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I am the filling in an aging couple's 60-year marriage sandwich that has really hit the skids! They truly hate each other, and I have become the dumping ground for all of their anger, unhappiness and pettiness. I lost my wonderful husband to cancer last year and would give up everything and live in a box under a viaduct if I could have 60 years with him!
Has anyone figured out a way to cope with this?
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Welcome! I hope you don't live with them!!!!!! If you do GET OUT ASAP.
Treated like a kid
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Hi Nan, Sorry for your loss of your husband. I'm not in your shoes, but I'm sole caregiver to a very difficult elder. She would complain all day long if I let her. I did listen for a long time, thinking that when someone wants to vent it's usually for a reason. However, she doesn't vent and then feel better, she is just plain miserable all the time. So, I had to start setting the limits with her. When she starts to complain, I say "oh that's too bad" and then change the subject. I always turn it around to the positive and if that doesn't work, I'll say I have to leave or get off the phone. (which is the worst for her, because she wants somebody (anybody) with her 24/7) You can also nicely tell them that you're their daughter and do not want to be put in the middle. If they want to vent, they need to talk with friends or pay a counselor. If they don't stop, leave or say you have to get off the phone. They will learn quickly. (hopefully) Actually, my grandma has changed with me quite a bit. She can still cause havoc in my life, but she really tries to be positive with me lately because she knows that I'll end the topic right there or leave. She actually started telling me how blessed she is and how she has nothing to complain about. She knows that is what I want to hear. Then I hear from my sister that just a few hours before, my grandma called my sister demanding attention, that nobody has been to see her and she needs to see her grandkids. My point is.. they know what we will and will not put up with.
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I don't have any sage words of advice, just sympathy. I too had the, ahem, 'joyous' experience of my mother trying to make me the referee in her 62-year holy war with my father, who she admitted she would divorce if they had 'enough money' (which in my opinion they did). Why HE didn't divorce HER is beyond me, but she pretty much had both of us under her thumb. I guess it's our fault for staying there. Anyway, toward the end I began to say stuff like, "This is your marriage, your relationship, and it's not appropriate for you to put your child in the middle. These are matters to be discussed with your minister or a counselor. I love my father, and it's not right to try and make me take sides." My father is gone now, but she still likes to complain about him. I think she misses fighting with him. I could be wrong, but I think that's a real possibility.
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p.s. Please accept my sympathy for the loss of your husband. How heartbreaking to lose a good marriage and then be saddled with trying to keep your parents and their battles at bay.
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My sister claims that these kind of marriages are fueled on mutual venom, but I am not so sure, based on my own experience. Imo it only takes one to make the conflagration. When my dad died at the end of 2006 I thought my life would get easier. HAHA. No it did not. My parents' ugly marriage and constant hateful sparring hurt me, but what I truly did not expect was that once my dad died, the hostilities would continue. ( My father did not speak to my mother the last six months of his life, yet my mother continued on with her 'addiction' to screaming at him.) You would think that now that the 'villain' is dead that the 'victim' would be happy. Think again and again about this situation, because often times these people just need someone to project their ugliness onto and sad to say it may be you. This is what happened to me. I sincerely doubt that my dad would be treating me the way Nmom is, but I will never know. However, what I do know is that if you stick around you may end up being me and I don't have an enviable situation. My advice is get out while the getting is good.
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Wow! Thanks to all of you for your fast responses. It reminded me that I'm not the only one dealing with aging parents. It also reminded me that I don't want to do that to our children later on. AND, it also reminded me that I have friends facing cancer and other things where I really can help.
I'm sorry for all of you who have had to be in the middle - it's so sad to see two people who have literally "had it all" spend the last years of their lives this way. What a terrible waste. I think that like some of you, even if something happened to my Dad, my Mom will complain for the rest of her life - she's just an angry person and now, so is he. Anger management therapy was truly helping, but then Dad just decided he's done. so... Fortunately, I don't live with them, and I'm not close enough where they can come banging on my door. I have a brother who has been wonderful, but he's further away than I am, and it's easier for him to just back off when it gets nasty. I guess all of us dealing with this should thank our lucky stars that there is a website like this where we can be blessed with understanding and encouragement. Thank you. And I'm here for you all as well! Nan
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NGA has a very very good point. My mother was the primary combatant in her marriage and I'm now convinced it's because she has a personality disorder and will always need a scratching post. Since my long suffering father has died, the scratching post has become ME. I had thought perhaps my mother would calm down a bit after her battles with my father were behind her ... but not so. Not at all. Turns out that my mother requires a living, breathing target for her anger and unhappiness. Uh-oh.
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Uh oh is RIGHT! My Dad is actually the one with dementia and I can deal better with him one-on-one. My Mom hasn't figured out yet that she's actually a LARGE part of the problem - you would think a woman with a college degree and every advantage that life has to offer would be big enough to take responsibility for her own behavior. Over the years she got into the habit (and a LOT of this is HABIT) of talking to my father like he's an idiot. I think he just can't tolerate any more of it.
I agree with NGA too - some people just never learn to manage their anger, or to let go of the things that reallty become insignificant over time - they hoard it and feed upon it. I don't know if it's because as they age and are able to do less physically, they have more time to mull it over and over until it becomes all-encompassing?
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Hi Nan, I don't have any wisdom to share with you, but I wanted to welcome you to the board. My condolences on the loss of your husband! You're in a difficult situation! Have your parents always been at odds or has their mutual animosity just reared its head as they aged? I was also in the middle of my parents marriage, but my situation was much different than your own. My mother was mentally ill and a substance abuser since I was a young child. My dad raised me to be his personal pit bull and protect him from my abusive mother. I grew up believing that he was totally innocent and helpless and it was my job to protect him and take care of her. I was in the middle of my parent's marriage until my mother died two years ago. My dad followed 8 months later and it was finally over. In the middle is an uncomfortable place to be. You have my sympathy! ~OK~
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My parents had a really good marriage until they reached their middle 70's and things started happening to their health. We lost my sister 18 years ago at the age of 32 to lung cancer, and for many years I thought maybe they were subconsciously blaming each other. But I don't think that's all of it. I think my Mom is really angry at my Dad because his mind is going and he can't do all of the things he used to to "take care of" things - like the bookkeeping, managing the investments etc. And she'll tell me on the phone - right in front of him! - "Your father is just HORRIBLE! He can't do anything right!" Isn't it sad how we get stuck in the middle - really because the little child in us never stops wanting everyone to "get along"? Even though our roles reverse as they get older, we still want them to get along! My husband was a wonderful champion to me in dealing with my parents - I think that's part of what's so hard for me now is that he's no longer here to rub my shoulders and remind me that it's THEIR problem!
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Nan, I wanted to welcome you here and say that you can come talk any time. I am so sorry about your husband. That has to be very hard.
I am sorry your parents are so combative. I know of parents like that. Yes, it can drive the adult children absolutely batty! You just have to distance yourself from it when and if you can. If your mom starts in about your Dad, over the phone or when you are there, you have to stop her (in a nice way). I do agree with that.Otherwise it will go on and on as you know. It can be very hard living with and caring for a person with dementia. I am sure your mother is very stressed, strained, and tired. If she was nasty before all this, then yes, it is hard to distinguish between her normal nastiness, and the stress of (trying to) care for a person with dementia. My mom is very forgetful now - very. I tell her something and 2 minutes later, no, make that 5 seconds later, she repeats the same (erroneous) statement, which I then have to correct. It gets soooooo tiring, it really does. I do not even live near mom. Lately I have been seeing her every other week or every 3 weeks, and yes, it is taking a toll on me. I cannot imagine living with her day in and day out and dealing with that. As for your parents, if they had a lousy relationship to begin with, this just makes it worse ! You have to protect yourself from as much of it as you can. On my latest visit to Mom, monday and yesterday, I found myself *once again* gettnig all worked up with her. Boy, that did not take long. I really had to give myself a lecture and say "Beth, now you know how your Mom is. You need to STEP BACK, ask yourself why it is so important to really care what Mom says or does.... and then put it all in perspective." So I did and that helped. But it is like I have to re-train myself each and every time I go there! If Iwere living with it 24/7? Mamma mia!! Iwould not make it. Yeah your mom sounds very angry. Those people are pretty toxic. I wish there was some way you did not have to be so involved. beth
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I guess we have a general consensus (and I'll have to tell my brother that he's right! ) that we have to keep a sane distance from it all and not allow ourselves to BE in the middle, only to be on the periphery and be there for the more important and realistic things they need. But I know exactly what you mean when you talk about having to re-train yourself every time you are there. WOW! It's exhausting! I appreciate so much the time and thoughts from everyone. And thank you for reminding me that my Mom lives with Dad's dementia every day (and she has physical health issues of her own) and that I KNOW I couldn't do it as well.....we have many ways for people to live longer, but not enough in the way of education for them to learn what they will find when they get there!
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I, too, would like to extend condolences for the loss of your husband - obviously a wonderful partner. Wow, I think all of us are struggling and stumbling through ways to deal with our older parents. Nobody teaches you how to handle this, and remember this was a more rare issue decades ago before advances in medicine made it possible for people to live longer, if not better-quality, lives. My parents moved to NYC a little more than 3 years ago because they were getting more frail, and Mom decided, for dubious reasons that I may expound in a separate new posting, that I was better suited to help them than was my brother (who actually was willing and better able). At the time they were 81 and 77, respectively. I noticed the first bruise on Dad's arm about 2 months after they arrived. Over the next several months I noticed more bruises and confronted Dad, but he brushed me off. Finally, last May when I walked into their apartment I saw the left side of my Dad's face looking like he had been in a prize-fight, and the explanation he gave was even more astounding than I could have imagined. Before I go into it, I need to explain that my Mother had hip-replacement surgery in 2001, felt she needed no physical therapy, and as a result ended up slowly degrading in her mobility to the point that she cannot get in and out of a chair by herself. Dad does everything for her - toilet, shower, everything. So I'm looking at my half black-and-blue sweet Dad, and he describes how when he was bringing a glass of wine to her bed, he stumbled and spilled some. Then she slapped him, and when I asked him what was his response, he smiled and said he offered her the other side of his face. She slapped him again. He turned his face again. Then in exasperation, and because he couldn't think of another way to stop her, he started beating himself on the head until he got tired and dizzy. I felt sick and furious and wanted to storm into her room and blast her with 40 years of repressed rage, but he swore me to secrecy. I told him if this happened again, I would call the police on her. Things have been emotionally calmer since then, but I am emotionally burned out and nearly at my wits' end. My usual state of mind now varies from mild dread to intense dread. This is the only forum that I think can understand what I'm going through. Thank you all for letting me vent...
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"a sane distance" - Nan, that is exactly right. For us, it's 800+ miles now. My inlaws despise each other. They have all of their married lives from what my husband tells me. His mother actually made my husband go with her to speak with an attorney about divorcing his father. He was about 11. She decided not to, and pretends like it never happened, but my husband bears the scars after all these years. What kind of person takes their young son to an appointment like that? When we lived near them, we would often walk right into their home as it was difficult for them to answer the door. Both of them were hard of hearing and refused to wear hearing aids, so we would often walk in on the most vile, horrible screaming matches I've ever heard in my life. As soon as they would notice someone else in the room, they would become sweet as pie. (I guess they figured we couldn't hear either.) This summer we cleared all of the messages on our answering machine before we moved except for the one where his mother says, "You just have to do something about your father, he is cussing and swearing and throwing the tv . . . . . . . . remote. You just have to talk some sense into him." (That pregnant pause between the words "tv" and "remote" was just enough time to make a mental picture an 88 year-old man hoisting a television across the room.) My husband finally came to the realization that they just can't be helped. He is their baby and they don't listen to a word he says. His mom thinks it's all his dad's fault, and his dad thinks it's all his mom's fault. They don't know how to live any other way. So here we are, several states away, and life is peaceful for now. When my mother-in-law was in the nursing home for rehab after knee surgery, she was a sweet as a kitten. We actually stopped to visit her almost every evening after work. When my father-in-law would leave, he would give her a kiss. They would often sit and hold hands. We were completely stunned. Then we realized . . . the doctor had put her on anti-anxiety medication and she was actually taking it because the nursing home staff made sure of it. She was so pleasant while she was at the nursing home. Once she was out, she stopped taking it and the hateful madness started all over again. One of my husband's uncles passed away a few weeks ago. When his mother called to tell us the news, she actually said that she wished it had been her husband instead because he is such a $#%. The hate continues, but at least we are out of the line of fire for now. Unless she goes back on the medication, this is the way it will continue to be with them.