Dear Rabbi and Shira,

Thank you so much for your column. I enjoy reading your advice each week. Due to Covid- 19, we both lost our jobs and with little savings we were forced to move into my parents’ home. While it is nice for them to take us in, we have one big issue. I do not get along with my mom. She is bossy, manipulative and constantly puts me down. I am just not sure how much longer I can handle this situation.  With nowhere to go, I am left with little option. I have no idea when this pandemic will end and even if our jobs will be there when it is over. My husband and I are fighting constantly due to our new stressful reality and my mother’s overbearing ways.  How can I stay mentally healthy in a toxic situation?

Trapped in the Five Towns

Dear Trapped,

We are so sorry to hear that you’re in such a tight spot.  There are several issues we need to address.

Let’s talk about your relationship with your mother.  When you lived at home previously, what strategies worked in the past? Are you using them now? If so, are they helping at all now? Has your challenging relationship with your mom been exacerbated by the stress and the close quarters?  Can your father intervene on your behalf?

Have you had a conversation with your mother about the way she speaks to you? It’s possible that you might have tried this, and it hasn’t worked. It is important to understand, sometimes we don’t have control over the situation, and this is where the process of working towards acceptance comes in. Much of the residual pain and anger we feel comes from the fact that we know we deserve to be treated with love and respect, and when this doesn’t happen, we believe that we are responsible for our parents’ behavior. We are not. We cannot always change other people’s perceptions, or consequent behaviors. For the time being, this is the reality of the situation.  But we can change our responses, and how we will think about their behavior.  Remember, if a conversation becomes really heated, you can say, I’m sorry, I need to calm down. Let’s pick this conversation up again at a specific time. Always give a time so the other person doesn’t feel like you are ignoring the situation.

  If you cannot guarantee your physical and emotional safety, then you need to rethink your housing options.

The next issue that we would like to address is uncertainty which comes with Covid. Many assumptions, plans, dreams and hopes have been rerouted, delayed or have come to a sudden end. This includes financial security.  The unpredictability of our situation causes us to experience fear and that fear may intrude our minds constantly. Take time to take care of yourself, make a list of things to do. Give yourself the permission to have more and less productive days.  There will be struggles as you learn to accept the nuances of the new reality. There will be ups and downs as you grieve over what could have been.

Regarding your relationship with your husband, there are different triggers which are present in your relationship. There are fault lines which will be stressed by the outside stressors. These fault lines revolve around fears and hopes which each one of you have. When the fears materialize, you begin to feel yourself shifting into “panic mode,” in a frantic attempt to stop them.  The response will be similar when you see your hopes not coming true.

Your spouse doesn’t know what is going on in your head. He only sees how you are behaving, which can set into motion a chain of behaviors and emotions which will only exacerbate the situation. You must find time to speak about these hopes and fears openly and calmly, when not in “danger mode.” Spend “couples time” together.  Take daily walks together, close the doors to your room and just take time to be with each other each day. Work on knowing each other more. Read the 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman , Hold Me Tight by Dr. Sue Jonson or one of the many books of Dr. Jon and Dr Julie Gottman.

If the situation becomes unmanageable, seek professional assistance.

Remember this situation is temporary and slowly you will begin rebuilding your world. There will be new opportunities. May Hashem give us the strength to rebuild our lives, better and more beautiful than before.

Say healthy and safe,

Rabbi Reuven and Shira Boshnack