Dear Carolyn: I don’t know how to deal with my mom and her recent irresponsible decisions. She is in love again with her on-again-off-again boyfriend. To mark this new development, he recently gave her a very expensive “commitment ring,” or, as I like to call it, an “I cheated on you, so here’s a blinding diamond to forget about that” ring. She says in another life it would be an engagement ring (not sure what that means) and she is “sooo happy.”
I’ve witnessed two-plus years of the emotional roller coaster this man has put her on, but apparently my mom has forgotten all about that. I am 27, she is 57. I would define our relationship as more of a best-friend relationship rather than a traditional mother-daughter relationship.
This has proven to be difficult at times, in that she tells me everything, the good, the bad and the ugly. Yet, knowing all this guy has put her through, she walks back into his arms and expects me to be their No. 1 cheerleader.
I have explained to her that I want her to be happy but that she is setting a bad example for me and my siblings, as well as making a decision that will likely lead to heartache for her (again) and she needs to wake up! I’ve been supportive, diplomatic, and tried tough love. Mom seems unwilling to hear or accept the truth. What do I do?
— Mother Is a Teenager
My first question is: is this relationship (and before I even ask I’m going to say that in my humble opinion most on-again off-again relationships are) abusive? I don’t mean physically (although if it is then all the more reason to get your mom out), I mean emotionally.
There are a lot of kinds of abuse but the kind that the on/off-ers are familiar with is the kind where the abuser makes things just good enough, just loved enough, to make the abused want more. Then the abuser can start messing around with their partners head, treating them less well than they deserve. The kicker and the reason this is so common in on/off relationships is that the abuser makes it clear that while their partner is ‘oh so very important’ to them, this relationship is not their highest priority, they have the power to leave, the power of disinterest. By maintaining the power to leave they remind their victim that their weakness lies in their loving and perceived inability to leave.
If you can convince your mother to leave her emotionally manipulative boyfriend then kudos to you, please write a movie, essay, short story, whatever, just teach the same lesson to the rest of us. It’s really hard to convince victims of emotional abuse to see their relationships the way we see them. What I’ve found is more common is that the people in these relationships wake up one day and aren’t willing to take it anymore.
“I remember I was in New York at the Trump Hotel and I woke up and I just knew I was over it. It was a different day. I felt different. I didn’t feel lonely,” [Rihanna] recalls. “I felt like I wanted to get up and be in the world. That was a great, great feeling.”
Try to be the wake up call in your mothers life. Ask her how she would feel if your boyfriend treated you the way her boyfriend treats her, but remember that bullying someone into leaving their abusive lover doesn’t empower them, it just continues the cycle of bullying. She needs to see it for herself and take action, you need to be around for her if/when she decides to leave but make it clear that you aren’t going to get involved in his muck anymore. You’re still family and when she calls you can talk about the weather and your brothers and sisters and the big sports news of the week but you aren’t going to talk about that mess of a boyfriend. End of story.