Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Parents' divorce has her worried about her own future
Damaged: My father dumped my mother after 24 years of marriage because she let herself go. I saw the entire thing as it happened: She tried to lose weight but gained it instead, she never worked again after losing the job she loved, and spent way too much time watching TV instead. They tried therapy, but my dad had already checked out.
Now that I'm in a serious relationship, I keep thinking of these things and how they all happened despite my mom's every effort to prevent them. I'm in shape and employed now, but I'm terrified that someday I might wind up overweight and idle and become a different person from the one I am today, whose boyfriend loves her. I believe these anxieties are causing me to stall on the progression of the relationship. Please help!
Carolyn: Since when does watching too much TV constitute "every effort" to prevent marriage-killing stagnation? I can think of a few things she didn't try, per your account: getting screened/treated for depression; volunteering her time; being active just to get her insides in shape (mind/soul), even if it didn't show on the outside.
Your mom lost her way and her sense of purpose, and while that hole can be frighteningly deep — it's why I mentioned depression — it's still incumbent upon all of us to try to take care of ourselves, even if it just means asking for help.
If she did ask (well before the therapy attempt) and your father ignored her, then that's on him.
He also had a responsibility, as her husband, to go out of his way to help her get back on her feet. And he owed it to her to express his frustrations with her before they got so strong that there was no going back.
Still, though, it comes back to your mom's choices — and they're not about gaining weight. Her experience is telling you that if you find yourself trapped on the couch, then you owe it to yourself and your spouse to get busy again, or get help. Yes, loved ones do need to pull extra weight on a victim's behalf. But that gets people only so far. At some point, the victim has to save him/herself.
Anonymous: Re: Damaged or, WOW: Jeez, Carolyn, I never thought I'd see the day when you blamed the victim. You dressed it up with disclaimers — "IF she asked your dad for help . . . " — but really, what your answer boiled down to was a shrug of the shoulders and "Yeah. She did. Put down the Fritos and don't let it happen to you."
Carolyn: No, it boiled down to, we have to own our own lives. I have been beating that drum for years. Even abuse victims — none of whom did anything to deserve abuse — ultimately have to get themselves out of the trap that ensnared them.
If the husband "dumped" her at the first sign of trouble, then he's a jerk. But if she resisted his help and refused to help herself, then it's not fair to vilify him.
Rephrase the message however you want: I am all I have. You are all you have. Others can help, but there's only so far they can go.