A marriage usually means you're not losing a son, daughter, sister, brother - it means you're gaining a brother, sister, whatever. But what if it turns out to be a mixed bag, and the new addition is obnoxious, domineering, and overbearing? When you've tried your best to integrate the new family member, but his or her behavior continues to rankle, how do you cope without losing your relative?
- Recognize the problem. Are you dealing with a loud, obnoxious sister-in-law who enjoys her own jokes more than anyone else does? Or are you dealing with a domineering, controlling brother-in-law who tries his hardest to outdo every feat from every anecdote, tries to out-macho your brother and dad, or seems to get off on loudly criticizing your sister or their children in front of the entire family?
- Recognize and avoid the triggers. Before coming in contact with the in-law, visualize the scenarios which always manage to get under your skin. What is it that is said or done that makes your blood boil? Once you determine those triggers (which tend to be the same emotionally, manifested in various ways), think about ways in which you can avoid them. Does someone always make an ignorant remark whenever politics, religion, or animal rights are mentioned on TV? Leave the room once the channel hits that kind of program or commercial. Make a quick escape. If you can't avoid the trigger, proceed to the next step.
- Ignore what you can. Choose your battles. There's no point in picking a fight over every little thing your in-law does which gets your goat. When his or her irritating habits or remarks are not directed right at you, try to let them roll off your back. Do allow for simple differences between people.
- Don't raise the emotional temperature. If conflict is impossible to avoid, go ahead and respond honestly - not rudely, but don't sugar-coat either. Remember that despite your efforts to avoid direct conflict, this person has shown little regard for your feelings on whatever subject the issue is. Don't let the fear of hurting the feelings of your relative or in-law stop you from responding appropriately. For example, let's say it's well-known in your family that your in-law is of one political party and you are aligned with another political party. The in-law might make some politically charged subject in direct opposition to your beliefs on that subject. When s/he says, "What kind of idiot would vote for him?" stand up and say, "Excuse me, I'm right here and I can hear you, you know." This does require a light touch - you want to be a good sport, while at the same time letting him or her know a nerve has been touched. If s/he responds with, "So?" you can respond with, "So let's avoid an argument. Can we talk about football, or something less charged?" This is a fair suggestion - but if s/he continues his or her rant, step in again and interrupt, saying, "I'm not even kidding - that's a sensitive subject and I don't think it's appropriate at this gathering. Let's move on." Look around, once again, for support. It's an almost sure bet that, out of deference if nothing else, someone will agree with you.
- Let the response fit the offense. By sitting on or stuffing down your feelings, you're not helping it get better. You don't need to make a huge deal of it, but simply responding authentically can make a positive difference. Here are some common examples:
The Loud Laugher: When she brays over her every joke, just lean over and say, "Man it does my heart good to see someone enjoy their own jokes so much. But this is kind of a tough crowd, huh? I don't know if they're getting it." Usually, simply pointing out that she's trying too hard or is simply too loud will cue her to try to keep it down. If she doesn't care, your attempt at shushing her won't help, but then you can just go to her and say, "Hey, Grandma's trying to take a nap, I'll need you to help me get everyone to remember to keep our voices down." Say it firmly but without anger or hostility. Try to enlist her aid rather than merely suppressing her natural loudness.
The Over-Sharer: When the new in-law feels compelled to share intimate details of the couple's sex life over cocktails or dinner, spluttering as if scandalized won't help - it often feeds the somewhat exhibitionist tendencies at play. Instead, say clearly, "Too much information, please don't tell me any more." If s/he persists, say it again. Often, it takes us so much effort to muster up our courage that we're shy about repeating ourselves. We make one pass at trying to contain a situation, and then give up when we're ignored. Don't surrender to this boorish behavior. Repeat your objection, and look around the table for backup (hopefully from a man or woman the offender likes, or at least respects). If you can't get backup, leave. Hopefully it will shame those left into supporting you.
The Topper: No matter how hard your week was, his was harder. No matter how much pain you're in, his pain is much, much worse. No matter how many push-ups you did, he can do more. Whatever it is, this guy has an answer, and his answer is always that he is superior. It can actually be amusing once you've recognized it. Don't allow yourself to become frustrated, just back off with a grin and find a different cluster of friends or relatives to share your story with - he won't stop, and you will never top him, so it's best to simply accept that no matter what you say, he will have to have the last word. Acknowledge, move on.
Control Freak: You're meeting at your sister's home before heading out to dinner at a restaurant. You need to leave there by 7 to make your 8 pm reservation and you're starving. But at 6:50, her husband is just getting into the shower, and you end up not getting on your way until close to 8 pm, with everyone waiting on him. This is a classic controlling behavior - it's about making everyone's evening dependent on him. Instead of waiting for this to happen a second time, tell your sister (it's important she understands where you will draw the line) you will meet them at the restaurant at the agreed-upon time, and that if they haven't arrived by 20 minutes afterwards, you'll just go ahead and order without them, and they can arrive whenever they wish. It's about you controlling your own circumstances, and not allowing him to make you (as well as your sister) his victim - she chose to accept his behaviors, but you did not, and you shouldn't put up with it. If you're finished with your dinner by the time they arrive, don't feel bad about saying, "Well, sorry we missed you, but dinner was delish -, I know you're going to enjoy it. But we're wiped out, and we're heading home - you guys have a nice time."
Domineering Parent: This is a parent who humiliates his or her child with constant assertions of authority in a public setting. The parent is asserting his or her authority - and by extension, proving it to you - through the child. In this case, a challenge is not useful. Indeed, any challenge to the parent's authority may put the child at risk of even worse treatment, so it's best not to do this unless things are really spinning out of control and the parent is becoming legally abusive. Instead, maintain a decent relationship with the parents, affirming them where you can and reassuring them that they do not need to prove their parental authority to you. Spend time with the child and cultivate a loving relationship of trust, but don't try to get between the child and parent -- any parent will resist that, and this type of parent will probably overreact in exactly the way you've been trying to avoid. Just having a warm and supportive relationship with that child may make all the difference, as you may be viewed as a safe place to fall when times are tough.
Geographic/Ethnic Excuse: How many of us have heard, "You have to understand, she's Italian/from New Jersey/from Philadelphia/clannish" - or one of a thousand other excuses that have to do with cultural, geographical or ethnic background? Consider ask your relative why it is that all of you in your entire family have to understand their beloved spouse, but the spouse isn't required to understand that the rest of you aren't comfortable with that type of behavior? In certain situations, there's component of challenge to this behavior. For example, the person may see "pushing" you as a test (perhaps because they come from a neighborhood where you have to earn acceptance by being tough). If you don't push back, you fail - and so does the in-law. If you do push back, in this person's mind, rather than creating conflict, it equates to acceptance. For example, your sister-in-law loudly exclaims that "That's just stupid - who would do that?" and you stand up and say, "I would. So now what do you want to say about it?" She might chuckle and say, "That figures." And after that, you're treated better than the others in your family. Don't fear stepping up, just don't get hostile about it.
- Accept your in-law as s/he is. Don't try to change this person; s/he isn't likely to change to accommodate you. All you can really hope for is a draw - and pray that time will mellow the rude behaviors. Just understand that you're dealing with a difficult person and will need to be prepared to disengage at times and walk away. A battle may not be worth fighting if it means losing your child, parent, or sibling over it. Try to take the good along with the bad. That's hard to do sometimes, because it's so easy to get caught up in just gritting your teeth whenever you're together. But your relative found something lovable in this person, so make the effort, particularly if there are kids involved, to see the good qualities in your new in-law.
- Work on being friendly. Taking a moment to say or do something pleasant and kind is greatly rewarding both for you and for the recipient. Instead of just going through routine motions, try to greet your family members amiably with sincere warmth and affection. No matter how small or insignificant a gesture may seem, it still goes a long way to create a relaxed and cheerful atmosphere for all. Furthermore, you can combine a good-natured smile with a thoughtful compliment to help achieve a sense of civility.
- Avoid making the relative who has married the overbearing in-law choose between you and his or her own spouse. Putting your relative in that position is asking for trouble.
- Remember the time to discuss these issues is before
Don't ever badmouth your in-law, even if your blood relative does. If and when your relative confides in you about a fight, argument, or problems they're having as a couple, don't start rejoicing and blabbering on about how you're so relieved that s/he has finally started to see his or her spouse's true colors. If you do, when they make up - and they so often will - you will be the bad guy, and now that s/he knows you actively despise his or her mate, you'll be excluded from further confidences. Instead, sympathize, try to be objective in pointing out things you have noticed without being hostile or righteous about it. Try to help your relative work through the problem, only gently pointing out the controlling or dominating nature s/he is dealing with, and finding coping strategies rather than shredding your obnoxious in-law within your sibling's earshot.
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The most common cause of marriage problems with a sister-in-law is jealousy of the relationship you have with your spouse. Because you're a threat to a valued bond, she will do anything to protect that bond by making your life miserable. Do not allow your sister-in-law to interfere with your marriage--learn how to play the game.
The Sister-in-law Plan
Sister-in-laws can be nasty for reasons we may never understand. The strategy is to take away their power. The best way to do that is to kill them with kindness. Smile at her every chance you get. Compliment her so much that she forgets why she was being mean to you. You can never be too kind. A cruel sister-in-law can't defend herself against unexplained kindness.
The Sister-in-law Type
Maybe she is the kind of person who wants all the attention to herself and cannot stand when your spouse praises or gives you some attention. Letting her know she is a smart and talented woman is a "kill her with kindness" ego boost, especially if she felt growing up she was the loser in the family. Also, asking for her opinion, like you really care, is just the driving force to steer her mad.
Perhaps she ignores you when you talk. She says negative comments and talks rudely about you. Smile at her when she is calling you names. Being cheerful every chance you get and showing your sister-in-law that no matter what she does or says does not have an effect on you will drive her insane. If she's spreading awful rumors, still kill her with kindness--the truth will eventually come to light.
The Sister-in-law Game
Think of dealing with your sister-in-law as a game of chess--it is you who control the pawns, how they move and what happens to them. Once she sees you're a worthy opponent, she will give up. She will finally realize that not all the cruelty in the world could take you down.
Play the game by your own rules. It really is that simple. Nothing your sister-in-law says or does should be able to upset you, but only you can make the change. Once your sister-in-law perceives you as a threat, you have just captured your Queen. Check mate.
Deal With a Difficult Sister-in-law While Keeping Your Own Sanity
You've found the man you want to grow old with. You envision sitting on a porch swing with him watching the sunset. What you didn't envision was the problem of a sister-in-law you'd be growing old with as well. Maybe she's your husband's sister. Or maybe she's your husband's brother's wife. Perhaps she's overly protective. Maybe she's nosey. Maybe she's competitive. Or she's made a new career out of not liking you. No matter the case, you're starting to wonder what you've done in life to deserve even 5 minutes with such a person. One thing's for sure...if you let her get under your skin, you may grow old faster than you'd originally thought. Here's how to stand your ground, keep the peace and spend less on headache remedies.
- Establish your position right away. Some easy ways to do this involve things like not answering nosey questions or giving any personal information that she may someday want to use against you.
- Kill her with kindness. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to be cordial and polite in a formal but distant manner. You don't have to be a doormat, but don't make her feel comfortable enough to get personal with you. This provides a roadblock on the road to her shady intentions.
- Do not give in to juvenile one-upmanship.This is typical of the competitive sister-in-law, especially where the affections of other family members are concerned. Family dinner coming up? Are her mashed potatoes legendary? Tell her so. Often, acknowledging things she's good at will put cold water on her plans to compete with you.
- Lastly, (and this is for those moments when she makes getting an ingrown toenail removed without local anesthetics sound delightful)remember that her problems are just that...hers. It is unlikely that you will ever be able to change this person. The best thing you can do for yourself is not internalize her short comings. Trust me...you'll be a better person for it and you will have averted the disaster that is Hurricane Sissy-In-Law. Now go grab some lemonade and enjoy that porch swing with your Sweety!
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