DEAR AMY: My aunt has struggled with alcoholism, depression, medical problems and financial problems, and is in the throes of a bitter divorce. She does not have any children, and when I was a young adult, she and I were close.
I have always done my best to be supportive of her, and a year ago I traveled to help her out when no one else in the family would.
During that trip, she lied to me and was at times verbally and emotionally abusive. Nonetheless, because she is family, I have continued to help her out from a distance.
I know that she has continued to call me names and say mean things about me to other relatives and friends, while to my face she pretends to be kind and nice.
I really don't want to have much to do with her anymore, and prefer to keep her at arm's length by sending cards and e-mails.
This is apparently not good enough, however, and she insists on talking by phone. She has no boundaries on the timing and length of her calls, which are an imposition on me.
She now says she has a New Year's resolution to "keep more in touch" by phone.
How can I get her to stop calling me?
— Fed Up
DEAR FED UP: You don't say if you have ever given your aunt the benefit of hearing how her behavior affects you.
You should do your best to draw firm and honest boundaries with her. If she doesn't respect these boundaries, then you will have to adjust how much contact you are willing to have with her.
Explain that your own New Year's resolution involves you spending less — not more — time on the phone.
After that, screen her calls. Let her leave a message, and return the contact when (or if) you choose.
DEAR AMY: I have been married for 17 years and we have two great kids, ages 9 and 11. I fell out of love with my husband several years ago.
I have not told him this because I don't want to hurt him, and I don't feel right about ending the marriage right now because it would hurt the kids. But every day I have an ache inside me because I know I'm not happy in this marriage.
I would be willing to try counseling, but we actually get along fairly well.
I'm torn between sparing my family any pain and my secret sadness that I'm not living an authentic life.
There must be other people out there in this situation. Is there a solution, or does it just come down to a choice between being selfish versus being unhappy?
— Secretly Unhappy
DEAR UNHAPPY: I venture that your feelings of dissatisfaction and ennui are common — certainly at midlife. Your desire to live a life you see as "authentic" is laudable. So is your concern about how your choices will affect your family.
However, aside from leaving your marriage, you don't seem to have a goal in sight.
Therapy may not bring you back into love with your husband, but talking with a compassionate therapist would definitely help you to explore the terrain of your life and map out your future.
Therapy will also help you to frame ways to discuss this with your husband. You should start by seeing a counselor on your own.
DEAR AMY: My wife and I were married in 1968, divorced in 1972 and lived apart for six months before getting back together. We remarried in 1978 and have been happy ever since.
My wife has always wanted to celebrate the 1968 anniversary, but I have two sisters who take issue with us, saying we've been married for 31 years instead of 41 years. One sister has made remarks that have almost ended our relationship.
I know I can't change my sisters' attitudes, and I refuse to go against my wife's wishes.
Is there a resolution to this situation?
— Troubled in Vancouver
DEAR TROUBLED: The resolution to this problem lies in your ability to remember to whom you are married.
Your relationship with your wife is the one you are celebrating. Your sisters' views on how to count the years are immaterial. Ignore them.
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