TV’s Steph and Dom Parker, 51 and 54, draw on their 20 years of marriage to solve your relationship problems . . .
Q: I’m in my mid-50s and happily married to my husband. The issue is my mother: she’s driving us mad!
She always made it clear she didn’t approve of my choice — apparently, he’s ‘never been good enough’ for me. It didn’t bother me too much before.
However, now she’s nearing 85, it’s getting out of hand — she has completely lost her filter. We can’t avoid her because she’s increasingly dependent on us. She rings the house phone at least four times every day — and if my husband picks up, is so rude to him. It’s mortifying.
My husband is patient, but even though we laugh about it, I can tell it’s affecting him, especially when she makes outrageous comments about him when he’s in the room! I love my mother dearly, but this is creating tension in my marriage.
An anonymous reader asked TV’s Steph and Dom Parker for advice on tensions in her marriage caused by her mother’s attitude towards her husband (file image)
STEPH SAYS: Oh dear. I am always incensed by tales of parents being horrid to their children’s partners. I find it difficult to understand and think it’s mostly about attention, which I suspect is the case here.
Given your mother’s age, I think you should check first for the early stages of mental impairment, even though from your letter it appears this isn’t dramatically new or different behaviour. Provided she’s not ill, I suggest that you take matters in hand personally.
Your husband sounds patient and loving, but I am sure he finds your mother terribly difficult to manage.
So you must go in to bat for him. Although you are naturally torn between protecting your husband and caring for an ageing parent, I’m afraid it is your husband who must now take priority. He has suffered in silence over the years, and that is just one of the ways he shows his love for you. Now you must show your love for him.
Be bold and be resolute. It is clear your mother is not terribly happy about having to rely on you both more and more, and this may well be the source of her increasingly unkind comments. But she has to face facts — she is getting older, you are trying your best to help, and your dear husband is very much your choice, not hers.
Sit her down to talk. If I were you, I would take her out for afternoon tea, make an occasion of it. She’ll feel special and it will reinforce the seriousness of the conversation.
While at tea, confirm your love and future care for her, but say that you offer it on the basis that she accept yours and your husband’s help willingly and with gratitude and that she refrains from insults.
Explain that if she continues to be acidic and hurtful, you will have to think again about what you do for her — and she will have herself to blame.
Steph and Dom Parker (pictured) advised the reader to be weary of the possibility that her mother’s health could be deteriorating and to raise the issue she’s causing directly with her
I would also make it clear to her that every single barbed comment she fires at your husband, she fires at you too. If she is to change her ways, she must see she is causing you pain, too.
I know it sounds harsh. But I also know from personal experience that the only way to overcome these emotive and destructive issues is to face them openly and honestly with love in your heart. Then you know you have done everything in your power to improve the situation.
And if she continues to misbehave? I would then discuss having an outside agency take over her day-to-day care until she can be more civil. I suspect she would not prefer that, but if she does, problem solved!
DOM SAYS: I’m so sorry to hear this. It strikes me your long-suffering husband has been very patient.
Ironically, his generous behaviour given the circumstances serves only to prove your choice right and your mother’s doubts wrong. What a shame she still hasn’t been able to see the obvious good in him, especially when you’re clearly happy together.
However, I’m afraid my mind automatically jumped to one conclusion when I read that she had ‘completely lost her filter’. Is it possible that she’s lost, or is losing, a lot more, too?
In your shoes I would book an appointment with the GP and have her checked. I don’t mean to scare, but in someone that age, a lack of inhibition descending into verbal abuse — the mortifying rudeness you describe — can be an early sign of dementia.
I wonder whether she’s showing any other symptoms of cognitive decline? Anyone can be bad-tempered, but if she’s suddenly ramped up the insulting behaviour, she might be more unwell than you think. Calling you four times a day is not normal either and might even be a sign of short-term memory loss.
I’m not surprised it’s causing tension in your marriage, but you must reassure your husband he’s not to take it personally. As far as you’re concerned, your mother’s words are significant only as far as they signal possible illness. Otherwise, they mean nothing to you.
In the meantime, you might let those phone calls go to voicemail rather more often, though you can’t ignore them completely — and since you love your mother dearly, you won’t want to.
If her health is deteriorating, you need to be available to deal with potential crises such as falls and fractures.
It’s difficult for you, and I do sympathise. A friend of mine went through something similar with his mother, who started behaving erratically and even a little violently. That, I’m sorry to say, was a sign of Alzheimer’s.
I hope that’s not the case with your mother, but the way she is apparently reliving a battle from the past — your choice of husband versus her disapproval — and the vehemence with which she’s doing it, does make me suspicious. I wish you, and her, good luck.