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Dear Chump Lady, How can I get my mom to leave my cheater dad?

Dear Chump Lady,

I only discovered your site a few days ago and you have made me feel SO MUCH BETTER about what I’m going through.

By way of background — I am a Chump Daughter. My parents are currently going through a divorce. The marriage was for 25 years and has always been dysfunctional. Without going into too much detail, my Mum is the Chumpiest of Chumps and despite indisputable evidence before the marriage that my Dad was willing to a) physically harm her; b) emotionally manipulate/gaslight her; and c) spend money they didn’t have indulging his gambling addiction she went ahead and did it anyway. As a child I had to endure years of secrecy and knowing that my family wasn’t “normal”. I couldn’t have friends over, I was told that his abuse was “my fault” if I would just stop “provoking” him all the while knowing that my Mum would never, ever leave him.

In September 2012, my sister discovered evidence my father was having an affair with a co-worker (including emails detailing overnight hotel stays etc). We had suspected something was going on long before then as we were getting a large number of prank calls and my Dad became bizarrely aggressive if anyone so much as approached his phone.

My sister and I held an ‘intervention’ in November and we confronted my Dad about the affair and a number of other things, including that our family home was about to be re-possessed due to his gambling habits. He lied, and when presented with proof, confessed it had only been “a few weeks” and “the marriage had been long over, anyway”.

Since then, he has moved in with the AP, mentioned off-handedly that we may have a step brother/sister on the way(??) and that by the by, he thinks the AP is repulsive but he “can’t be on his own”.

This is a very, very modest catalogue of my Dad’s offences (he is an addict and, arguably, has a NPD) but these alone are certainly sufficient for me to think my Mum should kick his ass to the curb, but she is stalling. She really struggles with NC despite the fact it upsets her more, my Dad is a pathological liar but bizarrely, she still believes him when he says things like ‘I’ve moved out of the AP’s house!’ only to find actually, he was hedging his bets and was waiting to see if my Mum would come a runnin’ before he made any hasty decisions. I have tried to reason with her, using variations of your explanation of the ‘pick me’ dance, pointing out his various shitty behaviours (of which there are many, I’m spoilt for choice) yet she is terrified of being alone. She has so much support (which she acknowledges) but she still seems to be running to this asshole. She now contacts my Dad in secret as she knows it upsets my sister and I.

Anyway, this was a long way of saying your last few articles on kids being resilient really resounded with me. What I wouldn’t have given for my Mum to have been strong enough to leave my Dad before the situation became dire – my siblings and I always felt like we were doing our own version of the “pick me” dance as picking us would have meant leaving him, but she always picked him despite his obvious shortcomings.

I actually do have a question for you — how, as a Chump Daughter, can I support my Mum and give her advice without pushing her too hard? I know that divorce is difficult, but I feel like she is not helping herself and I’m beginning to resent her. I know that sounds awfully unsympathetic, but as I say, this has been going on for years and I am now offering to support her financially by purchasing her a house to live in with me (we lost the family home early this year, and most of the equity had been spent by my Dad, so she has none of her own money) but my condition is that she must go through with the divorce. I am unwilling to be linked to my Dad’s financial irresponsibility but, more pressingly, I have made it clear he is not welcome in my life and therefore not in my home. My Mum says I am being “unfair” by asking her to make this decision. Is she right?

Thank you again for such a fantastic resource.



Dear Melissa,

Wow. What a great kid you are. Just goes to show that great kids can come from even the crappiest of parenting situations. Before I wade too deep into any advice, I hope you’re getting some therapy, Melissa. Because you’ve really been dealt a giant plate of shit sandwiches at a young age and I would hate for you to sink into chumpitude yourself, given that both of your parents seem to avoid acting like grown ups. You and your sister have taken on the Herculean task of staging an intervention and bringing the affair to light. You’re trying hard to drag these people into reality, and they’re resisting you mightily. That’s a very hard situation.

I say “chumpitude” because you’re filling a role chumps often fill — trying to be the reasonable person in an unreasonable situation. Gosh, I’ll just pester them long enough and we’ll come to some sort of consensus about this Crazy Thing they’re doing! Oh, I’ll just shoulder more the burden here, because things are hideously chaotic and if I don’t take on more, well, it won’t get done. Or, I’ll do this generous thing, and they’ll see the value in that!

Newsflash, Melissa — chump tactics don’t work. They make you a nice person, but they’re shit for effectiveness.

Per your question — are you being unfair by insisting that if you provide a home for your mother, that you pay for, that you can make your own boundaries about who is allowed inside YOUR home?

(See how I rephrased that for you?) NO, you are NOT being unreasonable.

Now, I do not think you can say to your mom — divorce him or you’re homeless. Because, hey, she’s fucked either way really. Stay married to him — homeless. Divorce him — homeless. Melissa, you have the power here, you just need to realize it and leverage it. Your mom needs a home, and you can provide that. Otherwise it’s going to get very Sister Wives over at cheater dad’s place, what with living with a pregnant mistress. I would think she’d be inclined to want to live with you.

But she’s wants it on her terms. She wants to continue her addiction to your lousy dad (more on that in a moment)  AND she wants the safety net you provide. She cannot have both. That’s your boundary. And you need to enforce that boundary, something you’re probably not very experienced at given your upbringing.

So what I think you need to do in the short term is DETACH. With love, of course, but detach from your mom. Stop trying to rescue her from that bad marriage. You’re a grown up, with your own life and resources. Put your energies there. You made your offer to your mom — a very generous, kind offer that no young person should ever have to be put in the position of offering, by the way — now you need to stand back and let make her choice.

Horrible, I know. You’d rather control this outcome by hovering around trying to reason with her to avert disaster. That’s probably not going to happen. Your mom is pretty immune to threats of disaster by the sounds of it. But detaching is what you need to do. Let those horrible consequences rain on her head — no place to live, her husband has a child with another woman, the endless “pick me” dance your father is goading her to perform. Let it happen. Because you MUST let it happen. You don’t control it. You only get to control YOU.

And Melissa was very clear on Melissa’s portion of this mess — I will generously save you, mom, from homelessness if you end this toxic relationship and don’t bring this man in my house. That is what YOU control. That offer. Nothing more. You’re the goalie guarding that one boundary.

Now to the other question you didn’t ask, but you must be wondering — what keeps your mom locked in this crazy dance with your father? Why on earth won’t she leave him? Surely, it’s not for the kids, because you and your sister seem united in your desire to get her away from him. To me, your mom sounds like an addict herself — hooked on Hopium. Hope that he’s going to change. Hope that he really does love her (despite all flaming evidence to the contrary). Hope that their years of shared history mean something to him (they mean cake to him). You’ve probably read Five Things That Keep You Stuck With a Cheater, some of the reasons are outlined there.

I would guess that your mom felt (delusionally) that she was protecting you from your father’s abuse. If she only did this one thing more to please him, or danced the “pick me” dance really well, then she could keep the family together. Gee, I wonder where you got your idea that you could protect people from their lousy behavior if you just tried harder? Huh. Head scratcher that one.

You know how you escape abuse? Well, first you recognize it as abuse. That’s harder than it sounds. I commend you for being ahead on that score. You’re very clear on who your dad is. The second way you escape abuse is you just freaking ESCAPE. You get away. You put a ton of distance between you and the toxic person. You go no contact. You untangle your life from their life.

Your mother is trying to drag you back into that relationship with your father. She’s made it clear through her actions that any relationship with her means a relationship with him.  Which sadly means you need to escape both her and him. Unless you are prepared to walk away, I don’t think you can help your mom. She’s not ready to leave him. She refuses to recognize who he really is — an abuser who has hurt her children, gambled away their home, and disrespected her with an affair.

I know it is counterintuitive, but the best hope you have at saving your mom is detaching from your mom. When she see’s that you mean it, she might come around. But as long as you’re contorting yourself into knots trying to save her AND let her maintain her relationship with your dad — this shit is doomed. Save yourself, Melissa. It’s totally okay to do that — essential really. It doesn’t make you a bad daughter. It makes you a sane daughter, and a strong person who can help your mom some day when she’s ready for it. Big (((HUGS))) to you.

Ask Chump Lady

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  • Melissa,
    I am so sorry you are having to deal with this. My heart goes out to you. There is one other tactic you may be able to try but it is doubtful to work. I know from experience the pick me dance and I couldn’t walk away until I knew I had done everything possible…part of me was hoping for his return while part of me only wanted his return so I could dump him…neither happened.
    The tactic is using her mom instinct. In a normal conversation with her you tell her one of your “friend’s” stories…through some details the are similar to hers. Ask her what she thinks you should do to help your friend, then listen, really listen. She will tell you how to deal with her in that answer.
    I agree with chump lady that you need to detach. It doesn’t mean you stop loving her or caring about her, it means that it no longer affects you and your life which it is cetainly doing now.
    We are here for you. I am glad that there are other people like me out there. It makes me feel normal. Good luck.

    • Thank you for your kind words, Ashley.

      I think you are right, my Mum probably doesn’t even want my Dad back, really, she is just incredibly hurt that he would pick the AP “over” her despite their years of shared history and being nothing but a supportive wife. But then, if my Dad could see the value in that he wouldn’t have cheated in the first place, right?

      Anyway, I think my Mum would agree that she should leave my Dad (and she would certainly advise my sister and I to do it if we were in the same situation) but she is convinced she can “save” him. That she can get him to change. My Dad has goaded her since she issued divorce proceedings with “you just gave up on me, I would never give up on you” which KILLS her, even though I would say “YOU’RE DAMN RIGHT I GAVE UP ON YOU SLIMEBALL, WHY THE FUCK WOULD YOU GIVE UP ON ME? I’M AWESOME!” But she sees it as some sort of failing on her part. Like she couldn’t make her marriage work, and (coming from a strong Christian background) she really MEANT her wedding vows.

      Also just wanted to say I’ve read a lot of sad stories on here and I applaud you Chumps who have made brave decisions to leave toxic marriages, especially those with children. I can tell you as a Chump daughter, you are giving them a priceless gift by showing them that this sort of behaviour is NOT acceptable or tolerated.

      • It’s interesting and heartbreaking to hear it from the child’s point of view. Melissa, you’re an amazing person and a wonderful daughter. You somehow managed to filter out all the crappy suckiness from them and turned out to be a terrific person. Give yourself a big hug from me. CL was spot on in her advice. Loving both of you right now.

      • Melissa, don’t totally give up on your Mom as she is showing some signs of strength as. . . she ‘initiated’ divorce proceedings. Good Job, it is a START! She may flounder in her resolve BUT the fact that she initiated divorce proceedings IS encouraging. . . .

        I whole heartedly agree with everything CL advises- as ALWAYS she is spot on! I would make one additional suggestion. Be very clear with your Mom and paint the picture of what you want in your life and what CAN be delivered if she makes GREAT choices. I don’t know about your own life goals BUT as an example you could paint the picture something like this. . .

        1) She lives with you. You and your sister ‘happily’ celebrate holidays together with her where NO abusive asshole wrecks anything. A HAPPY functioning home. . . Sound nice, Mom?

        2) Say to her, “Gee mom, someday you can look forward to grandchildren and they will love you in our home where there is NO ABUSE, NO BULLSHIT, NO TEARS caused by my Dad- who always spoiled EVERYTHING. You will get to see ‘happy’ grandchildren who actually ‘invite’ their friends over for sleepovers. They will see their grandmother as a STRONG woman to admire and respect. They will love you as I do and get to have a happy content grandmother who is a respected family member in the household.”

        Now paint the picture of what will likely happen if she ‘hangs’ on to a dysfunctional relationship: sharing an abusive man with an AP, watching from the sidelines as he continues to destroy and mess up his life, have more children with the AP, have less and less money for your mom, maybe ‘totally’ go off the edge and hurt your mother further both emotionally and FINANCIALLY. Furthermore, she will ALWAYS be on a rollercoaster connected to your father and the pain and disappointment will continue.

        Most importantly explain the financial mess scenario to her. How will she get less money if she flounders and doesn’t follow through with legal action??? Explain the HUGE looming likely scenario as follows: If the AP is pregnant, this is financially VERY bad for your mom. Why? Once there is are temporary orders or a finalized divorce decree signed the court will have ‘fixed’ spousal maintenance as a defined amount payable each month. THIS however gets all screwed up if the AP runs to the court, gets child support awarded etc. ‘before’ temporary maintenance is set, restraining orders put in place etc., etc. TIME is of the essence!! Courts are also going to prioritize child support enforcement OVER spousal maintenance ‘every’ time as innocent babies being are affected by poverty and the laws in the states are geared to not let that happen. The courts will see your mom as a woman who can work, earn some money etc. Babies, however just can’t do that- so it is going to go down as: BABIES with AP getting money over MOM who hoped and spackled for 25 years plus. It totally sucks for your mom but that is REALITY!

        Now as your Dad is totally financially irresponsible and may have ‘nothing’ anyway for court ordered garnishment. ( whether it is initiated by your Mom or a pregnant AP), your Mom is at least in a BETTER position arguably to get that maintenance award entered. She can get restraining orders entered to protect equity in the family home (if there is any equity in the home remaining) as home sale prices are at least improving now across the nation.

        ALSO, if your Dad sees that your mom is SERIOUS about the divorce and getting spousal maintenance, division of assets etc., he ‘might’ be dissuaded from bringing anymore babies into the world with this AP or other future AP’s. Right? Maybe he’ll wear a condom when he is with his next AP because he will remember how he got ‘hammered’ with support enforcement.

        Melissa, you are a AWESOME daughter. Your mother is lucky to have you and your sister. Continue to define ‘healthy’ boundaries and continue to ‘role model’ for your mother what RESPECT looks like and is. Finally a Big (((Hug))) to you – you totally ROCK as a fellow human being and daughter!

        • Yes, Melissa’s mom ‘initiated’ divorce proceedings’, but why?

          If she did this because she wants out of the relationship, then great. But I get the overwhelming feeling that she is “initiating divorce proceedings” to try to win him back. Hoping that it will shake some sense into him. Show him she is serious. Ultimately, she still wants him. Looking at Melissa’s mom’s behavior as whole, it looks like she is still quite vested in the relationship and doesn’t actually want to go through with a divorce.

          Melissa, I hope your mom gains strength and the self-esteem it takes to get away from him. I applaud your maturity in this situation.

          • Well, I can say that from my own experience that while living too long as a chump that the ‘head’ can be rational but the ‘heart’ is slow to follow. The mom may know that the ‘rational’ decision is to divorce and wants to do so yet, she may be floundering and experiencing euphoric recollection (Nostalgic about the ‘good’ times, length of the marriage, ‘hopium’ etc.

            It took a lot of gumption to initiate divorce proceedings and she probably ‘thought’ about it over the years and at least get to the point of doing it. Coming out of chumpville is often taking one step forward and then 2 steps backwards- it is long and painful especially for those of us who have vested YEARS into a crappy relationship with an NPD spouse.

  • One thing I forgot to add — a conversation Melissa could have with her mom to assert her boundaries. Detaching with love isn’t cutting the person out totally, necessarily. But defending that boundary. For example “Mum, you’re in an abusive relationship. I love you, but it pains me — and endangers me financially — to continue a relationship with dad. My boundary is reasonable, and it’s my boundary. You can live with me, but he’s not allowed in my home. And you need to get help so that you find the strength to leave this man. Help is out there. But if you won’t avail yourself of it, I cannot help you.”

    • I totally agree with CL, my favorite Delphic Oracle. This is great advice. We can’t really save anyone else. We can help, but they have to want to save themselves.

  • Melissa
    CL advice is spot on – your mother needs to come to terms with her life and choices on her own time. Focus on your life, be supportive but maintain your boundaries and hopefully your mother will be able to find the strength to make better choices for herself. My mother was very similar and it has been a very long process for her to learn to make better relationship choices. My theory is that my mother built her defenses (denial) long before she met my father so she had to basically change core beliefs that she had from childhood. I do not know much about my maternal grandfather but I have not heard anything positive about him and I believe he instill a low standards in regards to husbands and her self worth. This is a long and painful process to unwind and I don’t think my mother will ever have the understanding / insight that we have but she gotten better. I have to add my situation is different because my brother actually sent my father away so the separation happened much faster then if the decision was exclusively up to her. To sum up – teach you mother by your example, keep your boundaries and be patient – there is a lot more going on then just the past 25 years of marriage, but do encourage her to think differently / make positive choices about her future life.

  • Agreed – enforce your boundary. You have to. Otherwise you will get sucked back into your father’s life. That would be bad news.

    It’s hard to watch your mom go through this. To be chasing someone who clearly doesn’t love her. To be emotionally tied to this man. But no one, not even you, can *make* her comee to her senses.

    She needs to hit rock bottom. Kind of like an addict, she needs to hit her own personal low point for it to sink in that this is not a good way to live. Losing her house may be that rock bottom for her.

    • I want to add – I hope she doesn’t have to lose her house in order to realize this. Everyone has their own personal rock bottom. For me, it was my STBX’s affair. Everyone is different. I hope she realizes it sooner rather than later.

  • CL– absolutely perfect! Its tough love or bust! but I am so incredibly touched at what a beautiful strong, young woman Melissa is… more (((hugs)))

    Melissa, in addition to a NPD person and addict, your father is a sadistic freak. I’m so so sorry, that this triple-decker shit sandwich was what you were born into, but please know that a lot of people have the craziest things going on— behind closed doors. He sounds a lot like mine who died 30 years ago. Chump children are in grave danger of becoming chump adults. This is why therapy is so vital for you, to work through all of this, so you don’t inadvertently (or subconsciously) create the same or similar situation to “work out” the pain. OR, go in the diametric opposite which is also no good. This is how this behavior often gets handed down, however, you are already painfully aware and that right there is over half the battle. However, the rub is the RIGHT therapist and it needs to be one who totally gets relational trauma, personality disorders and the affects on family members.

    One other angle, I just thought of… is “family therapy” with your mom. Then there would be a neutral third party, who could at least possibly get through to your mom what the deal is and what its doing to her two loving daughters. just an idea.

    (((hugs))) again!

    • I think that the family therapy with your mother sounds like a good idea, Melissa. You may wish to have therapy on your own, but since this is a family matter, you should have your mother involved, too. It is very likely that she’ll try to spackle for the therapist, and she’ll be angry and embarrassed about what you say and the direction the therapist takes. However, the 3rd party is very useful, and joint therapy would be good for you and your mother to repair your relationship.

      Part of what you say sends up a red flag for me. You say you’re getting irritated with your mother now, but you say that when you and your sister were younger, you were blamed for your father’s abusiveness because you provoked him. In other words, your father abused you, but your mother let it happen. A good therapist will be able to work out the kinds of resentment that this dynamic created.

      Also, family therapy may help your mother get to the point where she can talk with a religious leader about how her church views divorce. She may discover that the church would argue that the marriage was never a valid one in the first place–that an addict cannot enter into the kinds of solemn vows required by marriage, that abuse is viewed as inconsistent with the trust and love of the marriage relationship. She’s clearly not ready for this step yet, but after some therapy, maybe.

      Best of luck.

      • I had another thought earlier too, which was… if the marriage “was over” as Dad explains, (lame justification is what it is) then WHY wasn’t the marriage REALLY over as in DIVORCED, over? this of course is utter nonsense! He’s a real piece of work.

        • Yes, Laurel, Melissa’s dad is really playing her mother. I think her mother is not in a place where she can see that. This is not uncommon in abused women, sadly. 🙁

          • kb This is off topic. I saw a post you made on Chump Chat where you mentioned your STBX deactivated his facebook account and then reactivated it. What is that all about. I am kind of new to facebook but notice my H does it all the time. When I asked him about it he got all defensive. OW is also on facebook

  • Melissa,

    Chump Son here.

    I feel like we are siblings.

    I struggle with a version of this. My father is deceased, was no cheater, but was a yeller/abuser, yet my mother honors his memory, forgets his outbursts, and does things that constantly try to encourage me to adopt a “it was really all good” outlook on the past. Now, I’m not into just brooding on the negative, but I also don’t want to do spackle as history either. In any case, I’m thinking about what to do about this. So, my situation is less severe, but the dynamic is the same.

    My gut sense agrees with CL. You are trying to hard to save someone who may not want to be saved, or who may want to be a victim. Distance/detachment is required in these situations. Chumps do not do distancing well. It’s hard for us. We want to make it all right. But these folks have made their own choices and only they can make different choices, if they want to. For folks in a certain older generation, there is so much invested, they may prefer to just go with the old flow. In any case, if you make an offer, make it with the boundaries you want. I feel that, a bit like a parent, you need to let your “child” (your mother) grow up, if she will. Chump Children often wind up “parenting” their needy/dysfunctional parents. That’s one part of the Chump Son/Chump Daughter dilemma.

    Hang in there, but don’t feel this is your problem to solve. It’s not. You and your sister have done very well. Focus on your own life and offer only what you can.

    Hope this helps.

  • Thank you for the reality check on “chump tactics don’t work.” We chumps are always trying to do the right thing and thinking that the outcome will make them “see the light”. I am glad that I am a nice person who wants to do right, but at the same time not get taken advantage of by people who are either ignorant chumps themselves or by those “other kind of people” who are predatory by nature. This website has not only helped me with my divorce, but also with relationships in general 🙂 Now I am a chump who is not ignorant will not allow anyone to take advantage of me. Thank you CL.

  • Melissa might also take her mother to a good internal medicine person with a good feeling for endocrinology. Nothing takes the wind out of your sails like flagging hormones — especially thyroid, which is apparently quite underdiagnosed.

  • Just another thought.

    Functionality is contagious, but it can’t be forced. We can’t compel other adults to do things that we think they should. All you can do, as CL says, is to fix up yourself and set boundaries. We can’t make someone else quit smoking, but we can not smoke ourselves and have a smoke-free house. Some of our friends will quit. Some won’t.

    In practice, this can be tough to do, but it’s necessary. The best message to send to someone is to be functional yourself and to set boundaries. I know that sounds very limited, but that’s really all one adult can do for another. I think Anne, above, put it really well. The ideal post-Chump state has us leave behind the idea that we can change others. We change ourselves, and that’s the best anyone can do.

  • Melissa – So glad you decided to write to the always spot-on chumplady for her advice. It’s just so sad the you have inadvertently become the “poster child” for Why We Should Never Stay Because Of The Children.

      • Agree, Janet, we should never assume our kids would thank us for staying married. My ex’s father (the tree from which that apple did not fall far) has a daughter by his second marriage. When she was 18 and moving out to go to university, she tearfully asked her mother why she’d stayed all those years, and carefully explained how bad it was for her to live with that bully and watch her mother be bullied. The daughter has never spoken to her father since! Some people ‘get’ NC big time! The mother, the ex’s father’s second wife, stayed for another almost 10 years, until she FINALLY found out that her husband was a serial cheater who had been with the mistress-of-the-moment for over 5 years, and who had clearly clearly stayed married because it was financially advantageous for him! BLERGH! We have to be careful when we think of the good of the children – sometimes the best for them is divorce!

  • I haven’t commented because I honestly don’t know what to say, your situation Melissa just wrenches my heart. I finally started therapy and was told that I’m a “caregiver” and have been my whole life. I broke NC a few weeks ago because my XN was in a bad place and I was seriously concerned…and haven’t really recovered yet, all the pain and self doubt and guilt just kept flooding back into my life from 5 minutes of contact. I just pray I’ll know better next time!

    If my parents were still alive I’m sure I would still be trying to”help” them too because that was the role I filled. Just keep reading and reading and reading and hopefully it will give you the strength to do what you need to do for you. This site is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Because really, the bottom line is we are no good to anyone if we don’t take care of ourselves. XO

  • Dear All,

    Thank you so much for your kind words, advice and insights into my situation. It’s been a very difficult weekend and it’s been comforting to come here and read all of your comments.

    By way of an update – I’ve (painfully) come to the realisation that I cannot help my Mum. I talked to her this weekend and not only has she been contacting my Dad in secret, she keeps lying to my sister and I about it which is a betrayal I never expected to have to face. I thought I had learnt my lesson of ‘you can’t change people’ but it turns out I have been trying to change my Mum. I keep willing her to make good decisions, but she is determined not to.

    We have lost the house. She has no money. My Dad is living with the AP. This should be rock bottom for my Mum yet because my sister and I (and countless others) have made such a lot of effort to support her we have ‘cushioned’ her fall to rock bottom and now she looks around and doesn’t see it for what it is.

    So I have told my Mum I am initiating NC with her until she makes a decision about the divorce. I want to move forward, but she keeps stubbornly standing still and I can’t make a decision about my own future (i.e. house buying etc) until she makes a decision about hers. I’ve also made it clear if she doesn’t go through with it I won’t continue to be a surrogate husband to her to make up for all my Dad’s inadequacies.

    So… difficult is an understatement. I’m devastated as I’m very close to my Mum. It feels like I’m cutting off an arm. But if I have learnt anything from CL it’s that making tough decisions might be painful in the short term, but it sure beats sticking your head in the sand and ignoring the obvious.

    Thank you again to you all. x

    • Wow Melissa,
      I understand. My mother was cut off from everyone and I was the only one at times that could deal with her. She was very abusive at times and I physically had to stop her from hitting me anymore when I got tall enough. The times that I had to shut her off with NC were the hardest, but necessary because at that young age I learned there are just times where nothing is going to change and you are just beating your head against the wall. Deep down I understood that what my father did changed her and she really did love me so I always went back. Besides she was my MOTHER so I now how hard this must be for you.
      I wish I could have come to that conclusion with my X. Strange isn’t it? It took your problem to remind me what I was able to do for myself before, so Thank you. Wishing the best for you, hang in there – keep us posted – and read read read!

    • I’m so sorry, Melissa.

      This is so devastating, since it really does highlight that abuse will change a person. It is not unusual for an abuse victim to refuse to abandon her abuser (and yes, I realize that men can be victims, too). And the victim can lash out at those who try to help her–witness police whose efforts to help a battered spouse are met with resistance from the spouse who’s been beaten!

      Again, if you’re not in therapy, you should seriously consider it, as it will not only provide you with the support you need, but it can also help you as you both detach from your mother while still showing her you love her.

      All the very best to you, and here is hoping that life improves for you and yours.

  • Melissa,

    Hang in there. Really, in changing yourself, you have the best chance of lighting the way to change for others. But that’s all you can do: light the way. At least that’s my experience.

    Chump Son

    • I’ve also found that when you stop pushing people to do something they haven’t decided to do, you create a space in which they may even step forward, towards what everybody else can see is the reasonable thing to do!

  • My Mom was married to a serial cheater and never left him although our situation was never anywhere close to your familiy’s. You can only change yourself and support your Mom with love. She really needs it.

  • Reading these comments has been both touching and enlightening.

    I am Hannah, Melissa’s younger sister. Whereas she has always had things clearly ironed out and rationalised in her head, my version events is slightly more chaotic. Though I whole heartedly agree with her and you all, I can’t help but still mourn the loss of a relationship with my dad.

    As dysfunctional and harmful as it was, I still clearly carry chump characteristics because I miss the normality of our abnormality. Not communicating with my dad gave me an initial clarity that I originally lacked. Throughout all this though I feel as though I have mimicked my sister’s actions because I have literally been paralysed and frozen in a block of inaction. It has always been the case. Always the peacekeeper. Always the middle man. Always the negotiator. Everyone’s go-between. I don’t know whether to mourn the loss of a parent or acknowledge that I only ever had one worth having. I wish that I could snap my fingers and make him feel, even for a second, a fraction of the hurt I feel.

    As an update, he recently assaulted my mum and stole her phone. So there is now an ongoing court case. Despite this, he still felt it appropriate to twist the knife in my heart further with a “heart-felt” email this weekend. One which left me weak, confused and like I’d taken 10 steps back. I needed to speak to my sister immediately to have her confirm that he was still an arsehole who I should avoid at all costs.

    But I’d like to know when the creeping doubt will end that I’m doing the right thing, when the pain will stop and when I won’t be haunted by the possibility of me feeling ashamed of ‘cutting him out’ one day. Is it normal to feel guilty?


    • Hi Hannah,

      It’s totally normal to feel guilty. But please don’t. They have this expression in Al-Anon (for families where someone loves an addict) — “detach with love.” It’s okay to love your father (or not) — but you need to detach from him. For your own self protection — and for him. If there’s any hope of him changing (and please don’t hold your breath), it cannot happen unless there are significant consequences leveled, like withdrawal from his life.

      You need to mourn the relationship you wanted, that you deserved, that you thought was possible — and look very lucidly at the relationship that exists. It’s TOXIC. He must be exceptionally abusive to assault your mother and steal from her. This is not someone you need in your life. DNA does not trump basic decency.

      ((Big hugs)). It’s so hard, but NC will make you feel a lot better. And do get some professional help to work these issues out so you don’t repeat these dynamics in your relationships.

  • Hannah,

    Chump Son here.

    This is what you wrote:

    “As an update, he recently assaulted my mum and stole her phone. So there is now an ongoing court case. Despite this, he still felt it appropriate to twist the knife in my heart further with a “heart-felt” email this weekend. One which left me weak, confused and like I’d taken 10 steps back.”

    Let me tell you something, Hannah. This guy is clever. Very clever.

    He’s got the two-step down like a Ninja Master. Advance, then retreat. Abuse, then soothe. I don’t know if you remember a movie called “Marathon Man” from way back in the 70s. Good film. Good book, too. In that story, an escaped Nazi doctor tortures an adversary (played by Dustin Hoffman) by drilling into his toothe and then suddenly applying anesthetic.

    And you know what’s worse? Poor parents often leave their kids with a real hunger for…guess what?…REAL PARENTS. But those same parents get very jealous of the coach, the teacher, the Uncle who might usurp their screwed up authority.

    So, you have grown up with a serious Dad deficit, a Dad deprivation, created by…a bad dad. And, roller coaster fashion, he can feed that. Look, no one, absolutely NO ONE, is “all bad.” There are pictures of Nazis who were loving fathers. But disordered people go back and forth. That’s what makes manipulation work! If your father were consistently bad, you’d see him for what we was and be gone years ago. But he can gear shift on you. Character is consistent! Do NOT marry the boyfriend who blows up at the picnic, broods and ruins everyone’s time. You can really tell if these characters are real or not. Just listen to your gut.

    You gotta get therapy and keep a grip on this thing.

    You also have to do something else.


    You have to bury your father.

    You have to mourn his loss.

    You did not have a real father. You had a very limited, problematic, character-disordered guy for a parent. Despite that, you turned out well. (Just be careful what kind of relationships you get into. Fine a nice Chump!) But you have to face facts. He is not good for you. And you have to mourn. It is sad. In other blog posts, I have described a kind of final conversation that I had with my own father. (He wasn’t nearly as bad as yours, but bad enough.) I gave up on something: on Dad the World War II hero, on Dad the guy who took me sledding for the first time (I can still remember riding on his back. He was so BIG….) The Dad who taught me history. Yes, there were some good things, but — Damn It! — a boundary had to be drawn, and the fact that I waited so long to draw it made it more painful, not less. So, I drew my boundary, felt better, felt sad, mourned the fact that — while my father had good qualities, some of which I admired (mentioned above), on balance, he was not the man/nor the father he should have been. This is hard. But once you do it, you are better off.

    If you draw boundaries, withdraw and detach from these folks, some relationship may be possible later on. The irony of this is that, when it comes to the disordered, the only possibility for a relationship comes when you give up on them, when you are willing to get up and walk away, when you’ve snapped the chain of need that ties you to the anchor of their chaos and despair.

    I know that sounds weird, like some Eastern Philosophy. Well, let’s hear it for Eastern Philosophy. I had a friend, a good friend, a guy who was a kind of father figure to me –(I attract these father figures quite naturally; I must give off some kind of scent-need; this has been a blessing)–and he said to me once, “You know, you only truly keep what you give away.” He was referring to giving gifts, to giving things with real meaning, but giving them in a way that you kept the memory forever.

    That’s a positive paradox.

    But with the disordered, there’s another paradox. You only have a chance with them (and they may reject you) once you have cut the cord. Once they know that if they get out of line, you are going to get up and walk away.

    And you have to accept something. It’s going to hurt.

    But you’ll be better off for the boundaries, you’ll be a better role model to any children you have, you will be better to and for yourself, for your friends. I can imagine that you and your sister’s friends fret about what this situation does to you both.

    Personally, and I don’t know all the details, it sounds like both your parents are in some kind of toxic lock. I’d get distance from both. I agree with CL when she tells sis’ she has every right to set boundaries. Personally, it sounds to me like this father is a real loser, and I’d stay away from him. He’s like a mad dentist with a drill in one hand and Novocaine in the other.

    So, face facts, mourn and move on. There good folks out there who deserve the good feelings that you and your sister are ready to give. You sound like great kids who came out of a tough situation. That equals triumph. Take that, make new friends and take your lives to the next level. Mom can come with you, if she wants to. I have my doubts she’ll join you. And dad…. Sorry. It’s sad, but the dad you deserved, he never was.

    Chump Son knows how you feel.

    Please let me (more or less) repeat myself:

    “You ARE great kids who came out of a tough situation. That equals triumph. Take that, make new friends and take your lives to the next level. ”

    Yes, you CAN!

  • Hey all.

    Had a terrible day today and felt like re-reading this stuff to make me feel a bit better. The thing with situations like this is that even when you try and move on and help yourself, the ‘drama’ as I call it just follows you around. I feel like our pain is cyclical. Things start to normalise, we don’t hear anything, then the signs start and a big event unfolds. For those interested, here is a brief update.

    I’m not sure if we mentioned but the court case following my dad’s assault of my mum went a few years back ahead. It had to be postponed due to dad’s erratic behaviour in prison before getting to court. At this point we believed mum to be firmly against getting back together with dad – he had lost our family home, attacked her and had admitted to numerous affairs. In court my dad accused my younger brother of stealing the phone and dragged up some pretty awful details of my mum’s mental health battles; arguing that it was only her ‘perception’ of the events. He wasn’t charged and the restraining order we had in place was lifted.

    A few months after that we found out that mum was seeing dad again behind our backs. Melissa had to move a 2 hour drive away, which was devastating enough, but she was doing so in order to save enough money to buy a house for her AND MUM to live in. Mum chose the area, the size of the house. She didn’t have to pay Melissa a penny and based on mum’s dire financial situation this was nothing short of a miracle for her. However, as mentioned, she went behind our backs and got back together with dad. They have been together again for the past year and life has become quite unbearable again. A year ago my step-sister was born to my dad’s girlfriend, who he still sees at the weekend. We haven’t met her and have no desire to do so. With the exception of a brief encounter on the motorway (in which he tried to dangerously overtake me) my sister and I haven’t seen our dad for just over 2.5 years. We have maintained contact with mum but today I reached breaking point when I found out that her and dad were hosting my niece’s 3rd birthday. I don’t even know where they live and I am certainly not interested in going there. None of my mum’s side of the family will go – they too haven’t seen my dad in 2.5 years. I really don’t know what my brother is playing at suggesting it in the first place. After being stood up twice by mum yesterday and today, I decided to call her instead to discuss the birthday arrangements. I expressed my upset and she just didn’t get it. It’s so heartbreaking to be let down over and over by those that you want to believe won’t let you down. Melissa and I set a clear boundary in that we didn’t want to see or hear from dad and it seems that my mum and brother just won’t respect that boundary. After mum went back to dad behind our backs, my sister and I had very limited contact with her for a few months. It was horrible. But the truth is since then I feel like our relationship has been tainted by the huge elephant in the room. She lied to us. She chose him again.

    Alongside all this I left my fiancé and boyfriend of 8 and a half years last summer. I recognised patterns of behaviour that I didn’t like (I won’t go into detail). His mum was and still is my boss. I’ve had to move in with Melissa and look for another job. It’s been a shitty 8 months. Apart from one part. I met an amazing guy who respects me and literally is my best friend. Earlier on the phone when expressing my upset to my mum, she responded with ‘we all know you were seeing ***** before you left ******’. A false allegation, but still heartbreaking after all that I’ve been through.

    I told her that I was done and that I don’t think it’s working cutting dad out and still seeing her. I keep receiving emails and texts from him and despite telling her that I don’t want him to contact me, my boundary is just broken over and over again. I haven’t responded to any of his contact, but it still makes me feel sick when he makes comments about things that have happened to me recently that he shouldn’t know about.

    It’s horrible, but I don’t see any other way forward other than to cut her out too. In all honesty the last year we’ve barely seen each other. She never texts. I’ve seen her every few months at best and so I don’t feel like I’d be making a huge life alteration. The only complication is my brother, who can be very spiteful and malicious (he’s just like dad) and who may well stop me seeing my niece.

    I had a mini-break down just before Christmas where I was signed off work for a month and put on antidepressants. I suffered from anxiety attacks and went through an intensive course of CBT. I really feel like I’ve made great progress but then this happens and I feel back at square one. The thing is neither mum or dad are adding anything to my life. I’m in the process of moving in with my boyfriend and am applying for two jobs, both of which seem really promising. I feel like I could be in a good place finally and I can’t risk that all falling to pieces. If I lose my boyfriend I will literally be homeless (and heartbroken, seriously he is an actual angel) and if I don’t have my head in the right place and miss out on the job opportunities then I am stuck for another term working with my ex-fiancé’s mum. I just need clarity and to continue moving down the positive path that I’m on and I’m not sure I can do that with my mum on the scene.

    Am I doing the right thing by cutting her out too?

    Hannah x

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