I SENT MY HUSBAND AND MY MOM TO COUPLES’ COUNSELING – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I swear to God, I actually made my first husband, Larry, go with my mom to couples’ counseling. They were driving me crazy. They fought with each other. They each talked to me against the other. They both tried to get me to ‘side’ with them against the other. They each thought the other was bad for me.

Me, Mom and Larry in around 1979, about 5 years into our marriage

They were both very controlling. Each wanted to get me to do what they wanted, which was usually the opposite of what the other wanted. For example, one major issue was the amount of time we spent with my mom. Mom obviously wanted us to spend more time and Larry wanted us to spend less. After my father died, in 1981, my mother asked us to spend Saturday nights with her so she wouldn’t have to be alone. Larry wanted Saturday night as ‘date night’, and a night to see friends. I negotiated a settlement on this issue – we saw Mom on Friday or Sunday but Saturday was for Larry and me as a couple.

Other issues were not as easy to resolve. I often felt like a wish bone being pulled apart by Mom and Larry. The hostility level between them was off the charts. So was my stress level.

Me, Mom and Larry in 1984, when I was pregnant with our second child

I got really desperate at one point and consulted a family therapist. I explained the situation to him and he agreed to see my mom and Larry in couples’ therapy. He first met with all three of us, together. Then he met with each of us alone. Only then did he meet with Larry and Mom together. After two or three of their joint sessions, he called me.

He told me that there was no point wasting his time and my money on a lost cause. He said I had to give up the idea that either Mom or Larry would ever change – it wasn’t going to happen.

The doctor explained that Larry and Mom were both narcissists and borderline personalities. There is no reliable treatment or cure for either syndrome. In fact, a symptom of both is a total lack of self-awareness. Apparently Larry could see Mom’s issues very clearly and Mom could see Larry’s equally well. Their insight was 20/20 when it came to the other’s faults. But they were innocent victims in their own eyes. To each, I was being manipulated by the other and they were just trying to save me.

Me, Mom and Larry in 1987

I remember sitting on the floor of my bathroom with the door closed, crying on the phone with the doctor. I begged him to try again. But he insisted that I face reality. He was right.

Nothing changed through 25 years of marriage. But here’s the irony. After Larry and I separated and later divorced, Larry and Mom got along famously! They actually had a lot in common. In some ways, they had more in common with each other than either had with me. These similarities suddenly came to the fore once I was out of the picture.

All those years, they were obviously fighting over who would have the most influence and control over me. I’m amazed I survived, relatively intact. One other thing the therapist told me was that I could never be my own person and live my own life until both Larry AND Mom were out of my life. Hard to hear. But he was right about that too.

I separated from Larry in 1998. I met my current husband, Tom, in 1999. Mom died in 2002, a few months before Tom and I married. Since then, I have become a different person. I am more confident, more self-assured, more independent and more relaxed. Also happier.

I’m also sad to realize that two people I loved so dearly were so destructive to me for so long. That’s a very hard pill to swallow.

14 thoughts on “I SENT MY HUSBAND AND MY MOM TO COUPLES’ COUNSELING – BY ELLIN CURLEY

  1. No way to pass by that title without reading your post, Ellen. Such an interesting article, and so so sad. I think it takes a lot of maturity to rid ourselves of negative influences–especially if they are people we love. In the end, we need to choose people who bolster our self confidence. I’m so glad you have found such a happy life for yourself.

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    • It is important to get negative influences out of your life. It’s really hard if they are your mother and husband. After I realized that there was no way out of my toxic situation, I still had to figure out what to do about it. Losing hope of either my mom or husband changing in any way was devastating to me. It was years before I finally ended my marriage, and then I still had my mom in my life. I couldn’t do much about that except marginalize her in my heart and mind until she died. Looking back, I wish I had been able to break free sooner, but I’m in a great place now, which is all that matters.

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  2. Both in divorcing Jeffrey and Tony, it turned out to be something that let me move to a different ultimately better.

    I always wonder if Garry and I had stopped messing around 20 years earlier, would that have worked out? Garry doesn’t think so — he says he was too immature for a relationship then. I’m not as sure, but if he thinks so, he probably knows things I don’t quite “get.”

    Regardless — happy endings are wonderful, are they not?

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    • Very interesting question about you and Garry. Tom and I often talk about what we would have been like together when we were young. We were too different in our twenties to even date. But you and Garry were actually a couple, albeit not a serious one. When we get together, I would love to hear about your early times together – and why you didn’t stay together then.

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      • Without getting more complicated, Garry was married to his job. He liked me, he really did. Quite possible, it was love … but the idea of GETTING MARRIED? Uh, no, I don’t think so. He felt he was DEEPLY immature. He may be right. I think he could have come around, but it’s a matter of opinion — mine — his — and … ??

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        • I believe that if someone says they’re not ready for something – believe them! You’re in a much better place together now than you would have been if you had pushed the issue all those years ago.

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  3. It’s difficult to accept that sometimes the people we love are toxic to us. It must have a very difficult time in your life, Ellin, being pulled one way by your mother and pulled the other way by your husband.
    Leslie

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    • It was harder for me because I was so insecure and emotionally fragile. I would handle the situation differently now. I would be much tougher and more demanding with both mom and Larry. I don’t know if it would have worked, but I would have felt more in control.

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