My dad has a very sick fundamentalist viewpoint that basically requires everyone to believe like he does or face hellfire. My sister is a lesbian who has not spoken to Dad in 20 years. My brother is slowly killing himself with alcohol and drugs. My other sister never married and is still trying to get Dad’s approval. My wife and I have a cordial relationship with my parents, but now that our children are school-age, Dad tries to indoctrinate them with his toxic beliefs. My wife refuses to visit my parents anymore and will not allow Dad to see our kids. The holidays are approaching, and Dad has extended invitations. My wife is furious that I have not refused, but I feel bad. What should I do?
Realize that your father’s indoctrination of you is successful. He has convinced you that if you disobey him, you are wrong, a bad person and devoid of a lovely afterlife. He has done an excellent job of teaching you to let him think for you. If you are ready to grow up, learn to think for yourself. Begin by understanding that your father’s belief system offers him the rules he needs to feel safe in the world and superior to others. Scrupulosity about other people’s religious or moral choices is common in narcissists and in people with low self-esteem. Sound familiar?
Your father’s certainty that he is saving you and your children blinds him to the harm he causes. So, while it’s possible that your siblings would have made the same life choices under the tutelage of a more conscious parent, exposing your children to him poses a risk your wife is unwilling to take. Is the gamble worth it to you? That’s right, you can either endure the possibility of estrangement from your parents or live knowing that you have sacrificed your children to avoid some discomfort. Remember, you called your father’s beliefs “sick” and “toxic.” As children, your siblings probably prayed for someone to rescue them from him. Why not be courageous enough to protect your children and shift the family legacy to something beautiful?
My wife complains that I don’t spend time with her, but when we hang out to do errands or whatnot, she is always on the phone with a girlfriend. She apologizes to me but still picks up every call. I have told her to spend the weekends with her friends, but she keeps saying she wants to be together. When I give in, it’s the same routine. Any suggestions for me?
Yes, either accept that you are arm candy or choose to enjoy your limited time on Earth another way. Your wife’s obsession with being the center of attention requires that she remain in denial about how she treats you. Yes, that means she will only evaluate her behavior when forced to do so by a crisis, and reality hasn’t knocked her upside the head yet. In the meantime, you must value yourself more highly. Time together is worthwhile if it builds a couple’s emotional bank account. That happens when the couple is connected, sharing feelings and really listening to each other. But your wife is connected to her phone and her friends. Her body is walking next to you, but her mind, heart and spirit are traveling other dimensions. So the next time she begs you to hang out, agree on the condition that her phone remains at home. Say that you are interested in time together without distractions. Explain that without her commitment to communication, the marriage is likely to fail. Offer to attend counseling with her, if necessary. Her response will reveal what both of you need to know about your relationship.
“Any problem, big or small, within a family, always starts with bad communication. Someone isn’t listening,” said the actress Emma Thompson. What do you say when you talk to yourself?