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Ask Amy: Mom clings to marriage, 25 years into separation

DEAR AMY: My mother and father separated 25 years ago but are not divorced. They still see each other at family functions and are cordial to one another. However, my mother still holds on to the fantasy that they will get back together someday, and after 25 years has only made one attempt at another relationship.

She still sends cards to my dad on special occasions, which she signs, “Love Always.” My dad has asked her to stop doing this, but she appears to have no respect for his boundaries. She also reminisces a lot to her family about him and their married life.

I have tried to be patient with her about this, but we are all at the point that we do not want to hear it anymore and need to tell her that it is not only time to move on but to just let it go (there are a few other relationships she seems to be clinging to too). I have told her that I don’t want to hear about certain things, this being one of them. She is easily upset by this.

She moved to another city several years ago but has made almost no attempt to make new friends, and spends a lot of her time alone and a few hours communicating on Facebook and e-mails every day. What can the family do, and does she perhaps need counseling? -- Wondering

DEAR WONDERING: Yes, I’d say your mother needs counseling. Her life sounds diminished and lonely. If she has a pattern of not being able to make challenging transitions (for instance, accepting that a relationship or friendship has ended), then this tendency could go back further than her marriage, all the way into childhood. Our parents show us how to have relationships, as you are seeing.

One (screamingly obvious) answer is for your parents to get divorced. Sure, a divorce decree is “just a piece of paper,” but so is a marriage license. These documents are very powerful symbols. Until your parents get divorced, your mother can (correctly) think of herself as married, giving her a justification to stay right where she is.

DEAR AMY: My husband and I got married five months ago. We have been together seven years, and his father has hated me for all of those seven years. His father was not a very nice man to my husband growing up. He was very emotionally abusive. My husband goes to therapy to work through everything, and I stand beside and support him as best I can. I knew what I was getting into with his family when I married him.

I have also been very hurt by his whole family. I have put up with it for seven years but recently decided to sit down and talk with his father. I will be having his grandchildren someday and I believe it is best to leave all of my anger behind.

After a long discussion with my husband, it came out that he does not want a relationship with his family on any level at this point. I already have the coffee date set with his father. My question is, is it wrong for me to go through with the coffee date and then let his father know that for the time being we just need space and time to heal?

I don’t want to create more problems. -- Newlywed

DEAR NEWLYWED: If your husband’s relationship with his father is so bad that he is in therapy and has now cut off all contact, then your choice to have a coffee date with your father-in-law could undermine your husband’s efforts rather than support them.

Your intentions are great, but don’t do anything without your husband being aware of it. He may think this is a good idea, and if so you can try to broker a silent truce. Your husband’s therapist may be willing to meet with both of you; I think this would be a good idea.

DEAR AMY: “Anonymous” expressed her grief over her daughter leaving home for college.

Wow, can I relate! I’m both mourning and celebrating. My daughter just left 20 minutes ago. -- Laurie

DEAR LAURIE: Many parents reported a sniffle of recognition about that situation.

Amy’s column appears seven days a week at Write to Amy Dickinson at or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

by the Chicago Tribune



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