Dear Annie: I live in a close-knit neighbourhood of eight young couples. Naturally, there is some gossip, so we feel personally involved in situations that may not be our business.
How do you help someone whose wife says she is leaving (although she is still living there)? She claims to have no feelings for her husband, refuses counselling, belittles him for getting counselling, won’t discuss the problems, and prefers to hang out with single friends and act like a teenager. They have four beautiful kids, whom we are now helping to take care of so she can play.
This couple has no family nearby. They are both dear friends in their late 20s, and neither is innocent in creating the problems they now have. What can we say to help ease the burden when they ask for answers and there are none? We all read your column and discuss it, so maybe everyone involved will see themselves and take appropriate action. — Caring Neighbours
Dear Caring: Many people in that situation don’t want advice. They want to be heard and have their position validated. You can do this by being a sympathetic but neutral listener, while encouraging each of them to talk to a professional to see whether the marriage can be improved — for the sake of their children, if for no other reason. Children need stability. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness. It indicates having the courage to face the hard problems and learn how to deal with them.
Dear Annie: I’m 61 years old and my two remaining sisters are not speaking to each other. “Elsa” is married, but “Lois” is single and has never liked Elsa’s husband.
Two years ago, our older sister, the one who kept peace in the family, suddenly died. Soon after the funeral, Lois wrote a very hateful letter to Elsa, saying she’d ruined 19 years of Christmases, didn’t like her husband and never wanted to speak to her again.
However, Elsa still gives me US$100 to buy Lois birthday and Christmas presents, but asks that I not mention who they are from. Needless to say, Lois thinks I’m really giving her great gifts. Any bright ideas on how I can get these two hardheads to talk to each other again? — Tired of Being in the Middle
Dear Tired: First, stop taking credit for Elsa’s gifts to Lois. Either tell Lois who is really being so generous, or stop accepting the job of go-between. As long as you act as enabler, they can avoid fixing the problem.
But you can still be a temporary facilitator and mediator. Talk to Lois first.
Tell her she doesn’t have to like Elsa’s husband in order to have a relationship with her sister, and that life’s too short to throw away family members who love you.
Ask if she would meet you and Elsa (no husband) at a local coffee shop. If she agrees, approach Elsa with the same offer, set it up and help them keep the conversation civil. If they refuse, the best you can do is stay out of it.
Dear Annie: I am responding to the suggestion of donating sample shampoos and conditioners to women’s shelters. I work in a homeless shelter, and although this is a fantastic idea, we often get big bags of donated personal care items that are either from the 1970s or half used.
Please remind your readers that dates on the items should be fairly current, and not to send us the dredges of items they enjoyed using most of.
We just end up throwing all of it out, which increases our garbage bill. Thank you. — Sheltered
Dear Sheltered: People often mistakenly believe their leftovers are still usable for someone else.
Please, folks, we know you mean well, but don’t donate your trash. It is neither wanted nor appreciated.
Annie’s Mailbox is written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, longtime editors of the Ann Landers column. Please e-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to: Annie’s Mailbox, P.O. Box 118190, Chicago, IL 60611.