Can You Fix a Relationship If the Other Person Stops Trying?
When it comes to good advice, Jessica Lanyadoo has it in spades. The Mission’s resident psychic/astrologer/badass gets booked months in advance by San Franciscans seeking help with everything from figuring out their love lives to communicating with their pets. So we asked Jessica if she’d come on board to do a weekly advice column, Truth Talk, for The Bold Italic. If you have a burning question for Truth Talk with Jessica Lanyadoo, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, and check back on Wednesdays to see if she has an answer for you.
My older sister hasn't talked with me or invited me to family events for six years and won't tell me why after innumerable letters. She says she doesn't want to talk about it. We had to see each other at my nephew's wedding. I tried to engage with her and she walked away. After that she got breast cancer and contacted me. So I responded. I did what I could for her during her surgery from a distance. She seemed content with my response to her needs. We had been staying connected by phone, until recently. In all our calls I listened to what was going on with her health, work, and family. Last time we were on the phone I attempted to share a little from my life, and she immediately wanted to get off the phone and we have not spoken since. How do you have relationship with people who won't tell you what they feel or need? I am not sure where to go from here. Any ideas?
I’m so sorry, CT. It sounds like you have done your best (and then some) to heal things with your sister, who won’t meet you in what seems like a pretty damn reasonable middle by the simple act of communicating. Yuck.
She has, however, made it clear over the span of six whole years that she is unwilling to be communicative, respectful of your needs, or emotionally generous towards you. She has been consistently alienating and punishing. It may be unclear why she’s doing all this, but what I’m more fascinated by is why you keep on coming back for more? I have a hard time believing that this dynamic wasn’t already in place on some level before she decided to push you away. The problem with taking on the role as the long-suffering victim, CT, is that others will step forward to act as a perpetrator for you. Stop playing out your role and the dynamic has to change. If you demand to be treated with respect, you will either force her hand and make her step up, or it’ll end things altogether. I understand that she is your sister and you want things to work, but with sisters like yours, who needs enemies?
In love and war there is wisdom and grace in turning the other cheek, but we have only two cheeks (four if you want to get technical), and you’re way over quota. There’s a meaningful difference between showing compassion and letting someone walk all over you. At what point did you start turning away from your own needs in order to keep up your relationship with your sister? Because that’s what’s happening, and has been happening for years. A healthy relationship should never require you to abandon yourself.
If you want to know the secret to dealing with someone who won’t tell you what they feel or need, here it is, CT: you can’t.
Whatever you did – and it’s clear that in your sister’s mind you did some terrible thing – it wasn’t conscious. I don’t know your situation, but I can only assume that somewhere along the way you hurt her feelings. What she is doing, however, is on purpose, and without any expression of remorse or humility. I am pretty outraged by her treatment of you, but you don’t seem to be. Why do you want a relationship with a person who treats you this way? You can’t fix a relationship that your counterpart doesn’t want fixed. Relationships are a two-way street, and if one person is expecting the other to put in all the effort, it’ll never work. Period. Stop trying to take 100% responsibility for a situation that you can only control 50% of. You shouldn’t need a psychic to have a relationship with someone you love!
So let go, CT. Let go of trying to make your sister change, and of trying to convince her that you’re a good person who’s worthy of her kindness. It’s time to show your self some and walk away. Losing her can’t be worse than what you’ve got now. It’s time to accept your situation so you can move on from it. And who knows? Maybe change will happen from there.