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Dealing with Sister’s Cyclical Relationship

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I’m no longer sure how to deal with sister who is in a cyclical relationship. My sister has been in an on-and-off relationship for the past 2-3 years. The boyfriend seems to be using her for monetary and material reasons and is very manipulative. He tells her that he has spiritual visions of my dead father. I find this extremely offensive. When it comes to my dad, my sister is totally gullible. She truly believes her boyfriend communicates with my dad. This man has never even met my dad. I think my sister has guilt issues about my dad bec when he was in a coma and we were caring for him, she suddenly left for months without reason. He has also treated her badly. This is usually the reasons why they breakup. He cheats on her. He has never publicly acknowledged her as his girlfriend on his social media and has refused to do so. He has very poor communication with her. He doesn’t call or text when he says he’s going to. And on several occasions, he has stood her up. On this most recent breakup, she caught him in a lie. He then proceeded to admit to her that there was someone else and that he could not resist the temptation of this girl. My sister begged him to choose her over the other person. He chose the other girl instead. With each breakup, my sister reacts more and more dramatic. The breakup before this most recent one, she changed her phone number and mailed back all his things, only to give him her phone number a few weeks later. This time, she suddenly decided to move! She said her apartment was haunted and tainted with his memory and that she couldn’t breathe in it. She wrote dramatic posts on her social media accounts about what he did to her and how she was really done this time. And, yes, she moved. She moved to a small yacht. She knows nothing about boats. And she made a big deal about this fresh start. This breakup lasted longer than the others, 4 months to be exact. I actually thougt it might be really over this time. Then, 2 weeks ago, the boyfriend calls. And just like that, he’s back in. The thing that worries me is how easily she accpts him back. Her opinion of him changes in the blink of an eye. Suddenly, he can do no wrong and he is the love of her life again. She suddenly forgets all the things he did and all the things she said and did. And with that, she expects the same from me. She wants me to accept him and their relationship. And if I don’t, she blames me for potentially destroying our family. She can’t understand why I don’t accept or like him. It is actually kind of scary how quickly her attitude changes. She suddenly attacks me and says I’m the reason for any drama and negativity. I really don’t know how to deal with this anymore. After every breakup, I’ve been supportive and always there for her. I’ve never told her what to do and not to be with him. I’ve always just been supportive, always said her decisions are up to her. But this time, I feel that I can’t do this anymore. I almost feel like I’m dealing with a drug addict. What is the proper way to deal with someone like this? Should I just continue to be supportive or should I stand my ground this time and keep my distance and no longer drown in their toxicity? She’s my sister and I love her but I have had enough of both of their behavior. I cannot handle her cyclical relationship and drastic behavior any longer. (age 33, from US)

Dealing with Sister’s Cyclical Relationship

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A: My question back to you is: Can you find a way to be supportive and yet still keep your distance and refuse to drown in their toxicity? Most of us have found ourselves in a situation where someone we love is making choices we don’t really approve of, and it certainly gets harder when they keep making the same choices over and over, yet still seek our support. Giving unconditional love and support does not mean agreeing with someone’s choices or behaviors, it just means loving them anyway. I think the analogy you used regarding your sister’s relationship behaviors being similar to a drug addiction is a good one. Based on your letter you strike me as the kind of person who would not write your sister off completely, but I doubt you would go buy drugs for her either.

My advice is to let your sister know that you love her but that she needs to work her relationship issues out herself. If she pushes the issue, you can be honest about your thoughts on the matter but you need to separate yourself from the outcome. It’s her life to live. Focus your energy on other topics when you speak with her and don’t be afraid to set personal boundaries.

All the best,

Dr. Holly Counts

Dealing with Sister’s Cyclical Relationship

Therapists live, online right now, from BetterHelp:

Holly Counts, Psy.D.

Dr. Holly Counts is a licensed Clinical Psychologist. She utilizes a mind, body and spirit approach to healing. Dr. Counts received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Wright State University and her Masters and Doctoral degrees in Clinical Psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Counts has worked in a variety of settings and has specialized in trauma and abuse, relationship issues, health psychology, women’s issues, adolescence, GLBT, life transitions and grief counseling. She has specialty training in guided imagery, EMDR, EFT, hypnosis and using intuition to heal. Her current passion involves integrating holistic and alternative approaches to health and healing with psychology.

APA Reference
Counts, H. (2018). Dealing with Sister’s Cyclical Relationship. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 6, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 May 2018 (Originally: 17 Oct 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 May 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.