Ask Amy Amy Dickinson, Ask Amy

Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.

DEAR AMY: My sister often shares that she is upset about things I said or did years ago — sometimes decades ago. Her pain is real, but I honestly don’t remember the events she is referencing. These are often small interactions — for instance, that I didn’t lend her a sweater 23 years ago. I’m not comfortable apologizing for something I don’t remember. If I offer an apology that I’m sorry she’s upset, it’s not good enough because it doesn’t apologize for my actions. If I say I cannot remember, she says that I don’t need to, that I should trust her memory of the events and apologize profusely. And, if I don’t, she’ll stop speaking to me, often for many months, with conditions attached for when I may call or contact her. For instance, when I disregarded her instructions and sent her a birthday card, she told me I was “disrespectful.” It’s a vicious cycle of Apologize for Years Ago/Prolonged Silence. Is there a way to break this cycle, or is it out of my control? Is it reasonable to always listen and only engage in apologies if I remember the infraction? How much time is reasonable for a person to process how they’re feeling before they share they are upset? Is it disrespectful of me to make my own decisions about cards/presents?

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

DEAR BETWEEN: Your sister is a difficult and challenging person, and if you want to have a relationship with her (are you sure you do?), you will have to engage in equal measures of patience and persistence.

This interpersonal game she’s playing is one that requires two players.

I suggest that you do whatever you want to do from here on out, as long as it is respectful. Before fulfilling any demand, ask yourself, “Do I want to do this? Is this in my best interests?” You might choose to tell her, “I’m not playing the apology-game anymore.”

As you alter your reactions, your sister may act out with more ferocity.

If she doesn’t like your behavior, she will have to find a way to cope with it, without insisting that you bend to her will. She is testing you by trying to control you. If she seems overly and persistently unhappy or anxious, you should recommend that she see a counselor, because what ails her is something that you cannot fix.

Read, “Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You,” by Susan Forward and Donna Frazier (1998, William Morrow).

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DEAR AMY: I have been invited to attend a bridal shower for a family member. Rather than register for gifts, this couple (who have two children together) have asked for money to fund their honeymoon, as their household is already established. I anticipate their wedding invitation will have the same request. This seems tacky and very distasteful to me and my spouse. Has the new millennial giving etiquette declined to begging for money? Thanks for your insight.

Baby Boomer

DEAR BABY BOOMER: The practice of giving money to newly married people is very old and quite common in some cultures. This couple is not “begging” for money; they are answering the question that many friends and family members ask, which is, “What can we get you?”

This sort of “registry” has become much more common recently, as tastes and lifestyles have changed. Some couples set up actual honeymoon registries where guests can treat them to specific experiences while they are on their wedding trip. Some ask for honeymoon money and (I assume) pay their utility bill or wedding expenses with it.

If you don’t want to give money to this family, then don’t. Being registered for something specific does not make the registry mandatory — it is merely there to help guide guests toward giving a gift the couple would like to receive.

Dear Amy: “Dad-D-Flat” had a daughter who wanted to stop her piano lessons. I agree with your advice and the music teacher you quoted in your answer to allow the child to stop playing. However I would also suggest the child should have to continue the lessons until the end of the school year. Letting her quit immediately is rewarding her bad behavior. Setting the time limit teaches the child to finish rather than quit.

Experienced Dad

DEAR EXPERIENCED: Excellent advice. Children who want to drop a sport or other extracurricular activity should be prompted to finish out the current season (or sessions), so that stopping is less like quitting, and more like simply not signing up for another session.