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Annie's Mailbox

Ask Amy column

Q. My sister’s husband is an alcoholic. He makes halfhearted attempts to get treatment, and then goes on another binge. When he’s drinking and gets verbally abusive, my sister shows up at my place to crash for a few days, until he’s sober again.

This has been going on for years. I love my sister, and I will always be there for her — but I am getting fed up. Whenever she shows up at my door, she says she will leave him. Then she goes back and tells me he has apologized, he’s getting treatment — and then the whole cycle replays itself again and again.

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I know she is “enabling” him by not giving him an ultimatum and not moving out. Am I enabling her by letting her crash on my couch?

A. You are “enabling” your sister. Your availability as a crash pad provides an escape hatch — not only from her domestic emergencies, but also from her anxiety. It also helps her delay making a tougher decision. You, basically, are part of this marriage’s system. If you want out, tell her so. Ask her, “What would you do if I wasn’t here?

Tell her you don’t want to be involved in her marriage anymore and that it’s time for her to find another place to live so she can move out for good. Take her apartment hunting. I don’t think you should turn her away, but you should make it more uncomfortable for her to fall onto your couch.

Q. I’m a girl in high school, and I have a bit of a problem. Last year I was bored and went on a website and ended up meeting this guy (who is my age). We’ve been texting, calling, and Skyping ever since. I really like this guy, but I’ve never actually met him in person, and he lives in a different state. First of all, is it worth having feelings for someone you might not meet for years? I’ve come to look forward to talking to him every day, and don’t know what I’d do if it stopped. I hope he or my parents don’t see this.

A. You almost had me — until your last sentence. There’s nothing wrong with having a long-distance relationship, and it’s increasingly common for people who have never met in person to engage through phone, Facebook, text, and Skype. This particular relationship raises all sorts of red flags (for instance, you likely aren’t able to verify a single thing about each other). It is also impeding your motivation to do the hard work to meet and interact with people in person.

But the most important thing about it is the secrecy. It is wrong to have a secret relationship. It just is.

Q. I was moved by the letter from “Tonya.” She witnessed a man abusing his dog in public.

Your reply brought back a memory from around 1963. One day I was walking on a city street, and I saw a man smack his young child (about 2 years old) across the face twice. I failed to do anything.

Today, even though I am 71, I would flip on my cellphone, hit the 911 button, and call the police and then smack the guy and hold him until the police came to charge him with child endangerment. I have long remembered my failure to act.

A. Thank you for sharing this story. Over the years I have heard from people saying their parents physically abused them and others either witnessed it or knew about it. Their bewilderment about why no one intervened is heartbreaking. Intervening is much easier (and safer) now that it can be done from a distance, by dialing a phone.

Send questions via e-mail to askamy@tribune.com or by mail to Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611.

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