My parents recently split and my mom has this new horrendous boyfriend. I don’t even want to attempt to explain to her all the reasons I hate him and it can be hard to keep my emotions towards him in control. Any advice on how to deal with this?
I too, went through a very angry phase when my parents split up, even though I was in my mid twenties when it happened. We always want to think our parents will be together forever, despite the fact that they may be oil and water with each other. Seeing one or both of our parents with someone new can bring up our own issues of abandonment that we all have stemming from childhood. Since we haven’t walked in their shoes, we can’t possibly fully understand what took them away from each other in the first place.
For women especially, seeing their father with a new woman may make us feel less like Daddy’s little girl. Seeing our mom with a new man can make us subconsciously fearful of our own potential future shattered relationship with a man.
Whatever the fear, it does not feel good. Here is what I’d like to help you understand: Anger is usually a mask for fear. Fear is usually about loss.
Keep those words in mind as you read further.
Let’s look at mom’s new beau. Make a list of what you do not like about him. Be as specific and detailed as possible. Don’t just write down “he’s a jerk.” Write down exactly what he does that makes him a jerk in your eyes. It is important that you are as specific as possible in identifying, as you call it “all the reasons I hate him.”
Let’s look at the word “hate.” Hate is a very powerful emotion. It is one of the most strong emotional words there is. How much more dislike can you have for someone than hate? It is important not to over dramatize your feelings about this man in your mom’s life. Ask yourself,”Does he make her happy? Does she seem happier when he is around her? Is she happier with him than she was with my dad?”
If the guy is not a jerk and treats your mom well and she is genuinely happy that he is in your life then you more likely than not are just plain jealous. No one wants another man to try to replace dad in our lives. We don’t want our dad’s place in the family to be diminished, dismissed or denied by the presence of another man. It becomes easy for us to project our unprocessed emotions over our parents’ divorce onto someone new in our parents’ lives. Ask yourself, then, if perhaps that is what you are doing here. Are your own fears and emotions about the split with your parents being projected onto this man in the form of a very strong feeling of hatred? If so, this is called “misplaced anger.” What you may really be angry about is the fact that your parents are no longer together, your family is no longer intact and you are not sure how to deal with that.
Remember what I said earlier about anger typically being a mask for fear? Ask yourself what you are really afraid of and make a list of your fears. Look at this man through your mothers’ eyes and try to understand what it is she sees in him at this point in time. (Remember, she may not feel that way 6 months from now. There is always a period of adjustment after separation or divorce and it is not unusual for this to take 18 months or more.) Try to understand what void he fills up for her. Keep in mind that even though she is your mother, she is still a woman and she has needs, fears, insecurities just like you or anyone else does.
I speak to many women who are reentering the dating world after divorce. They are not sure how to date anymore, especially if they married young, had children, got divorce in their 40s or 50s. They don’t know if the rules have changed. They may have been dependent on their husbands and now find themselves without a man in their lives and need to feel provided for and protected on some level. They may still want to feel pretty, desirable and lovable; especially if they were in a marriage where the romance and passion burned out or they felt taken for granted. Some women just need to have a man around in order to feel validated and not feel lonely.
After looking at your own fears about this situation, sit down with your mom and ask her to help you understand the divorce and her wanting to be with this particular man. Don’t be accusatory or judgmental. Talk to her as if she were a good friend of yours who just broke up with a long term boyfriend and is now dating someone else. Your mom is going through a very tough time emotionally, whether you can see that or not. She may have her own doubts, fears, anger and insecurities and feelings of abandonment. Going to a divorce recovery workshop together may help you both process and heal the pain you may not even be aware exists. This pain may be getting projected onto the boyfriend. It is best to seek guidance and help as opposed to suffering and making those around you suffer. Many churches sponsor free divorce recovery workshops or ask for a token donation and you don’t have to be a member to sign up. If she won’t go with you, then I suggest you attend by yourself. You will feel supported, get answers and understand the many ways divorce affects the entire family.
Now, if the guy in question is abusive, addictive/alcoholic, a cheater, liar or has a character pathology that you think is harmful to your mom, then it is important that you let her know your thoughts. You may want to write her a letter about how you view the relationship she is in and how you see certain signs of abuse that she may not be aware of because she is still going through what we call “crazy time” post divorce. Remember to keep any emotionally charged words, accusations or judgement out of the letter. Write it and sit with it a day or two before you give it to her. Revisit it, refine it before you give it to her. Writing out your thoughts and feelings makes them more concrete as you can actually see your words, formulate and organize your thoughts as opposed to spewing out a litany of viscous adjectives about this man to her. Your mom needs to know you have her best interest at heart. Keeping the tone level headed will help facilitate communication between you and that is critical in any relationship, especially right now. It is important that you look at and deal with your own losses surrounding your parents’ divorce right now. That would be a good place to start.