Dear Amy: My daughter, “Catherine,” began a relationship with her girlfriend, “Sharon,” shortly after coming out.
We were concerned that Sharon was domineering, but Catherine professed to be happy. Five years later, Catherine has opened up to us about how controlling and manipulative Sharon is. She describes their relationship as emotionally abusive, non-supportive, and undermining.
Catherine is allowed no friends or activities outside of things she and Sharon do together. She is isolated. All of our family lives in the upper Northwest, while they live in the South.
Catherine has been physically ill off and on for the last six months, and says she has no energy, confidence or the self-esteem to break up with Sharon.
We talk frequently, and it seems like I’m dragging her up out of a hole. I’ve encouraged her to take the obvious steps: getting her own apartment, bank account, seeing a therapist, studying for the grad school entrance exam, and exercising, if she’s able.
She’s just overwhelmed by anxiety, worrying about Sharon’s reaction to everything — from not immediately answering a text or call, to the prospect of her dad and me wanting to visit.
Catherine is an amazing young woman who has done extensive work and important research in remote parts of Africa. It’s hard for me to understand why such a smart, capable person can’t exit from what she admits is a bad relationship.Your recommendations?
— Worried Mom
Dear Worried: Having a loved-one embroiled in an abusive relationship is extremely challenging for the whole family. Until a person is ready, motivated, or able to leave the relationship, they have the right to stay in it, even if staying is a terrible choice.
You seem to be a lifeline for your daughter, so keep talking and listening.
She sounds very depressed. You have suggested a number of logical action-items for her — but if she is severely depressed or unwell, she won’t be able to do any of them. Focus on her health.
You and your husband should travel to see her. Don’t put her through the anxiety of trying to clear it with “Sharon.” Just tell her, “We’re going to come out next week. We have a place to stay, but we just want to see you to check in.”
Don’t paint this as a showdown or extraction. This is just two parents checking in on their daughter and visiting her and her partner. Do not confront her partner. Do what you can to assist your daughter to be seen by a medical professional while you’re there.A book that might help you both is, “Who’s Pulling Your Strings? How to Break the Cycle of Manipulation and Regain Control of Your Life,” by Harriet Braiker, Ph.D. (2004, McGraw-Hill).
Dear Amy: My life partner left his more than 20-year toxic marriage five years ago. He worked with his therapist for years in order to leave.
His daughter (in her mid-20s) still resides at the family home with her mother. Her mother doesn’t work, and the daughter doesn’t drive.
While his daughter sometimes texts, dad mostly does not see her or his son (also an adult). While dad sends his children birthday cards, Christmas gifts, a monthly allowance and pays their cellphone bills, mom still unleashes hate toward him.
Time is not their father’s friend, as he has a rare cancer. I am concerned that he will die without insight, understanding or forgiveness all around.
I have encouraged my love to invite them into family therapy so that new healthy boundaries can be learned.
It is very difficult for me to watch three adults who are stuck in patterns of blame, disappointment, avoidance and guilt.— A Reluctant Witness
Dear Reluctant: I agree with you that family therapy could help this father and his children move forward with a fresh understanding.
Getting them all into the same room might not be a realistic expectation, however. He should do his best to communicate openly and honestly with his children, regardless of how they might interpret or respond. He escaped the toxic environment. They didn’t.
Dear Amy: Kudos to your reply to “Concerned Mother” regarding her daughter’s fear of her father’s temper.
I have one caveat. Enforced sobriety will not solve the problem. The problem is not the father’s drinking per se, but the temper.
Even the mother stated that her ex’s temper was what caused her to exit the relationship.
Looking at only one aspect will still allow the main issue to go unaddressed.
— Learned My Lesson
Dear Learned: Good point. Thank you.
(You can email Amy Dickinson at email@example.com or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)