DEAR AMY: I have a sister I love dearly, except for one thing: She is a total pushover when it comes to her kids. Her oldest son is 38 years old, lives at home, has no job, runs all night and sleeps all day.
He has three children by two women that he is not supporting in any way. Lately, he has brought a new girlfriend into the mix, her new baby (by another man) and her dog that pees all over the house. My sister has a daughter (32 years old) who also lives there with her daughter and her dog as well. And my sister has a dog.
None of these ingrates contributes to the household expenses. We have the same conversation over and over again, and I just can't do it anymore. She refuses to throw anybody out, especially now with the weather getting cold.
I say make them responsible for themselves. I have tried all the avenues I can think of to help. I just hate how they take advantage of her, but I hate even more how she lets them. Any advice? — Disappointed Sister
DEAR DISAPPOINTED: Your sister has it within her power to live her life completely differently, but she is making choices every single day that put her at the center of this dysfunctional, chaotic household. You need to assume that despite what she may say to you, her family system is cranking along pretty much the way she has designed it to, and that this pattern goes way back to her kids' childhoods.
You don't actually say if your sister is unhappy with this state of affairs or if you are mainly unhappy for her. The only thing you need to do differently is to stop having the same conversation over and over. I give you permission to stop offering solutions that she has no intention of enacting.
You can be her concerned and loving sibling simply by responding: "I'm so sorry you're unhappy and frustrated. This sounds really tough." Do not offer one more suggestion until she says these words: "I can't do this. I want my life to be different. Please help?!" Then you can pull out all the sisterly stops to advise and assist.
DEAR AMY: My ex-wife and I split about a year ago because she had an affair, and now I have deep trust issues.
My fear of being hurt again and the lack of trust has caused me to push my girlfriend away multiple times. I want to be a better person, the person I used to be, but every time I have a chance to prove it I squander the moment.
I'm afraid that it may be too late, but I want this relationship to work. What can I do to change my behavior and prove myself to her? — Sad and Stuck
DEAR STUCK: The solution for you lies partly in making conscious and rational choices not to make your girlfriend pay for someone else's behavior.
You say you want to prove yourself to your girlfriend, but the person who really needs proof that you are worthy of lasting love is you. You can "behave" your way out of this by moving slowly and having successful experiences with your girlfriend that you both feel good about.
You've been out of your tough marriage for only one year. Tell your girlfriend that you want your relationship with her to work out. Ask for her patience as you learn how to make the choice to trust again. Trust is the greatest gift, but first you'll have to really believe that you are worthy of this treasure. And then you'll give it to yourself.
DEAR AMY: I sighed when I read the letter from "Powerless Partner," who has a divisive, controlling mother-in-law. Boy, did that sound familiar! My mother played all sorts of manipulative games around the holidays, and once I figured out that I didn't need to twist myself into a pretzel to please her, we all settled down. — Been There
DEAR BEEN THERE: It's hard to be calm, firm and resolute — but it works!
(Send questions via e-mail to askamytribune.com or by mail to Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611. Amy Dickinson's memoir, "The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, a Daughter and the Town that Raised Them" (Hyperion), is available in bookstores.)