How Do I Tell My Mother to Stop Dumping Her Problems on Me?

Health & Wellbeing

After a lifetime of being the confidante, a reader seeks advice on fostering a two-way relationship.

I am 25. My mother has treated me like her therapist my whole life — confiding in me about adult problems even when I was a young girl. Lately I realized that practically our whole relationship revolves around me being her confidante. I’ve been in therapy for five years trying to get over my resentment of this. But no matter how many times I ask her to stop dumping her problems on me, she won’t. She also refuses to speak to a professional counselor. My sister says this is a lost cause and that I should just keep our conversations superficial. But that upsets me more than not talking to her at all. How can I turn this relationship into a healthy, two-way street?

DAUGHTER

I had a similar relationship with my mother, whom I loved very much. Like you, I often resented being her dumping ground. I also felt like a failure — even as a kid — for my inability to fix her problems. Even after I told her how it made me feel, she didn’t change her behavior. Maybe it was habit by then.

So, I suggest a different approach: Don’t try to “get over” your reasonable resentment. Let all your feelings for your mother — good, bad and complicated — bubble up. When I finally let myself do that, instead of making excuses for her, I knew I needed a break. Eventually I had to decide how much energy to invest in a mother who loved me but also dominated our conversations with her troubles.

Now, to your question: No, I don’t think you can change this relationship unilaterally. Your mother has to want to change it, too. And you’ve been asking her for five years already. Focus on what you can change, instead: your expectations and your responses to her and the limits you set in this loaded relationship.

Miguel Porlan

In December, my husband of 12 years told me he wanted a divorce. The request came as a total shock! He refused to go to couples’ counseling, and we separated. A few weeks later, I met a man whom I hit it off with. We’re extremely compatible and attracted to each other; we care for each other tremendously. And now we’re dating seriously. The problem: Nonstop comments from friends that I’ve gotten involved “too soon.” Any suggestions?

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S.

Ignore these people! Would they rather you sit at home alone, licking the wounds of abandonment? Listen, we have no idea where your new relationship is headed. I hope you remind yourself occasionally that it’s still new and comes on the heels of a major breakup. These are good reasons for anyone to go slowly with a new romance.

That said, I’m delighted you met someone you like so much! As for your friends’ comments: Even if this new relationship turns out to be a lovely rebound, what’s the harm in that?

I lent money to a friend who promised to pay me back in three months, after she received a bonus at work. She needed it to pay medical expenses for her son. Three months came and went. Then she stopped returning my calls and emails. Finally, after years of chasing her, I collected most of the money, but she was $2,000 short. I’m not the kind of person who reports people to the police, but what else can I do? (I’ve since learned that her son was never sick and that she never worked at the company she claimed she did.)

LENDER

I think you should count yourself lucky to have recouped most of your loan and close the book on this ugly chapter. Your friend is no friend, but she didn’t steal the money. You lent it to her — without an agreement in writing, it seems, or verifying her false claims — and she hasn’t repaid you fully.

The police are unlikely to get involved in a civil dispute. If you believe the woman has $2,000 to collect, your recourse now (after years of chasing her) is to hire a lawyer and sue her, which may be expensive. I know $2,000 is a lot of money, but haven’t you wasted enough time on this grifter already?

After a long search, I found a great roommate. The space is tight, so someone neat and respectful is important. I’m a woman, so I was slightly surprised that the best candidate was a man. We have many shared interests, so our conversations are interesting. We even cook together occasionally. The problem? Sometimes, late at night, I hear sounds of pornography coming from his bedroom. This grosses me out! Would it be too much to ask him not watch it while I’m at home?

ROOMMATE

Just ask him to use headphones when he’s watching films or listening to music when you’re both in the apartment. (You should do the same.) If you want to keep your almost-perfect roommate, I suggest butting out of what he does in the privacy of his bedroom — as long as it’s invisible and inaudible to you. It’s none of your business.


For help with your awkward situation, send a question to [email protected], to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.

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