General Etiquette > Family and Children

I'm running out of sympathy and tired of listening to the venting

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My sister is in an unhappy marriage. Her marriage has broken down to the point where they only communicate to argue. She has tried to work on their issues for over 4 years (with therapists) only to be told time and time again from him that she has mental issues and she needs to change. He finds no fault at all in himself. Her children are growing up in a very caustic environment and have begun to display aggressive and confrontational behavior. I have been a sympathetic ear for years and have tried to be the support she needs. However, I am quickly coming to the end of my patience. I'm tired of every single conversation being about her marital problems. If I try to bean dip and then talk about anything else, she'll find a way to get it back to her or she'll end the conversation. I have asked her how much more she's going to take but she never has an answer. And I have secretly wondered if she stays because she likes the attention her misery garners. So, what is the etiquette of cutting off someone who is in need of emotional support? What do I say? How do I approach this?

This is a tough situation that doesn't have a hard and fast answer because so much depends on what outcome you want.  Here is what I would do (which may or may not be what you should do depending on what outcome you are comfortable with):

I would bluntly tell her that you cannot be her sympathetic ear any longer because she seems to not be helped by your attempts to comfort/counsel her and her misery is dragging you down.  She will likely be angry and turn against you, but that doesn't mean you have done anything wrong.  Yes, she needs emotional support, but it cannot be from you any longer because YOU are starting to need emotional support simply due to the strain and stress she is bringing into your life. 

Take care of yourself and let her know that you would love to be able to help her but since you apparently are not able to, you need to disengage.

Best wishes!

Ah, the martyr.  I had a very close friend who was the same way.  She had an incredibly disfuntional relationship.  She would cry and vent constantly about it.  It was the only time she called me.  F
inally I told her that as much as I loved her, I had given her all of the advice that I could give.  She could either do something about the situation, or she could continue to complain and do nothing, however if she chose to do nothing then I was no longer available to hear the venting.  She tried a few more times, but I repeated that if she wasnt going to do anything to change the situation, then I did not want to hear about it.  She eventually stopped coming to me about her relationship.  She found new people to vent to, but never made any change to the relationship.  I decided she must be getting something out of the sympathy she received.

"You already know what I think. Let's talk about something else."

There's a difference between "needs support" and "refuses to take any steps forward" and I think she's over it.

I went through a situation like this with my sister.  It's hard.  You have my sympathy.  Mostly I started pulling back.  I'd put a limit on how long I would listen, and then I'd end the conversation.  I wouldn't call her, I let her call me.  Gradually, I worked the time down to less and less. When she finally asked, I told her I loved her, but I couldn't help her with the situation, and that while I was always there if she needed something food/shelter/ gas, the constant barrage was bad for me and I could only imagen how bad it was for her. 

She wasn't  thrilled, but we still have a good relationship.  She got a divorce and moved on.  And I honestly think making her deal with it on her own, and not just complain to me, helped her finally take action.  Although at the time I felt terrible. 



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