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ASK AMY

Old friendship is hotbed of problems and advice

By Amy Dickinson Tribune Content Agency  

Q. I have a lifelong buddy in his 50s. He had a few emotional/family/divorce issues a decade ago and he basically checked out of life. He stopped maintaining his home and business and let his health go. There were years of dysfunctional behavior, borderline hoarding, a bad diet, a disastrous relationship — all of these things overwhelmed him.

During that period, I listened and offered support and advice.

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Two years ago, he announced that he was going to turn things around. He isn’t making much progress and is making some seriously bad decisions. Luckily, he’s financially secure, with a recent large inheritance and no major financial worries.

Now our weekly calls have evolved into hours of him either droning on about how hard he’s working and how smart he is to overcome these self-inflicted problems or complaining about how hard it is to get out of the hole that he dug.

I recommend a solution, and then ask him not to complain. If I continue to offer advice or provide feedback, he gets mad or hangs up on me. Recently he told me he just wants me to provide emotional support. He wants me to listen. But his behavior screams: “I need help.”

How do I bite my tongue to support a guy with a proven history of dysfunction with a know-it-all attitude, who seems unable to deal with day-to-day life and who lacks the self-awareness to see he’s the common denominator in all of his self-inflicted problems?

I want to help but don’t want to listen to him complain.

Tired of Listening

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A. Your friend is not asking for help. You seem to be perennially tempted to leap in and fix — or suggest fixes — but your suggestions fall upon deaf ears. This frustrates you.

Your pal sounds less like a man in need of your help and more like a narcissistic bore. Your interactions seem entirely about him.

If you want to maintain a friendship with him, don’t make suggestions. Don’t cut him off and tell him not to complain. Just don’t. Listen without comment, don’t engage and then — when he has run out of gas — change the subject.

You might be able to rebalance this relationship by focusing on other topics. One way to alter the dynamic would be to actually spend time together (rather than talk by phone), sharing experiences that take both of you outside of your familiar ways of relating.

Q. I have a couple of friends with therapy dogs. I fully support these dogs providing needed support and companionship.

I do, however, expect dogs, whether they are therapy dogs or not, to be well-trained, well-behaved, and clean when they are a guest in my home.

Recently, I’ve had friends with therapy dogs get mad at me when I set limits on their dogs when I was hosting them.

One friend came to my house for dinner with her therapy dog. The dog is very sweet and important to my friend, and I genuinely like the dog. However, the dog had a dirty butt and my friend let her sit on our furniture, let her eat expensive cheese off of our good china at the table, and let her stand on her lap with its butt poised over the dinner table.

She shot us a look of, “How dare you say that!” when we asked that the dog stay on the floor, not beg, and not eat people food. She’s been very distant since then. Do you or any of your readers have advice on the etiquette of interacting with other peoples’ therapy dogs?

Doggy Manners

A. I fail to see what is therapeutic about having a poorly trained dog interfering with your human friendships. To me, this is the opposite of therapeutic.

I think this whole “therapy animal” trend is out of control, and unfortunately this only serves to diminish the important role that trained and sanctioned animals serve for those who truly need them.

You sound exceptionally tolerant. Your expectations are completely reasonable.

Q. “Worried Wife” described the difficult life of living with a hoarder. Please let people know that there are professionals available to help with this. The National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (napo.net) can help people locate an expert organizer.

Organized

A. According to “Worried Wife,” a professional had already been consulted (and rejected). Unfortunately, a person has to welcome help in order to benefit from it. This is one reason hoarding is so resistant to treatment.


Amy Dickinson can be reached at askamy@amydickinson.com.