Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

21-Year-Old's Family Concerned About Drinking

DEAR HARRIETTE: My sister constantly complains to me about her boyfriend. Whenever they get into an argument, she runs back to me and accuses him of awful actions, which makes me feel negatively about him. Then a few days later, she'll get back with him as if nothing ever happened.

My sister gets confused about why my attitude toward her boyfriend is negative, and I tell her it’s because of the things she tells me. She recently explained that her venting is all about getting someone on her side for the moment while releasing her frustrations. I want to be supportive, but I also want her to stop venting and taking me on her own toxic emotional roller coaster. -- In the Middle

DEAR IN THE MIDDLE: You have to stand up for yourself. Stop your sister the next time she starts complaining about her boyfriend. Tell her that you cannot listen anymore because it is too difficult for you to experience the roller coaster of emotions that she dumps on you. Tell your sister that you love her and want her to be happy, but you are not able to be the dumping ground for her emotional challenges with her boyfriend.

To enforce this new position, you may literally have to end a conversation by saying goodbye and hanging up the phone or walking out of the room. If you stop listening entirely, she will eventually get the message that she cannot use you in this way.

(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)