My mother has always been dependent and had someone to support her. She lived at home until she and my father married. When they divorced, she was already involved with her next partner. Recently, we moved out of his house and she had, some time ago, called off their engagement. Now we are on our own and she is struggling. I am trying to be supportive and remind her we have others supporting us and that we are capable of doing things on our own. But tonight, she informed me should was going to have dinner with her ex-fiancé. What can I do? I think going to see a therapist would be helpful but she is very, VERY shut off when it comes to discussing feelings and such.

A: Your mother is lucky to have such a caring son. But as her son you aren’t able to fill the emotional hole your mother experiences when she doesn’t have a partner. You’re right. Therapy would probably be helpful – but only if she herself sees the need. Therapy isn’t helpful to people who don’t want to be helped.

One thing you could do is go into therapy yourself – not because I think you have a mental illness, but because I think you could probably use some help separating from your mother and making your own life. Since you are 20 and still living with her, I’m guessing that you feel guilty about leaving her to struggle or to fall back into a dependent relationship with an inappropriate guy. If you do get started in therapy, you and the therapist could invite her to participate in some sessions to talk about your dilemma. Sometimes people like your mom will attend therapy as a way to help someone they love even if they won’t go for themselves. When they discover that it feels good to have the therapist’s support, they often start to make individual sessions as well.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie