Can I give them an ultimatum?
That’s a bit harsh, says our elder. Why not try sitting down and talking with them instead?
I am 23 and an only child and spending some time at home with my parents. They very clearly hate each other and argue constantly, and it has been like this my entire life. Their arguments have been violent in the past. Neither of them knows why they are still together, and it is certainly not me since I haven’t lived with them for four years. When they argue, they both come to me asking me to side with them and validate their feelings when I know both of them are in the wrong. Again, they have done this since I was very young, and I learned early on to just avoid these situations. Being around them is incredibly emotionally exhausting for me as I have depression and anxiety (stemming from childhood — who would have thought?). I want to give them an ultimatum; separate or I will never visit or allow them round again. My partner supports this but I’m worried it might be too strong. Please help. I am at my wits’ end with them.
I’m glad you wrote to us, and I’m so sorry that your parent’s constant arguing is so distressing for you. I’m sure it must really increase your anxiety and depression to hear it, and to have them come to you individually with their need for validation is so unfair and inappropriate.
However, much as you may want them to separate or divorce, that decision is not yours to make, and to threaten to completely abandon them if they don’t do as you ask is really a form of emotional blackmail. Yes, I think it’s too strong. You sound like a very sensitive person, and I don’t think you’d be happy living with that decision. In effect, you’re asking them to choose you over each other and that places quite an emotional, stressful burden on you. There’s no guarantee, either, that they will be any happier apart. My own bickering parents divorced eventually, but there was always a lot of bitterness towards each other, and family events such as graduations and weddings where they were both presents could be a nightmare. Do you really want that responsibility?
If I may make a suggestion, I think I’d sit down with them and tell them how you feel and how much their fighting upsets you. You can certainly say that you believe they may be happier apart — but please don’t demand it as a condition of continuing to see them. Your parents will always be your parents, no matter how difficult they may be! You could also make it clear that you will not take sides and will no longer listen to any of their stories because it makes you anxious and depressed. You’ll have to stick to that, and if they come to you, firmly remind them that you gave them notice that you can’t do this anymore and change the subject or walk away.
Would it do any good, do you think, to suggest they get some marital counseling? A good counselor would see what the problem is and may be able to help them to communicate better without the squabbling. They’ve obviously been together for a long time and fighting and arguing has become their habitual way to communicate. If, as you say, they truly ‘hate’ each other, that would also come out in counseling and may help them make a decision about separating,
I’m not clear if you’re temporarily staying with them or just visiting, but if possible I’d try cutting down on your visits or keeping them shorter. Perhaps they’ll get the message and behave better when you’re around. Maybe take your partner with you for support when you can. I do understand that you have to take care of yourself and your own mental health, and I hope you can do it without completely banning your parents from your life.
I wish you the very, very best. Please write again if you want to talk more — we’re always here to listen.
Letter #: 421262