Ask Amy: Accept, then detach, from brother’s drama

October 24, 2013

DEAR AMY: I have not spoken to my brother, who’s now very ill, in a long time. (We text occasionally.) His life has been nothing but chaos ever since I can remember.

Most of his problems are the result of very bad decisions on his part. My mother knows how I feel about all of this yet continues to confide in me about everything my brother is going through.

My mother says she doesn’t have anyone to talk to otherwise. She has friends but doesn’t want to confide in them. This has gone on for years. She says she is tired of hearing about all of my brother’s troubles but continues to listen and then tell me. She becomes very upset and turns into a ball of anxiety. She is 75 and not in good health.

Over time, this has made me as anxiety-ridden as my mother. Was I right to tell her that I cannot listen any longer to my brother’s problems because of how it is affecting me?

I told her that she has a choice about listening to this. I said she should tell my brother that it upsets her and ask him to stop sharing details about his life. -- Opting Out

DEAR OPTING OUT: You’ll have to understand that your mother may feel that the only way she can mother your brother is to give him a sounding board about his troubled life.

Forbidding your mother to talk to you about this is cutting off an important source of potential comfort for her, but if this is the only way you can cope, then you were right to do so.

You have to learn to detach to the point that you accept reality but realize you are powerless to help your brother — and can only help your mother by gently affirming her feelings (“I know this is hard for you; I’m sorry you have to go through this, Mom”) while not getting swept up in the particulars.

DEAR AMY: I recently married my best friend. We have been together as a couple for four years and rarely argued before we got married. Now he says I have changed from the girl he fell in love with. I used to be quiet and shy and would never stick up for myself.

I started my first real job and have extra money, so I sometimes get my nails and hair done. He accused me of trying to “look good” for other men. No matter how many times I tell him that I am not interested in anyone else, he goes through my text messages and phone calls and accuses me of deleting stuff. None of this started until after we got married.

I love him and can’t imagine life without him, but I am worried that he accuses me because he is cheating on me. How should I approach this subject without losing him and starting an argument? -- Lost in Love

DEAR LOST: You married your best friend. But is this how your best friend should treat you?

Given what you say about your husband, I can’t tell you how to handle this without having an argument. Maybe an argument is called for.

You can start by saying, “I love you and want to stay with you. I want to have a peaceful, fulfilling marriage. But I’m not a piece of property. You do not get to go through my cellphone and accuse me of things I haven’t done. If we cannot trust and respect one another, then we won’t have much of a marriage.”

A counselor could help you develop trusting habits and acceptable parameters. If he becomes more controlling, suspicious and jealous, you should not stay.

DEAR AMY: “Wondering (but not Wandering) Wife” is in a sexless marriage. So am I. My husband and I have been through therapy, read self-help books and so forth. But he simply never wants to do it. The time is never right for him. We have not had sex in years and probably never will again. This makes me so sad. -- Not Wandering

DEAR NOT: I have heard from dozens of women in the same boat.

Amy’s column appears seven days a week at www.washingtonpost.com/advice. Write to Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribune.com or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

by the Chicago Tribune

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