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Relationships - November 2019

Son's manipulative girlfriend


Maggi Stamp is a highly qualified relationship counsellor and trainer who writes each month about emotional and practical concerns and challenges that many of us meet in later life. For 20 years, as well as running a private practise, Maggi worked with the organisation Relate to help married and single people, cohabiting couples, same sex couples, families, young and old people and the bereaved to develop, foster and enjoy healthy and fulfilling relationships. No less important, as she is herself a wife, mother and grandmother, she brings a lifetime of varied and eventful experience to enhance her empathy and understanding.  

Many of her examples are based on concerns that clients, family and friends have presented over the years. In the monthly articles where she responds to issues raised by readers, she strictly respects confidentiality and never identifies those who write to her. But the individual worries they raise are invariably felt by others, so her responses can help many.

You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com 
for her to respond in the column.



Son's manipulative girlfriend

I have always been close to my son, who's 29 and independent. But during the three years it took him to recover from a near fatal accident, he lost a child and was divorced. Through those tough times, he showed remarkable courage and strength

Recently, he became involved with a woman who is charismatic and bright but my son dislikes her manipulative, controlling behaviour. For instance, she persuaded him to change religion, deleted his social media page, said his friends were a bad influence and told him his relationship with me unhealthy. To complicate matters I'm a senior supervisor at the woman's place of work, though I am careful to remain neutral in any discussions or decisions made about her problematic presence there.

Although he broke away from her for a while, he returned to the relationship, while telling her she must accept he needed friends and family in his life.

Even though we are busy people and would go weeks without seeing each other, our relationship has always been good, knowing that when support was needed any of the family will help. Yet, he's now completely isolated himself from us all.

I don’t know what to do or what I've done wrong. My heart aches over this and I struggle with it. I miss him. I gave him space, put no pressure on him and have supported him when he needed it. I feel I must have mishandled this because now I have no relationship with him.

I read similar posts about moms and girlfriends not getting along. But must it be like this? It seems the consensus that Mom needs to get a grip and back off. But is a desire to be a part of a grown son's life unhealthy? How does a parent stop wanting to be part of their children’s lives?

I want to do it right. I’d rather that he be happy away from us than unhappy with us in his life. But I don't understand how it got to this point and what I could have done to prevent it.


Maggi responds:

What could you have done to prevent it? I suspect very little.

From what you write this young woman sounds most manipulative and your son, who has been through several serious traumas, is easy prey for such a person. She will be someone who is needy in a way that cannot be satisfied but will choose relationships with a person who is vulnerable as they are more likely to believe what she says and do as she asks. This kind of imbalance, she might hope, will give her a sense of control and strength.

Such behaviour often starts with offering to listen with great care and apparent sensitivity to the chosen partner. This wins them over, feeling so comforted and reassured in finding a new, kind and patient listener, so they might not have to burden their loving family with their troubles every time. Gradually the pattern will change, very subtly, into one of measured and clever criticism of all friends and relatives, isolating their partner, who will then rely more upon them as a result.

You will always be a part of your sons life as you carried him, gave birth to him and raised him – in what sounds like a close and loving family. The way you describe the family it is one which allows each member to come and go freely and without guilt at leaving home. The penalty, if you like, for good parenting is that you get to wave goodbye to the young adult son or daughter and are no longer the person who is 'in control'. You have prepared your son so well that he has taken over the controls in his life as all children ultimately need to. It means you are not always necessarily the person he will turn to for help.

But you and your family know how strong the bond is between you and it is rare that bond breaks completely. Try to stay calm and accepting of his choices even though you cannot be sure they really are his. He has made choices that you don't approve of but they are his. All you can do is be ready to help him when he asks you to, and welcome him as lovingly as you always do.

It is one of the hardest things for a parent, to know how much he has been through, and perhaps not totally processed yet. And to know that he is left vulnerable due to the awful accident, the devastating loss of his child and the subsequent breakdown of his marriage. Yet feel you cannot share anything with him at present.

The influence of his girlfriend is powerful and he isn't confident enough to ignore or refute her allegations. Your family can only wait until he can take no more and finds strength from within to go his own way. Then he'll contact you.

It is very fair minded and professional of you to hold back from any interaction with this woman but it must lead to great stress. Although you are a senior supervisor is there any provision in your HR department for support, to explain in confidence how worrying the situation is for you? Even the most senior employees have professional difficulties. Or perhaps you might talk to a senior manager you feel you can trust? I understand how tricky this might be as you wouldn't want to get her into trouble unnecessarily. You need to explain to someone the reason why cannot realise your own full potential at work because there is one person you keep avoiding and are unable to deal with. This would be for your own sake, not hers or even your son's.

In the mean-time don't despair. You are far from alone, in fact I might stick my neck out and say you could be in the majority of parents of adult children who feel they don't see enough of them. They are young and their lives fill up with so many other things. We cannot insist on being involved in their day-to-day lives – not would it be fair on them. They are adults and must make their mistakes in order to learn from them....even make them a few times over before they realise the common denominator is actually them - and conclude that its they who need to change.

Sometimes its painful and feels unfair, but we have done the main part of our job as a parent once they leave home and ,to answer another of your questions, of course it is normal to want more contact, many parents wish that – though not all.

But we can only be part of it if that is what they want – and on their terms. When your son realises he still wants you there for him, and that the choice to exclude you was not what he wanted, it might take a while, but he'll find the strength to make it happen.

You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.


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