How can I get my 85 year old father to stop yelling at my mother?

1 answer | Last updated: Nov 21, 2016
Roadrunner asked...

How can I get my 85 year old father to stop yelling at my mom all the time? She has had to put up with it all these years, but as they get older, he is getting worse and I am concerned for their relationship and my mother's mental health.

Expert Answers

Jonathan Rosenfeld is a psychotherapist in private practice in San Francisco.

It's great that you're concerned about your mother and want to protect her. I hope you'll be able to accomplish this -- both for her sake and for the sake of their marriage.

It's important to rule out medical and psychological issues in your father's case. Is he yelling because his hearing is bad and he doesn't realize it, for example? Is he in physical pain? Excessive irritability can also be a symptom of depression, or other psychological problem.

If your father is in generally good physical and psychological health, then the next step is direct communication. Try not to put him on the defensive by confronting him about the yelling. Instead, you might tell him that you're concerned about your mom, and ask if he shares your concern. If you can form an alliance of concern regarding your mother, then you can move on to talk about what each of you might do to help her out. You could talk to him about communicating with her in a more gentle way, and point out that not only would this reduce your mother's stress, but might also be a more effective way to get what he wants. Remember that inviting a person to take positive steps almost always generates better results than trying to persuade him to stop a negative or "bad" behavior.

The person in the strongest position to stop your father's yelling is probably your mother. What are her feelings on the subject? Would she agree with you that he's been yelling at her for years, and that her mental health is being affected?   

If your mother agrees with your assessment of the situation, than you'll need to think pragmatically about how to help her set limits with your father. This probably would involve activating her support system, her family, friends, and church community, for example. Sometimes a simple gesture, like  going to a friend's house every time he yells, can be very effective. People respond to actions and consequences much better than to persuasion.

If none of these approaches works, I recommend that you seek the guidance of a social worker or family therapist.