See, while my brother has always been the responsible one, he’s arguably been as entitled as I. When my mom received inheritance after a death in the family, almost all of it went toward his student loans. When her business achieved success, she used a large chunk of the profits to buy and renovate a house for him. But there was a catch. The house had two units, and she wanted to move into the second unit when she got older. Until then, he would rent out that unit for extra profit.
Now the two of them will not speak because my mother feels that he stole the house from her. He doesn’t want her moving into the other unit because of her turbulent relationship with his fiancée, but she turned down his offer to give her the entire house outright because he refinanced it last year and she can no longer afford the mortgage. (I think that’s the issue, anyway. I know nothing about real estate.) She feels he’s reneging on an agreement, whereas he says the house was a gift. I wasn’t there when they bought it, so I have no idea. The only part I understand is the fiancée bit, which even my mother admits would make for an uncomfortable living arrangement.
Here’s what I do know: The situation is making life tense for all of us, and I feel stuck in the middle. What’s worse is that I find myself resenting both of them. It makes me angry to hear him complain about the woman who paid off his student loans, especially when I’m still struggling to pay off my own. It makes me angry to hear her call him names and threaten to destroy his business out of malice. No matter whose side of the story is true, they’re still family. They’re all I have, and I should be allowed to love both of them without taking sides.
They’re now threatening court against each other, and I’m worried that my refusal to testify on behalf of either one will result in my losing both. I already lost them once because of my own screw-ups. I cannot lose them again. At the same time, I’m starting to feel like I was happier when I lived farther away from them although I know that’s an awful way to feel. Please tell me how to fix their relationship. I’ll do whatever it takes. — Clowns to the Left of Me
You can’t fix their relationship — only they are in control of that. What you can do is tell them that you love them both and that you don’t want to be in the middle of their feud, especially after successfully completing treatment for alcoholism. Ask them to leave you out of their affairs, but expect that this will probably be challenging for them both, especially considering the close proximity of the three of you living in the same town and being so seemingly intertwined with each other.
It’s not “awful” that you felt happier living farther away from your family. It’s actually a good thing that you were able to cultivate enough independence to feel happy on your own, and I suspect one of the reasons you’re unhappier now, besides feeling caught in the middle of the tension between your brother and mother, is that you don’t have much life outside of them and your work. You say they’re “all you have.” That’s not healthy. You’re a grown adult. Why do you not have friends, hobbies, interests that you are pursuing? If you had these things — if you fostered a bit of a life for yourself — then I bet you dollars to donuts that the lives and drama of your family wouldn’t feel so all-encompassing to you. Would you still feel caught in the middle? Well, yeah, there’s a pretty good chance you would. But there wouldn’t be this desperation of losing them for fear of having nothing else. And without desperation steering you, you’d feel stronger setting boundaries and making sound, logical decisions that support your own well-being and continued recovery from alcoholism.
Finally, you know: there’s no shame in moving away again. Sometimes distance from the people we love but who drive us a little crazy is the best thing for everyone. You were happy living farther away, you say your family was happier. Maybe that’s the key to maintaining a good relationship: keep at least one state boundary between you. When you have trouble creating your own boundaries, there’s no shame in letting geography create them for you.
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