Help for Son Trapped in Relationship

Reader’s Question

Help — My 30-year-old son married a woman with four children (all boys) about 4 and a half years ago. A month after their marriage, she became pregnant and they had a son — thus today there are five children, ages 11-10-9-8 and 3. She was very sweet at first but that all changed.

She slowly began to isolate him from our family. She told him that they were his family now and that the Bible says “a man shall leave his mother”. She has done things like read a mothers day card that my son had bought for me a few years ago in which he wrote that he was grateful for all the support I have always given him and that he appreciated all that I had done for him while growing up — she told him that it was “incestuous”. On my birthday, a couple of years ago, her parents were here visiting from their home several states away. It was my birthday and I had asked my son if he could get away for a couple of hours to celebrate with my husband and two other children, my parents and several friends (her parents had been here for about a week and were leaving in a few days). She planned a shopping trip out of town for that day and they didn’t get home until it was too late for him to attend (I believe this was intentional). Later she told me that this was her time with her family, not my time.

She came to my house and said some very mean and hurtful things, I said very little since I knew anything I said she would take out on my son. If my son gets out with a friend (very rare), she tells him he can go anywhere but not to go where my husband and I are. My daughter needed my son’s help moving her things from one state to another; his wife told him to choose between his sister and her and the children. He told her he was going to help his sister and she said that she and the boys would be gone when he got back (he was gone for 24 hours) — she was still there along with plenty of insults and verbal attacks. When she gets angry, which is often, she tells my son that he is lazy, worthless, selfish, a mama’s boy, etc. He used to go to work at 3:00am and work until about 3 or 4 in the afternoon. When he would get home, she would need to get out since she had been with kids all day — she would go walking, tanning, etc. He would then make dinner, do laundry and whatever else needed to be done.

About two and a half years ago, her ex-husband and father of her four children was arrested for molesting a young girl, he went to prison and she lost her child support. My son had to make up for the money she had lost. He began driving for a trucking company and said he would go out on the road — he has been doing this for the last year and a half. This has been about the only way that we have kept in contact with him — talking to him while he’s on the road. I try not to call him at home to keep the peace. He has stated at times that she will look on the cell phone bill and see that he has been talking to me.

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She started a full time job but then changed to part time work. Finances have been tight for them but this doesn’t stop her from tanning, shopping, and keeping her nails done because she “deserves it”. Recently, my son told her he wanted to change jobs since he was on the road from Sunday night through Friday and was missing his son growing up. She wanted to know what other job he would do in the evening and on week-ends to make up for the money he would lose. He said that if she worked full time that would help — her response was “how dare you ask me to do that because of your selfishness, my job is to be the mother, yours is to provide financially for this family.” She said that her job was just a “perk” and she could quit tomorrow.

She also has tried in the last six months or so to get him to adopt her children so that she can “get her ex-husband’s parental rights taken away”. My son told her he would not do that and she told him that she didn’t think she could love a man who didn’t love her children. She has told him to go home and sleep with his mother, to move out, to go back to his family because they are the only ones that would have him, she has said that her ex-husband was a better provider, that they would be better off without him, that she could live better on welfare, and on and on and on. I have seen her make fun of him in front of other people and it made me sick. She does all of this but when she sees that he is at the point where he fights back or she has pushed too far, she backs off and things are better for a little while. Then it starts again.

My son did quit his job at the trucking company and her verbal attacks accelerated. He finally moved out a week and a half ago. He said he couldn’t take it anymore. He has moved in with my parents (his grandparents). I am beginning to see glimpses of my son again — laughing with his brother and sister, relaxing and having a little bit of fun.

Now comes the problem. She is saying that she will do ANYTHING to get him back. She has emailed me and apologized for “giving the impression that she didn’t want him to be around us”. She has said that she will work full-time, stop spending money on things that aren’t necessities, etc. I’m afraid that he is wavering. He has retained an attorney but has not made a move to start legal proceedings for a divorce. I am afraid that if she gets him to go back, he will be back in the same boat or maybe worse. I’m afraid she is not beyond getting him back and, if things go bad as I think they will, setting up a situation where he may be accused of something he didn’t do. She is very manipulative.

What do you think?

— A Concerned Mother

Psychologist’s Reply

By your description, your son has married a highly manipulative and controlling individual. I’ve discussed this type of individual in an article entitled “Identifying Losers, Controllers, and Abusers” available on this website. His lifestyle with her is described in the follow-up article entitled “Love and Stockholm Syndrome”, also available on this website. Both articles should be required reading for your family members.

His partner is currently experiencing breakup panic and will promise anything, plead, use the children, call thirty times a day, etc. Sadly, if he returns the situation will gradually return to normal if not worse as she would feel entitled to punish him for separating. Individuals this mean-spirited and manipulative have few boundaries and feel totally justified and actually entitled to punish their partners when they don’t get their way. In this case, as you fear, he must be very cautious as she would have no problem using false accusations or set-ups as a way of gaining the upper hand in the situation. From her standpoint, revenge and control are more important than his career or social standing in the community. Your son should be cautious of hidden agendas in any meeting or discussions with his partner. Manipulative folks don’t think out of the box — they ignore the box. He should be prepared for anything.

Your son and your family are not alone in dealing with this situation. Offer him continued support. Recognize that his situation and decisions are very difficult for him. Offer a family member to accompany him for child visitation or other meeting situations. Read and study…

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