Sisterly Signals Crossed

By Annie Lane

February 9, 2020 5 min read

Dear Annie: I'm 68; my sister is 66. We live far apart. She prefers talking on the phone. I prefer texting with her.

When we text, it's a back-and-forth conversation. When we talk on the phone, she talks; I listen. She dumps all her stress, problems and anxiety on me for an hour and says the same things over and over. I have tried to not absorb her feelings, but after our conversations, I'm usually frustrated and upset. My reaction is to offer suggestions to make her happier. But she hates that. She just wants to dump.

In the past, when she did this with our mother, Mom put down the phone and let my sister go on and on without listening to the "dump."

Once, in person (yes, she does this in person, too), I told her that I feel like she doesn't know me because she doesn't ask about me or listen to what I say. At first, she was mad at me for saying that, but later started asking, "How are you?" That's not what I meant; I want a real interaction — a back-and-forth conversation.

Obviously, we communicate differently. Now she has refused to text with me. She only wants to talk on the phone. I feel like I can't take any more. How do I take care of myself and keep my sister? — An Earful

Dear Earful: To quote the ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus, "We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak." More than 2,000 years later, it seems that most people still haven't gotten the memo. What a shame for your sister to go through life a verbal dump truck. Her compulsive need to talk likely deprives her of richer relationships, growth and personal development.

But to her credit, she did at least try to course-correct when you brought it up (after some initial defensiveness). This tells me that she's open to feedback. Express to her again your desire for more equitable conversation. Don't hesitate to gently point it out when she starts unloading. And if all else fails, limit your phone calls with her to once per week or however much you can manage.

Dear Annie: Regarding "Wedding Present Problems," who wrote to you about a couple who split up after just one month of marriage: I think that if a couple split as soon as this couple did, they should return the gifts to the givers. The couple described in the letter were living with their respective parents, and all the houseware items they were given from their registry were never used. That's just my two cents. — Krista

Dear Krista: I agree that returning the gifts would be the most gracious way for the couple to handle this unfortunate situation. Let's hope the couple in question sees it that way, as well.

Dear Annie: I am a huge, lifelong fan of your column in all its iterations, but I am worried that your recent response to "Younger Self" is too simplistic and that it suggests that healing and moving forward requires them to gain perspective on their abuse by understanding their parents better. Empirically supported conceptual paradigms suggest that the most important thing for the letter writer would be to understand that their abuse and neglect were wrong and that it was not in any way their fault or under their control. As an aside, it may be that the writer's expressed guilt is protective and it prevents them from potential triggering. Trauma-informed psychotherapy is the gold standard in the field for moving forward and it is multidimensional and multifaceted. Thanks for all you to do promote health and happiness among your readers. — Janine S.

Dear Janine: And thank you for articulating these nuances, which I'm printing for "Younger Self" and anyone else who's struggling to process past abuse from their parents.

"Ask Me Anything: A Year of Advice From Dear Annie" is out now! Annie Lane's debut book — featuring favorite columns on love, friendship, family and etiquette — is available as a paperback and e-book. Visit for more information. Send your questions for Annie Lane to [email protected]

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