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Very messed up family situation - please help

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Hi ENAers,


I posted a while ago about some issues with my brother and now I’m back, as this has become a much bigger issue that involves the whole family. I’ve been in tears all day and feel really lost, so I would greatly appreciate your advice.


My mum came to visit me this past weekend – we live in Europe but in different countries. My parents have been married for 30 years and together for 44. They’re now 59, so they got together when they were 14. She told me that 2 months ago she found some flirty texts on my dad’s phone between him and another woman. She immediately confronted him and they obviously had a big fight. My dad said it meant nothing, he knew this woman from the café he usually goes to, she approached him and he felt flattered by the attention. He insists they were just flirty texts and nothing happened, and apologised.


A month later my mum snooped on his phone again to check if he was clean, he caught her and yet another fight started. This time my brother (25 years old) was home, he heard everything and got into the argument saying: “At last you found out mum… I’ve known about this since I was 18”. Then he proceeded screaming really nasty words at my dad – if you’ve read my other thread you’ll know that for many years he’s been harboring a lot of anger and disrespect towards my parents, especially my dad. No one has ever been able to figure out where that came from… My mum was even more shocked, and my dad once again claimed that nothing physical ever happened with these women and it was just ‘harmless’ flirting. After a few discussions and my dad agreed to go to therapy with my mum, as well as alone.


So when she was telling me all this the other night, she said that after thinking about it long and hard she’s decided to forgive him. She said the therapy is slowly starting to help and that he’s changed a lot towards her. The issue is that my brother is not talking to my dad, and barely talking to my mum. They live together (he’s about to finish uni) and he’s completely shut down with them. He also said he’s going to get a job and move out as soon as he graduates, as he can’t bear to live with them anymore.


Now… When I was 12 years old I made the exact same discovery (my brother being 8 at the time). I found some quite passionate texts on his phone that he was exchanging with another woman. I was so young when it happened, and the shock was so bad I didn’t do anything about it. For many years I grew a lot of sadness and resentment towards my dad. As a teenager I used to fight with him a lot. When I was 18 I suffered from panic attacks a few times – which were likely also due to axiety buildup because of this. My therapist suggested I confront him, which I did. He was teaching me how to drive and we were in a parking lot and I told him what I saw many years ago. He denied everything. Now I can’t recall the exact words that were exchanged but that was the gist of it. I let it go. Shortly afterwards I moved to another city for uni, a few years later I moved abroad, so I guess that by being far away it was easier to bear that pain and still maintain a somewhat decent relationship with him.


I also matured, realised that my dad is a person and people are flawed, that marriages can survive this kind of thing, and that it didn’t mean that he didn’t love me. Seeing my parents getting older and their fights diminishing, until a few days ago I was just happy that they had each other to grow old with. I honestly thought my dad wouldn’t have the energy to cheat at his age. Even with his difficult character, he’s softened up a lot in the last few years and I’ve learnt to live with that ‘secret’. I’ve wondered many times whether my mum knew anything, as there were so many signs (him being away from home for work; being very secretive with his phone, etc.) but now it is clear she didn’t, and I’m simply stunned at how naïve she is being with the current situation. She told me she’s chosen to believe my dad; that she knows he loves her very much and he would be lost without her (true… but so would she); that he’s changing; that every cloud has a silver lining; etc. She asked me whether I knew anything, and I lied and I said I didn’t. Mainly just to buy time, as I was so shocked that was happening, I wasn’t able to judge there and then whether talking would be the right thing to do.


My first instinct was to tell my brother about what I knew. I KNOW the pain he’s been going through, because it’s the same one I’ve experienced. I adore my brother and it’s been painful seeing him grow up into an angry, frustrated, temperamental adult. I feel horrible for thinking that his behaviour could be the result of some mild mental illness. By telling him, I am hoping to soothe him, let him know that he’s not alone, make our fraternal bond stronger, find a way to go through this together. When my parents will not be here anymore he will be my only family. I care about him more than I can express.


Do I tell my mother? Do I break her last bit of hope by telling her that her husband has been cheating on her for no less than 16 years? She’s retired and her pension wouldn’t even cover her groceries – she depends financially on my dad 100%. She doesn’t have much of a life outside her home. They’ve just moved into their dream house after 30 years of living in the same one. I know for a fact my dad wouldn’t be able to survive this world without my mum. I don’t think I should be the one to potentially break their marriage – at the end of the day, they are going to therapy so there is a bit of hope there. It’s their marriage and as their child I shouldn’t interfere with that.


If I tell my brother in order to make us closer, but not wanting to tell my mother, there’s a big chance he will talk, not to mention the additional pain I would cause everyone. On the other hand if I keep my mouth shut I’m effectively enabling my dad. I thought I had forgiven him, and I truly thought the cheating had stopped, but now I can’t help but feel enraged at him.


To top this all off, I’m being eaten by the guilt for not talking when I found out the first time. I might have broken their marriage, but I have would have spared my brother a lot of pain. Maybe my mum would have had a chance at another life with a man that respected her more. The only explanation I have for that is that I was very young and didn’t know what to do. But this is not making me feel any better now. I know I cannot undo the past but I wonder if the current situation could be my chance to make things right.


I will appreciate any advice. Thank you in advance.

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Unfortunately she should not be dragging you into this. It's TMI and inadvertently asking you to take sides. Tell her marriage therapy would be a good idea and individual therapy for her as well. Sorry she is dumping all this on you. Next time deflect this emotion dump by suggesting therapy.

She told me that 2 months ago she found some flirty texts on my dad’s phone between him and another woman. She immediately confronted him and they obviously had a big fight.
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Agree with Wiseman. This was never your responsibility, and never will be. We often have to suffer the consequences of other people's decisions, but it doesn't mean we are at fault for them. You can cope, and help your family to cope, by being there for them.

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Thanks Jibralta, I appreciate your input and I agree. I will do my best to be there for them.


Does anyone have any advice as to how I should handle this with my brother? I don't know if I should tell him the truth or not. I'm afraid of the consequences for the whole family in both cases.

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I would not volunteer any information to him and would avoid talking to him about it altogether. If he came to me for support, I would show sympathy for his feelings, but would minimize discussion of the facts. He seems to have trouble coping with things. Why add fuel to a potentially explosive situation?

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You shouldn't feel guilty because it's not your fault. Your brother didn't tell your Mum about the texts either, so in the situation it sounds like he has done somewhat similar to you by trying to deal with it on his own.

If this has already been going on for a long time, it's not going to be helpful to anyone to tell them you know this has been happening for longer. Your mum has accepted this for what it is and is prepared to work at the relationship, hopefully it's a wake up call for your dad. If you want to let your brother know that you do understand how he is feeling but don't want him to know how much longer this has really been going on, why don't you say you saw the texts on your dads phone around the same time your brother did?

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Do not let your mother and father's situation distress you. Focus on yourself right now. Don't feel guilty for not telling your Mom because you do not want to influence the decision that she has already made to stay with your father so she can be happy. Instead tell their therapist, so the therapist that they are both seeing right now will be able to work with them through it.

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