My parents are having marital problems. How can I help?

3 answers | Last updated: Dec 30, 2010
A in ohio asked...

My parents are 65 and 70 and we've begun to notice that they are having severe marital problems. They don't communicate at all, and are beginning to be very short and aggressive with each other. How in the world do you breech the topic of counseling and/or separation when they are that age?

Expert Answers

Your parents aren't too old for counseling -- or for separation, if it comes to that. But with luck -- and some sessions with a good marriage counselor -- they'll hopefully be able to get their marriage back on track.

You didn't provide many details about your parents' situation or their specific issues, but you should probably encourage them both to go in for a medical exam, since it's possible that one (or both) of them is having a health problem that's affecting his or her mood. Depression, which can take the form of irritability and anger, is another possibility.

As to how you should approach your parents on the subject, I would plan a quiet time to talk. Then, without being accusatory or judgmental, tell them that you've noticed increasing tension between them, and you think they might benefit from seeing a counselor together. If your siblings share your concern, they may want to be there as well, but try to keep the conversation as low-key and unemotional as possible. Your parents' physician or your own may be able to recommend marriage counselors, and you could have the names and numbers on hand to give your parents when you broach the subject.

Don't hector or lecture your parents, just tell them honestly and calmly what you've observed. You can't make them see a counselor or work on their relationship, of course, but it's likely that your concern and advice will carry a lot of weight. After that, it's up to them.

Community Answers

Laural answered...

I would also emphasize not to take sides. Let each parent know that you love them, you care about them and their feelings, but that the dispute is between the two of them and not you. It can be really hard to support them separately without feeling like you're betraying the other parent - so be clear up front. You are there to be a shoulder to lean on and that perhaps talking to you can help them sort things out in their own head, but that it doesn't mean you're taking their side or the other side. Unconditional love.

One caveat - if one parent is being sincerely abusive of the other - make sure the abused one is safe and secure.

A fellow caregiver answered...

My parents were about that age when things got really bad between them - again.  It can escalate and one of my parents did become increasingly abusive of the other (though this had been lifelong.)  Thankfully, they have unofficially separated for good.

Try not to discount your parents and their conflict because of their age.  They haven't stopped being people because they are in their elder years.