Woman deep in thought
Woman deep in thought

Dear Fiona: We moved in with my mother in lockdown – but she can’t seem to stand my husband

Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine offers guidance on avoiding family fall-out.

Fiona Caine
Thursday 08 July 2021 07:30

The problem…

“When lockdown hit and we had to form bubbles, I made a really big mistake, as for the past 18 months we’ve lived with my mother. We didn’t want her to be on her own and, as her house is bigger than ours, it seemed sensible for us to go to her.

“In all that time, she has done all she can to make our lives (in particular my husband’s) as difficult as she possibly can. She’s so rude to us both and nothing we do is good enough. She’s particularly rude to him and is forever putting him down, saying that he’s not good enough for me.

“He and I have both had to work from home, so it’s been hard to escape her, but as my husband works in insurance, he has had to some travelling for his work. He admitted to me last month that he has regularly extended these trips unnecessarily, just to stay away from her for a bit longer.

“The last time he was away, she told me to seriously think about divorcing him. When he walked back in the house, she said she didn’t feel safe around him and took to her bed. She then contacted the doctor, saying she needed ‘something for her nerves’.

“I feel as though I am stuck in the middle and it’s making my life a misery. I love my husband and I care for my mother, but why have I got to choose between them?”

Fiona says…

“You shouldn’t have to choose between them and however vulnerable your mother might be, her behaviour is wrong, and she probably knows it. Unless, that is, she is suffering with some kind of mental health issue.

“However, your current situation is intolerable, and I feel you need to address it immediately. You need to talk to your mother to find out why she is behaving in this way – if it is just because she is being vindictive, then perhaps it’s time you moved out. If she is frightened of being left alone when you and your husband move back out, point out to her that the behaviour she is exhibiting is making this more, rather than less, likely.

“If she actually doesn’t understand what you are suggesting to her, then it could be time to involve the GP, as if this is the onset of dementia or something similar, she needs appropriate support.

“I realise talking to your mother in this way might be difficult for you, but you don’t have to bear the burden of this alone. You and your husband should appear to her as a partnership – one she’s not able to separate. Together, you can speak to your mother and gently but firmly let her see that you can’t go on living like this.

“See if, between you, it’s possible to put together a working compromise. You could even suggest some sort of physical division of the house, if you are planning to stay there more permanently.

“I’m not wildly optimistic that you’ll succeed, but you will at least have tried. If your mother isn’t unwell, but still refuses to cooperate, I’m afraid I see little else you can do other than find somewhere else to live. If you love your husband, you cannot let your mother drive you apart.”

If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to help@askfiona.net for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.