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Sympathy is wearing thin for needy, demanding friend

Published: Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012 10:33 a.m. CDT

DEAR ABBY: How can I set healthy boundaries with my best friend without feeling guilty? I have always been supportive and available because I sympathized with her difficult family dynamics during childhood and adulthood. She often talks to me about her problems with family and ever-changing relationships with men but rarely allows me or others to share their points of view or personal concerns. Saying “no” to her is challenging under any circumstance, and she demands that all focus be on her in social situations.

I love and accept my friend as she is, and I try to give her all the grace I have. I now realize that setting healthy boundaries is the only way I can sustain our friendship. I know this dynamic may put a strain on our relationship, so why do I feel so guilty? — TESTED IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

DEAR TESTED: That’s a good question, and one that I can’t definitively answer for you. It’s possible that like many women, you were raised to believe that if you assert yourself you won’t be considered “nice.” That’s a mistake because as long as you allow this friend to take advantage of you — and that is what she’s doing — the more your resentment will build until the relationship becomes one of diminishing returns. So tell this self-centered person as nicely as possible that you are not a therapist, and because her problems persist, she should talk to one.

DEAR ABBY: I was shocked the other day when a friend of mine said that many women remain in terrible marriages because of finances. She said those types of marriages are accepted worldwide, so why not in America? She also said she thinks that shame is attached if a woman admits the only reason she is staying with her husband is a monetary one.

The women she was talking about are baby boomers and older. After thinking about it, I remember my mother and mother-in-law saying that money was why they remained in their marriages. Is this as prevalent as my friend stated? I find it sad that this could be true. It reminds me of the Tina Turner song — what’s love got to do with it? Could you comment, please? — IN IT FOR LOVE

DEAR IN IT: If you’re asking if I have statistics on the number of women who stay married only for economic reasons, the answer is no. Most of the people who write to me are unhappy, which would skew the numbers in a negative direction. I hope you realize that the women you have described — an older demographic — were probably not economically independent when they married. It was common in their generation to go straight from their parents’ houses to their husbands’. For many years I — and my mother before me — have urged women to make sure they are self-supporting before they marry, “just in case” they may have to be afterward.

Staying in a marriage without love is like serving a life sentence with an incompatible cellmate. Your mother and mother-in-law have my sympathy, and so do their husbands.

DEAR ABBY: Do you ever get tired of giving advice to people who ask commonsense questions, or those who probably know the answer to their problems if they just thought it out? — JIM IN WEST VIRGINIA

DEAR JIM: The answer to your question is no. I love what I do and consider it an honor to be trusted. While the reply to a question may be obvious to you, it isn’t to the person who asks me. Common sense tends to go out the window when there are strong emotions involved.

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