Dear Amy: For about six years, I have been the phone support for someone in remission from stage four cancer. She was a friend who included me in this tough and sad news from the first.
Her personal situation includes not only her illness, but an autistic child at home, as well as a husband who is bipolar. All of this is further complicated by ostracism from her remaining family. She is isolated.
I have been patient and loyal, often listening to erratic rants and her problems at odd hours when I was worn out. In the last year, her changing plans have wreaked havoc with my schedule, culminating in a series of bad communications during the holiday season, when I typically struggle not to be depressed.
When I explained how this upset me, I was blasted and insulted. Despite some guilt, I want to distance myself. Don’t those who support deserve some modicum of respect? What is your take on this sad situation?
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Dear Carolina: My take is that your friend is stressed to the limits of her endurance.
“Ring Theory” suggests that the person under the most emergency duress (your friend) is at the center of a set of concentric circles. You (and any other intimates) would be on the next circle and more distant relationships along outer rings.
The shorthand for understanding ring theory is, “Comfort in, venting out.” Those on outer circles send their comfort toward the center. (You’ve been doing this.)
The person in the center pretty much gets to vent and rail and view their own situation with what might seem like selfish magnification.
You comfort her, she vents to you and you vent to someone in an outer ring (me, for instance).
This explains the dynamic. However, six years of playing by the ring theory rules is a very long time.
Even people in extremis deserve to know that their behavior affects others. Being honest with her is one way of conveying, “You matter.” (Walking away, or ghosting her, is a way of saying, “You don’t matter.”)
You are justified in distancing yourself now, but if you back away, you should also tell her why. This would give your friend a chance to behave differently toward you. For one thing, it might help to preserve a relationship she needs to have in her life. But also – apologizing to you and asking for forgiveness could soften her hardened heart.
Dear Amy: I have neighbors in my direct backyard who will not leave me, or my family, alone. We have a large, fenced-in backyard and like to spend time outside. Any time we go out with the dog, to do yard work, play with the kids, have friends over, etc., they immediately open up their back door, walk through the gate and come over uninvited.
We used to be nice about it. Now, we’re cold, and go back inside quickly until they leave.
They clearly ignore our signals, and keep coming over.
My wife has stopped going into our yard because she is so annoyed.
We cannot go outside in peace without being bothered by them.
They are nice people. I do not want to hurt their feelings, but I would like them to leave us alone so we can enjoy our backyard without being interrupted every time we spend more than five minutes out there. Any suggestions?
Missing my Backyard
Dear Missing: You will have to be brave enough to express yourself.
Say, “We enjoy being neighbors with you, but we really need you to respect the boundary between our yards. We consider our yard an extension of our house. When we’re in our yard, I’d rather you not come through the gate unless we invite you.”
You could also install some plantings along the fence and put an interior latch on your gate to increase your privacy.
Dear Amy: “Still Struggling” was concerned about his wife’s long-ago sexual assault, as well as how to protect his two daughters.
I had a friend who, years later, went to counseling after such an assault, proving it’s never too late to talk about it. She also took a self-defense class and asked me to join her, for mutual support.
This dad could be an advocate for his daughters if he sits down with them, under the premise of all the recent reporting, and suggests they take a similar class. Who knows, maybe mom would join them.
Dear Been There: I love your suggestion. Thank you.
Email Amy at email@example.com.