after hearing about his recent troubles from an old family friend. She has been apologetic, supportive and dedicated to re-establishing the relationship. I was wary at first, but have gotten to know her, seen some of their interactions, and heard him talk about their visits and I think it’s been a generally positive thing in his life.
His father, however, is a completely different story. Chris has spoken to him several times over the past few months, urged by his mom to do so. They have visited 3 or 4 times, twice while I was present. His father never calls to check in or set up times to meet – Chris makes all the effort.
What’s worse is the casual manipulation. His father deliberately tries to trigger Chris’ fears and anxiety over things in order to get Chris to do what he wants – such as telling how likely it is he will lose his job or lose me due to his depression. He has even claimed he can resolve a labour dispute in Chris’ workplace if Chris checks in with him on specific days. (This is ridiculous – his father doesn’t even work in the industry!) He has also told Chris to trust no one but him – but given no reason why other people aren’t trustworthy.
Chris has said a few times he’s not going to contact his father anymore because all the effort is one-sided, but every couple of weeks he gets drawn back in, and each time it seems he gets pulled deeper into his dad’s manipulation, believing the irrational things he says, agreeing to unnecessary stipulations in exchange for promises his dad makes but cannot possibly deliver on (like resolving a labour dispute between a company and a union single-handedly).
This concerns me a lot. His dad’s behaviour on the few occasions I’ve met him can go from cordial to manipulative to threatening in the snap of a finger. I don’t trust his father and I believe he’s attempting to reassert control over Chris and his life. I also do not want to include his dad in our shared life. He makes me personally uneasy and I don’t like his effect on Chris at all.
However, I don’t know if I should be the one to tell Chris to cut off all contact. Even after 2 years together, I don’t know if it’s my place to do so. Being close with my own family, I know how hard it would be to cut off contact with a parent.
Any advice on how to thread the needle to help him see the negative influence his dad is trying to assert over him?
Mad at the Dad
I think it’s okay for you to suggest to Chris that he discontinue his relationship with his dad, but “telling” him what to do likely won’t have the best result for either of you.
And just so you know, Chris is already aware of the negative influence his father has on him… that’s why he stopped talking to him. That’s why he says he’s not going to contact him again… until he does. It’s a knee jerk reaction that goes way back. It took years to develop, and it won’t be undone in a single motion.
Expressing your concerns and working with Chris as a team to deal with this negative vortex is certainly appropriate. Don’t feel guilty about that by comparing the relationship you have with your family to this situation. It’s not at all the same thing. You suggesting cutting off contact with his father wouldn’t even be on the table if his dad was a decent human being.
It’s also okay for you to speak up about your own feelings of discomfort regarding any interactions with dad, but that needs to be a secondary issue. Chris needs your support and understanding first and foremost in his own dealings with this man. Asking for him to be your champion right now will just add an unnecessary layer.
Getting the help of a therapist might not be the worst idea either. As I said, it took years to get Chris to this place. Moving towards happy and healthy is going to be a process that will take time and perseverance. As much as I think your influence will be highly beneficial, having someone who does this for a living on your side would be a plus.
Good luck to both of you, and sending a million positive thoughts your way.
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