Trish Murphy, Chair FTAI, responds to question about relationships – Irish Times 6th March 2013

KATE HOLMQUIST – Irish Times Wednesday, 6th March 2013
Q My widowed father has been in a very happy long-term relationship but is now uncertain about continuing with it and wants to break up.
My siblings, who live abroad, have always encouraged this relationship, as it assuages their consciences about not visiting often enough and the burden of care falling with me.
At the moment he is well and independent, but they like him having a companion to be there to prevent loneliness and to be there in a crisis. But I feel that he should make whatever choice he wants, even though the implications of him being alone will most likely fall to me.
A My initial reaction is that you are right to support your father in whatever pleases him and to pledge your support. Then I wonder why your family is taking sides, when your father is no teenager and has to make his own decisions. If you’re divided now, what about the future when life-and-death decisions concerning your father may await?
“It’s very important to handle this well because this could set the scene for quite serious divisions in the future over issues such as long-term care,” says Trish Murphy psychotherapist and chair of the Family Therapy Association of Ireland.
“This is a classic conflict situation where if you go with one set of family opinion you have a win, making it a win-lose scenario, and a win won’t work,” she says.
Exacerbating the issue is that those sibling rivalries and jealousies never go away and can raise their ugly heads in fraught emails and phonecalls across time zones.
The best solution, she suggests, is for the family to reunite back home and sort things out with your father and each other.
Before you dismiss this as impractical, Murphy warns: “This is a big deal – it would be worth their while because this would be the basis of everything in the future that might happen, such as the possibility of long-term care, decisions about health and even the property and the will.
“It’s not uncommon for people to have to get a ward of court because the family can’t agree on a parent’s future. Division now could result in generations of the family not speaking to one another.”
If you can’t organise a geographic face-to-face, then Murphy suggests a Skype family meeting with a family therapist present.
If a Skype reunion seems a step too far, you might suggest counselling to your father to enable him to make a clear adult decision without worrying about what everybody else thinks.