Double Take: My mother abusing my father?

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker & Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA

Everyone always talks about the abusive husband and father. I’ve always kind of been taught that men were always the bad ones. For as long as I can remember I’ve been forced to believe my father was a horrible person. That he was constantly hurting my mom when she was so defenseless. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve been remembering things and finally seeing them for what they really are. The truth is that my father is not a horrible person at all. He is a brilliant and completely selfless person who simply does what he has to do to get by. He’s the type of father every child deserves. I mean, I love my mother, I really do, with all of my heart. I guess that’s why I always took her side for all these years and chose to believe every word she said. But I just can’t take it anymore.

My father is an alcoholic. My brother and I have come to the conclusion that the drinking is the only thing he can do to deal with mom. And doing that only leads to more “abuse” from mom. Every single interaction between the two of them consists of mom screaming at him. Calling him names, reminding him constantly of his every fault and mistake, and cutting down his significance telling him we don’t need him. The things she says to him are SO outrageously offensive, I can’t even believe what I’m hearing most of the time. And I can’t believe that he just stands there and takes it! Every time she starts on him I have to bite my tongue so hard. He seems so helpless. If he so much as tells my mom to calm down while she’s screaming at him she won’t hesitate to punch him. She’s even punched him while he was driving. He never ever says anything back. He just listens and listens. There are always random moments where he can’t take it anymore and he will tell her to shut up, and that’s when he gets it. As much as she hits him, he has never, not even once, hit her back.

My dad does absolutely EVERYTHING for us. He has had every opportunity to walk out and leave this hell hole behind, but he stays. And I know it’s because he cares about us. He would do anything for us. Without him we would be nothing. If my mom tried even slightly as hard as my dad to make this family work we could be happy. The only way we could ever fix this would be if she were to admit that she has been in the wrong for all these years. And she would never do that. She blocks out all the things she’s done wrong, and points out every single little thing dad’s done wrong every chance she gets to try to cover her own faults up. She’s always covering her tracks and using my dad to do so. But I’m not stupid, I’m not a kid anymore and I have mind of my own…I don’t know what to do.

She is always turning everybody against dad. She is constantly on the phone telling everybody about how horrible he is. Everybody believes her too. No one seems to see it unless they witness it first hand the way my brother and I have. For so long I believed that my father was a bad man. We were so close when I was growing up. He and mom fought viciously every single day when he got home from work, and I remember him confiding in me so many times and him telling me that I was the only one who loved him. As I grew up, we grew apart, and I started to turn against him too. I know he must feel completely unloved now if back then I was all he had. It honestly breaks my heart, and I so desperately want to reach out and save him but I can’t. Not only would my mom destroy me, but I have lost my ability to outwardly show emotion. I am so ashamed of it. I’ve been putting the pieces together lately and I think it’s because of my mom. All my life she has shoved her horrible childhood in her kids faces.

She has always pretty much told me that my pain wasn’t good enough to be acknowledged. I always felt I didn’t have real enough reasons because NOTHING could ever compare to what my mom went through. She always turned everything that hurt me into something that hurt her. She always tried to make me feel guilty for feeling pain. Claiming that she’s been a great mother to me and I was being selfish. And then she’d go on to remind me of how horrible her life has been. She honestly thinks she did everything perfectly for us. I really am not even sure if she knows what she’s doing. All she sees is herself. Everything she ever says is so negative. Some conversations I have with her honestly leave me wanting to hurt myself. She makes me and everybody around her feel helpless. No matter what she does to you, somehow it’s always your fault.

She once said to me, “When I was growing up, all I ever saw was fighting. So I gave you guys a better life and tried to hide it from you when your dad and I fight.” After she said that, I started to think about it. She’s so twisted and backwards. I can’t think of a time in which she wasn’t fighting with dad or even attempting to hide it. Hell, she was constantly telling us how horrible dad was and involving us in the fights! I remember my older sister taking my brother and I and hiding us in her room to keep us away from the fighting some nights. I don’t know. I just remember pain, fear, chaos. I have images burned in mind of that woman beating my father down to his knees. And I can’t see how anything he has ever done was ever even slightly worthy of that sort of punishment. He can never do anything right. And yet he keeps trying and trying. The more he tries, the more she finds things he does wrong.

The past few weeks this has been all I can think about. This is the first time I ever saw things clearly for what they are. I always thought my mother was the victim. But for the first time, I clearly see that my father is the abused one.

I can’t take it anymore. If someone doesn’t do something, it will never end. It only gets worse. She will never admit she’s done anything wrong. And if someone doesn’t reach out to dad, what will happen to him? I love him and appreciate him so much.

I am so damn sick of seeing my father get beaten down. How can someone like her be stopped?

A: From Dr. Marie:
One of the most difficult parts of growing up is the realization that there are many truths in a situation. For years, things seemed simple to you. Dad was bad. Mom was good. Now that you are old enough to observe more carefully, you are rethinking your old conclusions. It’s painful. But it’s also giving you a chance to have a relationship with both parents.

In your efforts to be fair to your dad, though, you are still falling into the idea that you have to take one side or the other. It’s closer to the truth that your parents have been engaged in a painful “dance” for a very, very long time. They have some sort of “deal” that makes their relationship make sense to them. Your dad is an alcoholic. Your mom pleads victim and scolds. Your dad seems to be trying. But there are pieces to this puzzle that you can’t and don’t know. Often partners where one is drinking are caught in a cycle. One says “I wouldn’t drink if he or she were not so horrible.” The other says, in effect, “I wouldn’t be so horrible if he or she didn’t drink.” And around and around it goes.

Your question is how to make your mom stop. My question would be how to get them both out of this dance so they can learn another one.

My best recommendation to you is that you see whether there is a chapter of Alanon nearby. Here’s the link for groups in your area.

Alanon is an organization for family members and friends of alcoholics. Alateen is especially for teenagers. Both provide important information and support for people who are trying to help the alcoholic in their lives and to change the difficult and painful family dynamics that often get going in their families.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

From Dr. Dan:

Thank you for asking this question. Your perspective is important because it shows how our experiences and perceptions about our family can evolve over time.

I couldn’t agree more with Dr. Marie. I would add that it may be helpful to consider trying to get in front of a family therapist specializing in families where alcohol is present. Here is the link for marriage and family counselors.

The Alanon approach is exactly the right thing for you, and may be the right place for your mother AND your father. My experience has been that people who have alcoholism, who are candidates for AA, are often in need of coping with their issues of codependency. Your father’s behavior is that of someone in orbit around your mother. Each of the members in your family need to unplug from each other, what is referred to in Alanon as detaching with love. My point is that you should try a few Alanon meetings, and this may inspire your parents to change. Even if it doesn’t, you will be taking care of you — the only person you can really be responsible for.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan

 

 

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 19 Nov 2010

APA Reference
Daniel J. Tomasulo, D. (2010). Double Take: My mother abusing my father?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 25, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/11/19/double-take-my-mother-abusing-my-father/