BEL MOONEY: Do I have to be my family's shoulder to cry?

Dear Bel,

I seem to be an emotional crutch for my family who only contacts me with tales of suffering and makes me drained and unhappy.

I was told my parents kept trying until they had a little girl as they wanted someone to look after them when they were older.

We grew up in a household where “take care of your rod, pamper your child” was the mantra. The discipline and the punches were all taken over by my mother. I even think my father was afraid of her.

But I was also overprotected. I wasn't allowed to go on school trips because they were "too risky".

My brothers had fun on vacation while I sat and watched as most of the activities were "too dangerous" for me. Still, the boys felt like the "princess" who received special attention – which led to resentment.

In short, I played my role in the family – until my own children grew up and I couldn't just drop everything and rush to Grandma. (My father had died.)

This had a big impact – I realized that I was afraid I would disobey my mother.

One day I said I couldn't visit and my mother called my brothers and the Samaritans who were suicidal. I now get calls for hours where she cries and tells me how lonely she is, how she would rather be dead.

A few years ago my husband was offered a job on the other side of the country and we moved.

We made a lot of friends and have wonderful social lives. My son stayed in our original town after graduation and we thought he would be fine to live alone. But he became clinically depressed.

Much better now, he also says that he's lonely – and that he's a complete failure.

After these conversations, I get very worried – sometimes I can't eat. But once, after worrying for hours about not being able to contact him, he told me that he felt a lot better after our chat and went out.

I'm in the phase where I instantly panic when my phone rings or beeps with a message.

If it's my mother or my son, I'm afraid what's next.

We have just retired and had plans to stay in our new location, but I feel like it doesn't make sense as I can't cope with the fear that they will harm themselves.

Do you have any advice


This week, Bel answers a question about a daughter who wonders if she should be her family's shoulder to cry on

Like so many women, you were “bred” (almost literally) to be a caregiver, and that role is so embedded in your DNA that you feel like you can never be free.

To make the problem worse, you were also bullied physically and mentally by your mother and not autonomous (under the guise of "protection").

When you had to put your own family first, your mother continued the emotional bullying – and still does.

More from Bel Mooney for the Daily Mail …

If you hadn't mentioned those childhood blows, I'd have more compassion for them now.

The way it is, I see her as a manipulative woman who won't be happy until you live around the corner and serve her as you please once more.

You don't mention how your husband is feeling, but since the two of you created a wonderful life together, far from your mother, I doubt he would be very happy to uproot again. Your son presents a different problem. Let's put that aside for a moment.

In my opinion it would be a terrible mistake to sacrifice your own happiness and that of your husband on your mother's altar.

I would set up all the local help you can do for her in the form of a caregiver – and maybe a friendly service? Only you can find out what is possible right now.

I would also like to know if your brothers can help with the heavy lifting here. They should.


Come on, let's have pity on those who are better off than us

Come my friend and remember

That the rich have butlers and no friends

And we have friends, not butlers.

Ezra Pound (American poet and critic, 1885-1972)

Openly tell them that you can't take these calls and ask if each of them can set a set time to call them.

It is important that you protect yourself from the mental stress of these phone sessions.

You cannot stop her talking, but you can limit the time you give. It may seem harsh to let your phone go to voicemail every now and then – but she's cruel to you, just as she was years ago.

Your son is another (and in my opinion more important) concern.

They don't give any information about his work or friendship groups, but I would find out what / who he has and how important those connections are.

If he was diagnosed with clinical depression, he received the right treatment.

Instead of worrying so much and feeling so helpless and overwhelmed, you need to find out all of these things – and be as optimistic as possible on the phone.

My big question is, could he move to be around you? Would there be work for him?

You can be proactive here – and need to circumcise your mother to save energy for your son.

Dear Bel,

I am 59 years old and my wife is 57 years old. It's a second marriage for both of us (20 years) and we have no children together.

As men, we all joke that we cannot fathom a female spirit, and of course, I am totally amazed by my wife's.

We have always had a problem with sex because we have a mismatch between desire levels. She has always proudly claimed (aside from the beginning of our relationship) that she has no sex drive / desire.

In fact, she says she "never has". She has frankly told me that her lack of interest in sex was a problem in her first marriage and she seems perfectly comfortable that it is a problem in our marriage too. She refuses to get help / checks from her doctor.

Here's the twist. Recently, after the breakdown of her first marriage, she admitted me to a number of "one-night stands," including some "risky" outdoor sex.

Nevertheless, I only know her as an almost prudish, very "heterosexual" and (almost completely) sexually firm woman. What's up Bel? I am very confused and don't know what to think.


Often I am asked about common problems – not difficult, as certain problems occur repeatedly. This is one.

Sometimes I venture to generalize that women are interested in relationships and men are interested in sex – knowing that it's way too easy.

Even so, your letter reminds me of the uncomfortable core of the truth. An old truth too. This is a short Japanese poem from the 6th century AD:

"Oh yes," she says, "we are married,

"I'd love to," she says

Tuck the bedclothes under your hips

I turn back.

This man in his silk robes was just as confused, sad and irritated a long time ago as you feel now.

When people ask if sex is very important in a marriage, I always say, "It depends" – although most counselors and therapists are more likely to answer, "Of course it is."

However, when the sex between a long-married couple is replaced by deep camaraderie and mutual distress, it doesn't have to matter at all – only if both feel the same.

I find it rather limited when people assume that sex is always absolutely necessary for closeness. It is not so.

What is most important and cannot be skipped is communication and understanding – especially when there is a problem.

You find your wife's lack of interest in sex a disappointment. You complain, "She refuses to get help / checks from her doctor" – but I hope you realize that after menopause it is quite normal for a woman to lose her libido.

Some don't, but a far greater number. She is unlikely to get help if she is quite happy with the situation.

I can see that you are sad – and I would like to suggest that you speak to Relate (separately or together). But if your wife doesn't accept that she has a physical problem, she's hardly thrilled.

Now for her admission that she had a lot of sex after her first marriage ended. I think you think she must have changed from her previous "don't bother" attitude and enjoyed it.

Contact Bel

Bel answers readers' questions about emotional and relationship issues every week.

Write to Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT or send an email to bel.mooney@dailymail.co.uk.

A pseudonym can be used on request.

Bel reads all of the letters, but regrets that she is unable to conduct personal correspondence.

But maybe she didn't – not really. Maybe she just went along because she was afraid of being alone.

Maybe she hated it and felt cheap. Did you ask her about it – with real curiosity?

Have you tried to explore her feelings, not as a cunning plan to get her to bed, but because you are genuinely interested?

The last time I wrote something like this on this page I got some angry emails from people saying they tried all the talking and it got them nowhere!

They seemed to think I was numb, but that's wrong. I see – it's just that there is nothing I can do about it.

You, John, are “confused” – and I sympathize with you because I know you care.

The only way forward is to try to explore your wife's feelings and memories, and be tenderly open to your own. Only you can try to resolve this confusion.

When you both get into your 60s, you (and all of us) have to deal with changes in our bodies as well as the lack of happiness in our minds and hearts.

It is normal to remain angry with life until we die – but it is smarter to talk to your partner and figure out how to meet each other's needs, probably with small sacrifices and mutual generous acts.

And finally … Forget the lyrics – write a real letter

It was a strange coincidence to receive a helpful email from Vera on the same day my last video appeared on Mail Plus in Health Care on Tuesday. (The link can be found at the bottom of this page.)

My video is about letters used as therapy or healing. I tell a story about a letter I received many years ago and the advice I gave that worked.

Vera writes: “When my 45 year old partner died within seven weeks of being diagnosed with cancer last year, I had some extremely helpful sessions with an excellent counselor … who suggested I write him a letter expressing all of my feelings for the Express.

"I remember thinking it sounded a bit stupid and I wouldn't!"

“I owed it to her to try, however, and when I started I got it all down.

“I can't say strongly enough how much it helped. I've stowed it safely … I would definitely recommend writing a letter under these or similar circumstances. "

Thank you, Vera – I've been saying that for years. Of course, texts or emails are not enough. You need paper to properly jot down important words.

If the letter is in pain, it can be destroyed as a release. When it is full of love it can be appreciated.

We are now entering another difficult time – for all of us. I want letters to come on their own. Try writing a (or a nice note card) to a loved one some distance away.

Getting an envelope in the mail is always a cheer. But because of texts and emails, people are not used to expressing themselves on paper.

Just read the lovely letters sent by (often) uneducated soldiers on the front lines in both world wars to see what we lost. Bring back the intimate magic of the pen!

This column won't be here next week as I have my first week off this year. But keep sending your letters and emails.

When life feels difficult, putting emotions into words can really help.

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