How Can We Convince My Sister to Dump Her Loser Boyfriend?

My sister's boyfriend is a complete loser. He has no job at age 28, but his wealthy parents support him anyway, sending him $2,000 a month. He lives with my sister, who is 19, in her apartment. He pays half the rent, but wait until you hear where most of the rest of his money is going: drugs. Surprise! He's got my sister shooting up heroin with him now! She says she's in love with him. She can't see that she's throwing her life away. She thinks we're the problem (her family) and yells at us for "meddling" in her messed-up life. Because she's an adult, she thinks she should be able to do whatever she wants. She's too young to recognize the harm she's doing to herself. She wants to drop out of community college and work full-time at a department store. She is well on her way to becoming a junkie. Her boyfriend is a terrible influence on her. Have I mentioned he's been in jail six times and has a suspended driver's license? My parents and I desperately want to get her away from him, but we don't know how to go about it if she stubbornly refuses to leave him. Please help us! —Big Brother
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Dear Big Brother,

I hear your love and concern for your sister. There is nothing more painful than watching someone you love make choices you believe are harmful. Unfortunately, they are her choices. You will not get anywhere with your sister if you lecture her about the choices she is making. Letting her know (directly or indirectly) you think her boyfriend is a “loser” will most likely only serve to distance her from you and strengthen her bond to him. It also makes it less likely she would confide in you if she did have misgivings about her relationship or her choices; nobody wants to hear “I told you so” from anyone, particularly family.

At 19, your sister is technically an adult. You characterize her behavior as stubborn. That feeling may be contributing to a dynamic that makes her believe you and your parents don’t respect her, don’t see her as a capable adult, and don’t understand her needs. Given that dynamic, of course she isn’t going to listen to you. She may insist on sticking to her (destructive) choices just to prove her independence. As long as you continue to approach her with opposition, little is likely to improve. Also, even if you were successful in “getting rid” of the boyfriend, that is no guarantee her life choices would improve.

May I suggest you reach out to her from a different place? Listen to her. Find out from her what works for her in her relationship. What draws her to her boyfriend?

May I suggest you reach out to her from a different place? Listen to her. Find out from her what works for her in her relationship. What draws her to her boyfriend? Let her know you aren’t trying to “meddle”; you are just trying to understand her choices. Lead from a place of love and compassion, not judgment and fear. You can also ask her if she’d be willing to engage in family therapy with you and your parents to see about changing your family dynamic, independent of the boyfriend.

The drug use is absolutely a concern. Not only are there potential physical, financial, and legal ramifications for what she is doing, but emotionally, it is likely distancing her more from you and your parents and connecting her more to her boyfriend as well as impacting her ability to make effective choices. Working with a family therapist and an addiction specialist (with or without your sister) can help you identify some effective intervention strategies. Attending a Nar-Anon meeting could also shed some light (again, with or without your sister).

Best of luck,
Erika

Erika Myers
Erika Myers, MS, MEd, LPC, NCC is a licensed psychotherapist and former educator specializing in working with families in transition (often due to separation or divorce) as well as individuals seeking support with relationship issues, parenting, depression, anxiety, grief/loss/bereavement, and managing major life changes. Although her theoretical orientation is eclectic, she most frequently uses a person-centered, strengths-based approach and cognitive behavioral therapy in her practice.
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  • ellen

    ellen

    December 18th, 2015 at 1:15 PM

    Unfortunately this is something that your sister is going to have to realize on her own. One day he will do something so terrible to her that she will understand where all of you are coming from but until she can actually see that for herself, I think that you have to give up. His time will come, just maybe not as quickly as you would want.

  • Milly

    Milly

    December 19th, 2015 at 7:12 AM

    I have to say that I usually love the good therapy posts, but this one upsets me quite a bit. The original letter is extremely judgmental and by calling the sister’s boyfriend a “loser”, only serves to perpetuate the stigma with regard to substance abuse. If the writer of the letter considers the boyfriend a “loser” because he’s making bad choices and doing heroin, then, using those standards, her sister is a “loser” as well. As a therapist it is clear that people make bad choices because of underlying issues that need to be resolved, and to call anyone a loser is judgmental and against the fundamental values of therapy. I am disappointed that the response to this letter did not address this issue at all. The writer’s sister is a perfect example of how a vulnerable person can get involved in drugs. The sister’s boyfriend was not born a heroin addict. He, too, was vulnerable at one point and succumbed to the drug. I’m not objecting to the idea at all that the sister and her boyfriend should not be together, and I agree with your suggestions on how to approach the situation. I am just very disappointed that this letter would be posted without addressing the stigma and judgment of the writer.

  • Kimberly

    Kimberly

    December 21st, 2015 at 2:46 PM

    Have you thought about trying to get her into a rehab facility? With the drugs and him in her life I don’t think that there will be any way that you can convince her that she needs to make some serious life changes. The heroin is what I would most worry about but I know that being with this guy is only fanning the flames of her addiction. I am so sorry that you are having to watch someone that you love throw their life away on this

  • Lora

    Lora

    December 22nd, 2015 at 2:41 PM

    I would hate to think that there was a part of her that was doing all of this as a way to rebel against you and other family members. That would never be healthy for anyone.

  • MsBrown

    MsBrown

    December 26th, 2015 at 1:37 PM

    This has to hurt so much to see your sister living this kind of life with addiction. There is hope out there and I know it because I have witnessed many friends come off of drugs. It will be a challenge for her but she is so lucky to have so many people who care about her standing with and behind her. It is always good to know that there is someone out there who has your back when you are getting ready to take on something this big.

  • Jada

    Jada

    December 28th, 2015 at 5:27 PM

    we all hit these walls in our lives.
    ‘hers seems a little more serious than some
    nut that does not mean that it is insurmountable
    the struggle might be greater
    and the fight a little harder
    but if she is ready and he is ready they can both change for the better

  • Florence

    Florence

    December 30th, 2015 at 12:35 PM

    um, she does realize that typically working full time in a department store and doing drugs on the side are two things that typically do not go together very well?

  • Jason F

    Jason F

    January 5th, 2016 at 10:53 AM

    I have been through this same thing before, thinking that I knew what was best for my sister and that she had no idea what she was doing .
    Now granted, having a drug problem is a lot more serious than what we faced, but I think that in some ways part of it is the same because you have to know that no matter which direction you push the chance is pretty good that she will push back the other way.
    No one wants to have yo u tell them what to do, you just have to pray and hope that eventually she will see that she is doing bad things for her life. And that the only way out is to give that up.

  • Also a Big Brother

    Also a Big Brother

    January 13th, 2018 at 10:47 PM

    I am so sorry to hear that Big Brother. I am also in a very similar predicament with my sister, except my situation is MUCH less dire and we have a little more control over the situation. Don’t worry, many feel for you bro, and I’ve had to painfully watch my sister get super obsessed with a guy who is submissively pushing boundaries that have been firmly set by our family and is continuing to do so. The best thing I’ve learned from situations like ours, is that we need to be compassionate towards our sisters and give them our unconditional love and support in whatever troubles they may face. You may never approve of what is necessarily going on, but in due time and with as much patience as you can muster, she will turn to you, tell you her worries and trust you to be that reliable big brother that she thought had given up on her but was in fact waiting with his arms open the whole time. If you haven’t already, give her a little space; and remind her every so often that you love her and you care for her. Because in this world of both tumultuous chaos, and combined beauty and creativity we can only do what we can to save those we love from the harmful despair and damage of things like drug abuse amongst other harmful practices. Just be there, help her and pray for her and I wish you all the best.
    From a brother to a brother, I feel u bro 😌

  • Brooklyn R.

    Brooklyn R.

    December 19th, 2018 at 4:06 PM

    i hate my boyfriend and i don’t realize it, but all of my friends hate him and its only us that loves us together. I just feel bad for him to be honest.

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