362 Relax and Succeed - There are all kinds of love

My Mom left my Dad after our neighbour got killed in a car accident two years ago and his wife started hanging around our house a lot. She cheated with my Dad and now she’s trying to steal our house too. She moved in like she owns it already and she’s chucking out everything my mom ever picked. She picks ugly things I hate her and I’m mad at my Dad for letting her do this to our family. How can I get him to see that she’s a bitch?

signed,
Angry Child

Dear Angry,

I am so sorry to hear that you’re struggling with these big adjustments. I can appreciate why the whole situation appears unappealing to you. But I do think I can help you feel a lot better by providing you with some perspective. Your question was far more informative than you likely intended it to be.

With your mother gone it makes sense that you would become protective about your family —including your dad. It also makes sense that you would be protective over the house because it’s not only your family’s home, but it also contains your memories of your parent’s marriage.

Because of all of that, it’s easy to understand why it’s painful for you to see your dad’s girlfriend making changes. But let’s look at why those changes might be happening.

Firstly, you mention that “she cheated….” You make it sound as though your Dad has no free will. It’s as though he’s been hypnotized or mesmerized or drugged or conned. You also don’t mention why exactly your parents split up.

I can read that you feel that this woman got in the way, but let’s not forget that both of your parents are not just your parents, they are also living breathing individuals with their own personal needs that will often exist separately from the family’s needs.

You know how sometimes the family has plans but they clash with something really important to you that you’ll have to miss? It’s like that for everyone in the family, including your parents. That’s what makes them families. Even though we might not want to, we do those things anyway.

This is why parents fight. The fighting is bad, but they reason they’re doing it is they’re struggling to find a way where everyone in the family can stay happy as an individual. It’s not super easy. Did your parents have arguments before the neighbour’s husband died?

I’m not sure we know if your mother left because of this other woman, or if did she maybe leave because your parents were having troubles already? It’s hard for us to know. You may have been there, but people keep secrets and parents tend to at least attempt to hide a lot from their kids until they really know what’s going on.

I think it’s important for us to remember that we can never really know another person’s thoughts. So neither you and me can’t really even hope to speculate about what went on in the heads of your parents. But we can certainly look at what some of the possibilities might have been so we can understand where they are in general. Empathy often helps us feel better.

362 Relax and Succeed - Sometimes it ends up different

About 50% of modern marriages don’t last, so it’s not like what’s happened to your parents is crazy, or wrong, or a failure. Matching two lives up is a much trickier thing than we realize when we’re younger.

It’s also possible to make a big mistake and do pretty much the same thing I did in my own life, which is marry someone that I loved and respected, but not someone who was well-matched to how we each wanted to actually live daily life.

That was just an honest mistake. There was nothing unloving about it. In fact, the divorce was us releasing each other to find better matches because we still cared about each other.

Two people can be awesome individuals, but if they have extremely varied interests and they’re also the kind of people who like to do things together, then two awesome individuals can end up having a tough time being married just because of a lack of overlap on their most valued interests.

Bottom line, it is very unlikely that this woman just showed up and stole your Dad if there already wasn’t some fractures in your parent’s relationship. I have no idea what your actual situation is like but consider this example:

What if your father was the sort of person who takes great comfort from being useful or helpful or needed? Maybe he grew up with a sick parent and his brain is just naturally in ‘help mode.’

And now imagine that when he met your mother, that she was quite needy at that time. Maybe a parent had died, maybe she failed at school, or maybe she was struggling with a tough boss at work. My point is that your dad would be attracted to the role he could play in your mother’s life. He could help.

So imagine they get married. And it’s great for a while, but after a while, your mother is recovered from her tough time and she’s regained her strength to the point where she doesn’t need to lean on your Dad anymore.

That leaning was what was sticking them together. Well matched couples have a kind of glue that holds them together. But what was holding your parent’s marriage together was more just the gravity of a certain situation. During the time she was down, they truly were the perfect match. And that was proven by the fact that she got better.

But if she’s better, then she’s standing upright. For a guy built to let others lean on him, your Dad would then lose his identity. If someone’s not leaning on him, he doesn’t know who he is. He can’t play to his strengths. He would feel weaker and more uncertain.

Again, this is just an example. It could be any reason relating to other compatibility issues that weren’t known when they got married. But if that neediness, or whatever, is what tilted people towards each other, and it goes away, then despite the awesomeness of both people, the attraction naturally fades.

So let’s say it’s something like that is possible, just as a thought-experiment. If that story was true, can you see that it would make sense that when this lonely, needy neighbour shows up, that she would be the person who would most authentically allow your father to be his most comfortable natural self?

So for example, far from this woman choosing to drive a wedge into your parent’s relationship, she could have been having her own experience of just being in pain over the death of her husband and she may only have been seeking some comfort.

So if this fictional story were true (the point is they’re all logical, whatever they are), then this other woman would have fallen in love with your Dad in exactly the same way your Mom did. He truly was their hero. He saved them. The problem is, once they’re saved, they don’t need rescuing anymore.

362 Relax and Succeed - Serendipity

Keep in mind that the dissolution of your parent’s marriage would likely have been the biggest most upsetting experiences of either of their lifetimes. I’ve been there —it’s torture when you’re going through it. It’s a huge decision and you’re never sure what’s happening is what’s best for yourself or your loved ones.

I didn’t have kids included in my divorce. I can easily imagine that your parents would have both struggled a lot thinking about the potential affects that the breakup could have on you and your siblings. Your parents would have struggled a lot to keep their struggle from you guys, at least until they knew what was going on. That would have been very hard.

So that’s how they could have honestly gotten together. Any change in your parent’s relationship that lead them to live roles they couldn’t relate to –that’s the main reason people get divorced.

But you don’t just have the divorce to deal with, do you? There’s also this idea that this new woman is taking over the house. When I write that, both of us have to keep in mind that this isn’t some hostile takeover at a corporation.

If your father and this woman have fallen in love, then it feels just like when you do it. They get the very same chemical rush from love at their age that you do at yours. So if your Dad felt he had no purpose, now he is excited. If she felt lonely, he has been the answer to her loneliness. Those are beautiful reasons to be attracted to someone.

Will they stay together? Who knows? Again, the divorce rate is about 50%. But that’s no measure of the value of the relationship while it’s still together. But they are not together because this woman tricked your dad. They are two adults choosing to make a big and complicated life decision.

I guarantee they thought about incessantly about whether they were right or wrong. You’ll see as you age, life makes us decide a lot of big things before we feel we’re ready. It’s highly likely that your dad is mature enough to know that would not be pleasant or easy or fun, to plunk some new woman down into his pre-existing family.

Both he and the new girlfriend likely spent a lot of sleepless nights wondering if you and your siblings will hate or reject them for having realized they were in love. That’s a tough thing. To want to feel good about feeling better, to be happy about finding each other. But at the same time, feeling badly that maybe you feeling better hurts someone else? It’s tricky and complicated.

So let’s look at it from the participant’s perspectives. Your dad has experienced the pain of a divorce and his house is still filled with the things that the wife that left him had chosen and bought. Whether there’s a new woman or not it makes sense that he’d want some changes.

Without changes, he’s living with tons of reminders of one of the most painful experiences of his life. And if he’s dating someone new, then it makes sense that he would want the new things to be things that she likes.

That’s what he did before. They decorated with things your Mom liked. It was an expression of their love. But now he loves this other woman too (he hasn’t stopped caring about your Mom.) But you don’t love her, you love your Mom. So that’s why you and you Dad disagree about the house. But he doesn’t mean to hurt you and neither does his girlfriend.

If you like a guy you’ll start dressing in clothes you think he’ll like and he’ll do the same for you. These are types of kindnesses. And they’re the same for your parents. Remember, your mom will have to do all of this some day too.

362 Relax and Succeed - Love is like playing the piano

As for the new woman—she’s not breaking up your parent’s marriage, she’s dating a new guy after her going through the agony of her husband’s death. How would you feel is she wrote to me and described what’s going on as:

“My husband passed away and it was devastating. I never thought I would love again but then after my neighbour’s wife left him I began to see the neighbour in a different light and we’ve eventually started dating. I really love him and he’s got great kids but his daughter just hates me because she thinks I broke up her parents marriage.”

Can you see that from their perspective, you might be the person who isn’t letting these two people be happy after they’ve both been through the pain of a divorce or death?

I’m not saying you ever intended to hurt anyone of course, but you do want what you want, not what they want. When we love people we should want for them what they want for themselves.

Let me put it this way: how would you feel if your dad criticized a person you genuinely loved? I know you feel there should be a difference because he has the title ‘Dad,’ but that’s my main point. There is no such difference. Your dad is human. Love is love no matter how old you are.

I’m not saying that letting him be an individual while he’s your Dad will be easy. I’m not saying you won’t have learn how to be with each other. The only way to live in this new context is by fumbling awkwardly through it until it feels natural.

Maybe in the end of that process, you as an individual may decide that your Dad’s girlfriend isn’t appealing to you as an individual. And that’s fine. But that doesn’t mean that their relationship is something to hate or destroy for your reasons. It’s their love. I feel confident that you would not want other people deciding who you loved.

Without having direct experience with how being in love as a grown adult is, it’s impossible for any young person to see what your father and this woman are facing. There is no way to gain the benefits of life experience without living it. But the main point is, this relationship of your dad’s isn’t about you or your family.

You’re involved because he’s your Dad, but the relationship is a very real thing between those two adults. Maybe it’s just a temporary rebound. Maybe it’s based on unhealthy ideas. But trust me, like all of us, you’ll be likely to make those mistakes too.

But in the meantime, if you want to see them (and me) as weak, then that’s understandable from your perspective. Over time you’ll realize that you feel that way because you honestly don’t want your Dad to love this new person, you want him and your mother to love each other like they did when you were younger.

That’s a nice wish. And in way, that is what’s happening. They’re feeling the kind of love they felt when they were younger, with each other. It’ll just happen with different people this time.

What they’re doing is super-hard, and what you’re going through is super hard. I’m sure they knew that was a possibility but, for your sake, it might be worth your time to truly consider what it is you’re trying to make happen.

If you thinking that breaking them up would be a good idea then I can tell you that all you would be doing is breaking some hearts that have already been through a lot.

I know this sucks for you and I wish the world could just give you a big hug while you’re going through it. But I hope this helps you at least see their relationship in a slightly different light.

Maybe try watching some movies with stories like this. And, if you read, there’s probably some great fiction out there that would let you see into the minds of the adults in a situation like this. It’s a complicated thing that it’s good to understand more about.

Despite the hurt, keep as open a mind as you can, try not to spread negativity, and listen with the intent to understand. Through the pain of this you will grow, and with any luck at all it will make you all that more sensitive and effective as an adult. I’m sorry a lot of life’s best lessons hurt so much to learn, but you have a lot of life ahead of you to make use of these lessons. There’s a lot of good fortune in that.

You take good care of you.

peace and a great big hug, s