Home Lifestyle Dear Mary: My father is in a toxic relationship. How do I...

Dear Mary: My father is in a toxic relationship. How do I help him get out?

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My father met a middle-aged woman at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting four years ago. He’s been sober for 12 years and he’s been having an on-off relationship with her ever since. They are both immature and break up over the smallest issues – the latest break-up lasted eight months.

t has always been like this and he has to concede something like going on holiday to win her back.

On one occasion of being apart for four months, she decided if he proposed that she would reconcile the relationship. He agreed and proposed. As a family we didn’t approve and she insisted we visit her to congratulate her. None of my siblings did this because we’ve put up with seeing our father being emotionally manipulated for a long time and have to deal with the repercussions of comforting him after each break-up. She now holds this as one of the reasons for the break-up. One of my siblings got married during this time and she was not invited to the wedding because of the constant on and off status of this ‘relationship’. She gives this as a reason for another break-up.

How can we make him see that he is being manipulated and she’s creating a toxic environment in his life? During some of the break-ups, she tells her young son from another relationship to say goodbye to my father and he’ll never see him again. This makes my father and the child very upset and is clear manipulation and emotional blackmail.

He has been to counselling but I don’t feel it helped. They have been in contact recently after a chance meeting. She told him she wanted nothing to do with him but then a few days later got in contact to arrange a visit to his mother.

She told him she will consider getting back with him in two years, only to tell him again she wants nothing to do with him. His head is completely messed up, he isn’t sleeping and has been prescribed sleeping tablets and antidepressants. I fear he will have a mental breakdown.

My father is getting old and is scared of being alone for the rest of his life and she plays on this vulnerability by saying she’ll look after him when he gets older. We are very worried for our father and any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Mary replies: Well done to your father on beating his addiction – it is never easy. But it is this very addictive personality that we have to focus on, plus the fact that they are both recovering addicts. It can be difficult for people in recovery, particularly in the early years of their recovery, to form balanced, healthy connections with other people.

They have to get to know themselves all over again, but without the crutch of alcohol/narcotics, in order to be able to sustain a good relationship. It can be quite a minefield with two recovering addicts in a relationship. It may well be that in her case, the fighting and ending the relationship are substitute for the excitement that narcotics provided her.

Does your father have any interests outside the home? If not, can you help him find some? With the current pandemic, you will have to be creative, but something as simple as learning Bridge online would help. Naturally, he is worried about being on his own, as are you, but there are lots of other people out there who are anxious to meet someone new. As a result, they are using dating sites and having a lot of virtual meetings now, with a view to meeting up in reality later on.

Alternatively he could look at meetup.com. This is an online organisation where members connect to share common interests. Their subjects are as diverse as country music to hillwalking. There is a real-life community although naturally there are no social meet-ups happening during the pandemic. But it would be good for him to browse what is available, in whatever county he is in, with a view to getting involved in person when restrictions are lifted.

In the meantime, you should let your father know that you are worried about him, and that your main concern is for him to be happy. But ultimately it is his life to do with what he wishes, even if the relationship is making him unhappy. l

You can contact Mary O’Conor anonymously by visiting dearmary.ie or email her at dearmary@independent.ie or write c/o 27-32 Talbot St, Dublin 1. All correspondence will be treated in confidence.

Mary O’Conor regrets that she is unable to answer any questions privately.

Sunday Indo Life Magazine

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