Mother’s odd behavior may be beyond repair

I have enjoyed a close, supportive, loving relationship with my mother for most of my life. When I remarried five years ago, she became close to my husband as well. We enjoy family get-togethers/holidays etc., and of course, she has a loving relationship with my two children.

About two years into my marriage, my husband’s alcoholic binges began to wreak havoc and led to our separation. From the beginning of separation, my mother sort of “took over” being wife to my husband, with her listening to his woes in the backyard over a beer or two, supporting, playing tennis together, phone calls, etc. He became like her best friend, and the two of them visited near daily, with her listening to his outpouring of pain and grief.

After about six months of this, I confronted her (about) how much time she was spending with him. I also said I felt she was enabling him by letting him off the hook about his alcoholism.

Her reaction to my confrontation was incredible rage, defensive to the core. She bit my head off, railed at me, screamed things that were not fair, and hung up on me. Then I got the cold shoulder treatment for months.

Their closeness intensified to the point that she was cooking his meals for him and sending it home in containers, etc. Meanwhile, he was fixing all repairs at her house, they were sharing books, videos, conversation, playing tennis and having regular visits.

My husband moved out of state in January for a job transfer, and she acts like nothing wrong ever took place. Without some type of sincere apology or acceptance of how wrong this was, I’m not able to move forward.

— R.K.

Memphis, Tenn.

For me, breakdowns in relationships fall quickly into three types. First, there is The Drift. Nobody’s “fault,” really. That is, no one’s malicious intention. Life sometimes sets people on different paths, living out of such different rhythms that relationships drift. Once you notice, you can either let them drift (like an ol’ high school buddy), or you can renew your intention to connect (as you would do in marriage).

Then there’s The Grievance. This is when you have a legitimate claim on the neglectful, disrespectful or in some cases outright ugly behavior of someone from whom you deserve better. Depending on how important the relationship is to you, you either begin a dialogue of reconciliation or you end the relationship.

Third is The Betrayal. For most folks, this one is the hardest. Certainly for me. I’m saying spit on me, and we’ll get through it. But throw me under the bus on purpose for political gain or because you’re a political coward or simply because of spite … and you might well permanently change my amenability to ever completely trust you again. In some severe cases, to ever speak to you again.

Your story strikes me as an experience of betrayal. That would be bad enough. But …

If your husband were not an alcoholic, if you were not separated, if your marriage was thriving, I would find his relationship with your mother … odd. That your marriage was estranged takes it way past “odd.” I suspect your mother is working out some kind of psychodrama within herself, and it’s likely she’s not entirely conscious of what that is. And it’s even less likely you’ll ever find out, because she has made it clear that examining this behavior in herself for the sake of accountability to her daughter is not something she’s willing to do.

Which leaves you … terribly disappointed. Betrayed. Wondering how a relationship that you have enjoyed as “close, supporting and loving” could have possibly come to this. Perhaps even casting doubt on whether the relationship was ever as close, supportive and loving as it appeared to be.

R.K., this might not even be about you. Meaning, your mother’s psychodrama might not contain a felt sense of spite toward you. But, it doesn’t matter. Because, regardless of her felt motives, conscious or unconscious, this, for you, was an egregious failure of advocacy.

And the worst part is she’s not going to look at it. She’s not going to work through this with you.

Which means that, for you to “move forward,” well, you’ll be moving forward with a sense of loss. Greatly reduced expectations of this relationship.

When I have had to “move forward” from events like this, it has meant grieving. Grieving hard.

Originally published in View News, Oct. 12, 2010.

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