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Hi Captain,

For over a decade, I had a really bad relationship with my sister. She struggled with addiction and suicide ideation and, often, was just plain mean. I enabled her by making sure I was always available to her during her emotional crises and never saying no to anything she wanted. I got a weird sense of superiority from taking care of her, which I realize now, was a really sick source of self-esteem.

Fortunately, our relationship is a lot better now! She’s been sober for nearly two years and has apologized for many of the things she did when she was using. For my part, I apologized for being a condescending goody-good.

I thought things were fine as they were.

Recently, though, she called off her engagement and has started calling and texting me a lot. This is a common pattern. When she’s happy and busy, I don’t hear from her much. That’s fine by me. But, when she’s sad, lonely, or upset, the intensity of her communication ramps way up.

The other day, I asked her if everything was ok – noting that she’s been calling a lot lately. She said everything was fine, she just wants us to be closer. But, this is exactly what I don’t want! I want to enjoy her company when we see each other a few times a year. I want to talk to her maybe once a week. I don’t want to be her best friend or confidante. I’m just not ready for that.

The guilt I feel at not wanting to be close to someone who wants to be close to me is eating me up inside. Does forgiving her mean we have to be good friends? Is it ok to want the best for my sister, admire her good qualities, and still want her to kind of…stay in her own world? Is there any way I can convey this to her without seeming like a monster? Especially, since she’s going through a tough time?

Sister, Not Friend (#1182)

Hi Sister, Not Friend, your letter came in at the same time as some others, I hope nobody minds if we tackle these all together.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I have a sister who has been bothering me a lot lately. She has depression and a few other minor health issues, she is divorced, on disability. She is very negative and usually only wants to get together to complain about her health, my parents, her kids, or ex husband. She doesn’t have a lot of friends and constantly texts me all day. I would like to put some distance between us because all her issues are stressing me out which is leading to my own adverse health affects and I just don’t have time for them. I have tried to say things in the past but she always says “this is the straw that broke the camels back” or she feels “attacked”. She has always been like this and it’s really starting to bother me. I feel bad saying I need space when she doesn’t have any one else but I’m tired of her drama. I don’t want to cut her out of my life just limit our interactions to once or twice a week. Do you have any advice on how I can achieve this?

Sally (#1183)

Hi Sally, your letter came in at the same time as several others. We’re going to have a group discussion. Read on.

Dear Captain Awkward,

Thank you for the existence of your blog! I love reading your advice and have been slowly trying to implement this into my own relationships.

The problem I have is that I am a very passive, live and let live kind of person, living in a family of opinionated people. My dad loves to rage on about articles he’s read and refuses to acknowledge alternative theories. My mother has an uncanny ability of seeing the world through everyone else’s eyes, and therefore believing she has the authority to cast judgement on their decisions. Loudly.

My sister combines the two and adds another ingredient. Selfishness.  When her friend’s parents were getting divorced, she worried that her friendship with friend would suffer. When her university frienemy announced she was moving in with her boyfriend, to the same county as my sister after graduating, my sister worried that she would be obligated to spend all free time with frienemy, despite living 30 miles apart. My dad once complimented me on my jumper as I sat down to dinner with them. Her immediate response was to cry out: ‘But what about my jumper, dad?’ I bit my tongue so hard it metaphorically started bleeding. Call her out on any of the above, though, she calls me rude and gets angry.

Captain, your scripts and advice have been invaluable in building up my confidence to confront the aspects of our relationship that I’m not happy about, in addition to making everything about her, the way she has targeted me in the past has led to many of my insecurities.

I have put her on an information diet and refuse to engage in arguments. We have barely interacted for a number of months now.

We have recently had some bad news in the family which, I hoped, would start to bring us closer together in a positive way. It has had the effect of her calling me frequently to spill her emotional guts.

I’m dealing with my own fair share of emotions in reaction to the bad news. I don’t feel comfortable enough to share them with my sister whenever she calls, and I’m certainly not about to tell her that my eating disorder has started to resurface, because she will make it into a competition about who is having a worse time. This is one of her patterns and an easy way for her to avoid acknowledging that I have feelings.

I know my own strength and while I know that I can talk to her about family news, I don’t know how to increase the time and energy spent with her knowing that she won’t acknowledge any boundaries I’ve set up. Keeping her on an information diet has helped, but I worry that she’ll try to break past that as our relationship progresses.

I know you can’t choose family, and I want to have a good relationship with my sister, I just don’t know how.

Sincerely,

Struggling Sister (#1184)

Greetings, Struggling Sister! Something’s in the air, right? I hope it helps to know you’re not alone. You’re not alone.

Now that we’re all gathered here together, I think that if improvement is possible in these sibling relationships, there is a common approach that gives all of you the best chance of making that happen.

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Dear Captain Awkward,

My sister is 37 and I (also female) am 34. We share an apartment and consider ourselves best friends. We’ve both had bad luck with relationships, and I had quietly given up on either of us marrying. But in the past few months she has finally found love and is now engaged. And I’m having a very hard time dealing with it.

I can’t stand to be around her fiancé. I don’t have any actual objection to him — no red flags, he seems like a good person who really loves my sister. I know that I’m just projecting all of my fears and insecurities about the situation onto him. Maybe it would help if his personality meshed better with mine, but he’s boisterous and loud and irritatingly familiar, while I’m a quiet, reserved introvert. We have no interests in common and fairly different values. It breaks my heart because my sister and I have always been so close, and now the most important person in her life is going to be this man that I cannot imagine being friends with. He gets along great with the rest of the family; I’m the only one who seems to be struggling with the situation.

I know it hurts my sister that I haven’t been welcoming to him. I really am so glad that she’s happy, and I’m actually excited about the wedding because it’s her wedding! I just can’t get through a conversation with the groom without wanting to run away and cry. I have talked to my sister about my fear that she won’t have room for me in her life anymore, and she promises that isn’t true, but I’m still scared. And there are other things, too, that she can’t control — like whether I can support myself alone (I definitely can’t keep our apartment) and the likelihood that I’ll be the spinster aunt alone when I thought we would at least have each other. It’s all pretty upsetting for me and every bit of it is channeling into resentment of her fiancé. I don’t know how to change my feelings or deal with them. What can you advise?

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Dear Captain,

This seems like a very minor thing to be asking for help with, I know. But I feel like even if there’s no solution to my “problem”, getting the input of a bunch of neutral parties (particularly neutral parties with solid understandings of boundaries) would make me feel better, and if you feel like this letter is a waste of time you can just delete it, no harm done.

I do not own pets, for a number of reasons. I feel like it shouldn’t matter, but in case it does, in no particular order those reasons are: 1) My husband is deathly allergic to cats/dogs. 2) My husband very explicitly does not want pets even if he wasn’t allergic. 3) I have had pets in the past and found that no amount of wanting to be a good pet owner changes the fact that I am not a good pet owner (I am not patient, consistent, or stable enough). 4) I am an extremely high strung (or anxious) person, and being in a constant state of panic (did pet just eat something they shouldn’t have!? Is pet sick!? What if their collar slips off while I’m walking them!? If I go to a dog park, what if pet runs away and I can’t catch them!?!) would be awful for both me and the pet. 5) I’ve now lived for a couple of years with no pets, and oh my goodness, I have learned to love not having fur everywhere so much.

I have 2 adult sisters, who have 2 dogs each. They are very much the “this dog is my baby” sort of people. They consistently ask me to care for their dogs while they go on vacation (which happens several times a year each). Years ago, I almost always acquiesced. When I moved in with my husband, however, I mostly stopped agreeing to pet-sit. I cannot bring the dogs to my place because my husband is allergic, so pet-sitting always requires driving 30 minutes across town, several times a day, or straight up living at their house for however many days they’re gone. In addition, these dogs are not well trained. The dogs are extremely food aggressive, they get into fights, they beg, they jump on people, they destroy furniture, etc. etc. etc. Hiring a professional would be too expensive, they say, although I also feel like part of the problem may be that a professional would not accept caring for aggressive dogs.

I have made it clear that I do not want to pet-sit. But they keep asking, piling on the guilt any time I say no. I am, at this point, known for being a terrible, selfish sister because I won’t take care of their dogs. I do not work, so they point out that they’re willing to pay me, and I have plenty of free time, so there’s no reason I can’t pet sit for them. I have turned them down several times this year, but yesterday my sister came over to “catch up and chat”. Turns out, that was just an excuse to ask me in person to pet sit for 4 days while she and my other sister went to Vegas together for a holiday vacation. She knew I wouldn’t be able to say no in person, and she was right. Now I am pet sitting next week. I guess I have a few questions for you and your commenters: Am I in the wrong for turning them down just because I do not want to pet-sit, when they’ve offered to pay me and I do have the free time ? Obviously I and my husband are pretty biased and think I shouldn’t have to regularly take on responsibilities because someone else has pets, but it seems like every pet owner we know disagrees and thinks we are just selfish, lazy people. (As a side note, I have no problems helping them with non-pet related things; I regularly edit resumes and help with landscaping projects and help decorate for parties, so it’s not like I’m refusing to ever lend a hand with anything.) Are there any scripts you could recommend for saying ‘no’ to favors for family, especially when saying no means potentially ruining major plans for them? And finally, is this just a thing I need to get over and stop being annoyed at (people are always going to ask for favors you don’t want to do, and you’re always going to be considered the bad guy if you turn them down, too bad, so sad, stop complaining)?

Thank you so much for your time,
Not a Willing Pet Sitter

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Dear Captain Awkward,

My brother died suddenly in an accident in May. He was my only full sibling. The only sibling I grew up with and lived with. I also have 3 older half siblings from my father’s first marriage- we’re not super close, we see each other at holidays and text quarterly updates. After the funeral, I had to plan my wedding happening just 8 weeks after my brother’s death. The trouble starts when I am texting with T (the oldest half sister) and say that I am having a hard time because my mother is emotionally unavailable due to her grief. T has a tense relationship with my mother and uses this moment to tell me how unreasonably angry my mother was acting when she last saw her. I am LIVID and stop responding. T says “sorry, it just made her sad.” I lose a day of wedding planning to being angry and trying to figure out how to respond. I give up and send no reply.

In the following weeks, T sends a message explaining her behaviour and then tells me that I am acting unacceptably. I tell her that I need some time and space. My other sister K is sent to get some answers and I tell her to mind her own business. T gives me 10 days and then tells me I’m being abusive and I’m just mad because her siblings are alive and mine is dead, that everyone was at her wedding and my brother won’t be at mine. She doesn’t want to come to my wedding because she’s not sure if I even love her anymore. I tell her that needing space was about me not her. At this time she also makes a plea to my parents to get them to make me talk with her- they say she should just leave me alone. My father sobs and begs T to attend the wedding.

At the wedding, T shows up late and leaves early. I generally avoid them and have a fine time. After the wedding she blocks me and my parents on facebook and gets her husband and mother to do the same. I text T that I am available to talk now, but understand if she needs space. No response. I text K and say apologize for being snappy and telling her to mind her own business. She blasts back demanding I take responsibility for everything – for making my “wedding into a battle ground”, shattering all of the relationships, and “single handedly tearing our grieving family apart”. I’m at a loss. Am I selfish? Are they? How much of this is my fault? Should I just cut my losses? Help?

-One wedding and a funeral

(Preferred pronouns she-her)

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Hi Captain Awkward,

So here’s my situation (long, apologies): I have one younger sister who I see pretty infrequently, as I live on the East Coast and she attends school in the Midwest (our hometown is also in the Midwest). We bickered quite a bit growing up and are fairly different people to this day, but as we’ve gotten older (and started living in separate homes) we’ve managed to get along better and like each other more. We talk on the phone fairly regularly (once or twice a week) and when we are in the same place we’ll do coffee, shopping, drinks, etc.

Since we see each other so infrequently (Thanksgiving, winter holidays and usually sometime during the summer) I’ve expressed to her that it would be awesome if she could come and visit me. I live in a major city with lots of free, fun things to do. Flights from our hometown aren’t super cheap, but they aren’t prohibitively expensive either. A summer or two ago I offered to chip in for a flight but we weren’t able to work it out.

I’ve been here 6 years and she’s come to visit all of one time, two years ago (pretty sure our parents purchased the ticket). This bums me out and I’ve told her so (sometimes in a relatively mature way, other times a bit passive aggressively). The main reasons for her inability to visit have boiled down to 1) finances, 2) work schedule and 3) long distance relationship.

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Dear Captain Awkward, I would like some advice about a difficult family relationship.

My sister C’s been stuck in a loop for several years. She thinks that she’s worthless and that everyone hates her, so she spends most of her time at the computer instead of going out and doing things and meeting people, and this (“I never go out and do anything! I don’t have any friends!”) somehow becomes more proof of how worthless she is. And it’s as if every interaction with other people becomes hugely magnified to her because of this – if a stranger gives her an odd look she’ll analyze it for days and take it as proof that everyone really despises her.

This also makes her hard to live with, since it’s so hard to avoid hurting her feelings. She gets upset if someone else 1) doesn’t listen with sufficient interest when she’s telling them the latest news about her favourite celebrity, 2) says something mildly critical about something she likes (like a book or movie), or 3) accidentally uses a slightly brusque tone or a “cold” facial expression. Then she either cries, sulks or tells the offender at length what an unkind and inconsiderate person they are. If the offender gets visibly angry or asks her to stop doing this, she hears this as “You’re a horrible person and I hate you!”

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The Emperor

"So....you have a twin sister..."

Dear Captain Awkward,

I currently have a kind of weird situation going on with my sister that I really don’t know how to deal with. My parents and I are estranged, and after many years of denial and telling myself that it was always my fault (when in fact, it never was, it was just abuse that I was chalking up to my “parents loving me”) and countless hours of very expensive therapy to get me to the mental Promised Land, I have realized the danger my sister is in.

She lives very close to my parents, both of which are very controlling and constantly manipulative and emotionally and mentally abusive. My father, especially, feels the need to meddle in everyone’s life, and always try to “one up” people with his resume of great accomplishments and how much money he makes. He recently decided that I wasn’t good enough to talk to anymore (almost verbatim said this) and the only thing I can deduce is he hates that he is not in control.

Additionally, this means that I have to have an issue with my sister. She’s constantly thrown in the middle, or feels the need to place herself in the middle and whenever there is an “issue” with my parents, there is seemingly a problem with her. I kind of want to shake her by the shoulders and tell her to get the hell away from them and try to find her own place in life with her husband, but it’s seemingly impossible. I know I can’t tell her what to do, or offer her advice when she’s not seeking it, but things are getting very strained, and we were doing so well at starting an adult relationship.

I’ve noticed also that when she is not surrounded by our parents, that she behaves much differently. At my wedding last month, she kind of made a “joke” in front of everyone when I mentioned that one of my best friends is going to be the usher for a bigger ceremony my husband and I are doing this year, and she practically yelled in the restaurant, “Oh really? I didn’t know that. I just thought Usher was an R&B singer!” To which there was nothing but awkward silence and me really trying not to stab her in the face with a fork.

Could you by any chance offer some advice in how to handle the situation without stepping on her toes? She’s very protective of our parents and feels that a life without a close relationship with your parents isn’t a life at all. I’ve realized that this is just something that has been beaten into us since we were little, and I really don’t want to tell her that I *don’t* want a relationship with her.

Sincerely,
Desperately Seeking Sister

Dear Desperately Seeking,

Oh man, your letter kept me up last night.

Let me address the small , easy stuff first:   Here at Captain Awkward Dot Com we can’t get behind getting all Stabby McForkInEye at your sister because she once blurted out something that sounded much funnier in her head.  When people are nervous or uncomfortable, they blurt.  They laugh at inappropriate times, and then they try to stifle that laughter, so it turns into more of a strangled bleat, and the strain of suppressing the laughter makes them fart. They pull a pen out of their purse to hand it to you, except it’s not a pen, it’s a tampon.  This is a safe space for blurts, farts, giggling in church, and inadvertent tampons.

When this happened, were you embarrassed FOR her (Oh man, my poor sister, she doesn’t know anyone here and was just too hip for the room) or BY her (Oh man, now all my friends will see what a n00b my sister is)?  Be honest with yourself about this, and then cut your sister some slack.  Of course in my family, “cutting slack” might involve staged retellings of the joke for the next 20 years and also calling into the local radio station to dedicate Usher songs to each other on birthdays and anniversaries, but do what feels right to you.

Now, the hard stuff.  It’s below the cut because it is full of stuff like photos of Bret Michaels and descriptions of abuse.  This has been your trigger warning. Read More