Carolyn Hax: Sister with highbrow tastes calls all the shots for the family

DEAR CAROLYN: My only sibling has highbrow tastes and the income to match – a Type-A perfectionist who expects all who cross her path to be likewise. We have aging parents in common.

I have two major concerns. First: How do I deal with all the events she plans for them and then wants me to help finance and execute to her standards? She assigns me tasks and I find myself wanting to say no, but I also have to keep good relations due to our parents. I do push back, but not as much as I’d like. I feel I’m taken advantage of and not respected for the low-key lifestyle I chose.

Second: She’s all alone, after several failed marriages. I’m her only family and I really don’t want to associate with her anymore. Do I abandon her when I no longer have my parents?

Amazingly, she’s very family oriented in her own way.

– Anonymous

DEAR ANONYMOUS: It’s so sad – yet understandable, and quite common – that the first resort when dealing with a difficult person is to play along, play along, play along … until the opportunity presents itself to just wash your hands of the person entirely.

It’s tempting for obvious reasons: What makes people difficult is their poor behavior when confronted with anything they don’t want to hear, and so of course the people around them will want to avoid such confrontations. Playing along is the short-term avoidance strategy and hand-washing the long-term strategy.

But, while some relationships have damage that exceeds their value, and the only sensible answer is to declare them totaled, that’s a last resort, not a first – especially when you’re dealing with a family member whose emotional problems clearly are internal and therefore with everyone, not just you.

The answer that makes sense is for you to decide how far you’re willing to go to accommodate your sister’s insecurities, draw that line clearly for her, and then politely decline to cross it.

Say you have a budget and don’t budge it. You can do this while your parents are alive and continue it after they’re gone.

What you do need to worry about is the right balance between indulging your sister to protect your parents and standing up to her to protect yourself. I’d say you’re out of balance, because you’re in effect borrowing against your future relationship with your sib to preserve the illusion of harmony now. If you think about what your parents want, surely it’s for your bond with your sister to survive them.