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How Do I Deal With My Dysfunctional In-Laws?

"How Do I Deal With My Dysfunctional In-Laws?"

This question is from a Group Therapy post in our TrèsSugar Community. Add your advice in the comments!

My future sister in law and my fiancé have a very rocky relationship. It stems back to an issue many years ago where she found herself in a really awful situation and her family, including my fiance who was in his early teens at the time, essentially abandoned her. The entire experience was clearly very traumatic for her — she literally brings it up every time I see her — and I truly feel for her that she had to go through this.

I've talked with my fiancé about it and he agrees that he wishes he could go back and change the situation. He's taken a few steps in trying to restore his sister's trust in him, but the efforts are only half-hearted. What I'm trying to say here is that he could try harder, but at the same time she never directly communicates what she needs or wants from him either. Basically, they're both to blame.


Not surprisingly, she's in a dysfunctional relationship. I think she projects a lot of their problems on to me and my fiancé. I think she resents our relationship and searches for its cracks. She's a part of my bridal party, but every time I see her she just goes off on rants about how she hates her brother, how I'm too good for him, and how I really need to figure out what I'm getting myself into etc. We've been dating for six years and living together for three, but when I hear her talk about him it's like she's talking about a different person. It's like she zeroes in on his flaws, exaggerates them, and blinds herself toward the good in him.

This situation is just completely stressing me out. My fiancé is flawed, but he is kind and caring toward me and gives me what I need out of a relationship. My family and friends all love him, and I've never been happier or a better person than the years we've been together. I hate the idea of someone who doesn't support our marriage playing such a major role in our wedding day. Really, the whole family needs to go into therapy together to deal with the older issue, but they're not really the type to deal openly with their emotions, so I think that's a highly unlikely situation. Any ideas for how I can make this situation manageable, if not for his family then at least for me?

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Bubbles12 Bubbles12 5 years
The wedding is your day but she is part of your family now so if you try to drop her out of the party, the repercussions will hang with you for the rest of your life. If you instead help her get out of this stuck place and support you chances are high she'll tell you much later how much she appreciated you hanging with her when she was such an arse. And you'll be a hero to the family too. This could be a great bonding opportunity for you. You need to tell her what you wrote here. You did a great job and it's a very even take. Tell her the complaints are completely valid, her family epically failed to support her in that moment of need but there is also a ton of good in them too, that's why you're marrying into the family. Because she understands how it was when people didn't support her, you need her to think of you and how much emotional support you need from her right now too. That you're scared, overwhelmed and stressed out. As a member of the wedding party you're looking for her positive emotional support for one of the most important days of your life. Tell her exactly what you need from her (not to talk about at episode for now, be upbeat, pick up invitations, be on the look out for your tremors and shakes as you freak out now and then and crack a joke) and thank her in advance for you being able to rely on her to do these things for you, that's why you asked her to be part of the wedding party. That you are looking forward to a long and happy life together as sisters. Chances are she'll shape up, you've made her an ally and put the focus on your needs. She sounds like she's suffering from PTSD given her obsession years after the fact and probably needs professional help. After the wedding you might print out something from the web on symptoms and suggest she get some help, that she deserves a better life but this seems to be holding her back and you don't want that for her.
BiWife BiWife 5 years
My sister-in-law was banned from attending my wedding. She was never supportive of my hubby or our relationship, and for the kicker she decided to spend the rehearsal dinner incessantly criticizing me, my clothes, friends, job, etc. So we put our foot down & didn't have her anywhere near our ceremony. We only wanted people interested in supporting our marriage be present at the ceremony, we intentionally had an intimate wedding vs a giant party with 600 guests, and didn't want to risk having her say something nasty on video tape that i'd have to hear anytime I wanted to show off or rewatch our wedding video. 9 years on, she's still totally unsupportive and goes to great lengths to make me feel unwelcome at family events. To this day, I have no clue why it is that she dislikes me or what it is that I did to her to provoke this, she's just a nasty person. Whatever it is, it's her issue, not mine. I choose to just ignore her and her drama except when I have to do family photos or something. Hopefully, she'll eventually get the chip off her shoulder and be more civil, but that's all on her at this point. I've put forth the olive branch on numerous occasions and she's all but shoved it up my @ss. I thank the powers that be that she lives on the opposite side of the country and I only have to see her for a couple of hours every few years. Even my mother-in-law has noticed the rejection of my attempts at reconciliation and now plans things so that I get as much buffer from my sister-in-law as humanly possible,. It took years for my MIL to get it, but my FIL and husband understood right away, so I've had their support and protection from the beginning. Definitely not equipped to deal with people that are as nasty as my SIL is, there's no way I'd be able to remain adult and calm without all their help. Get your fiance and his family to an understanding, the sooner the better, and make sure that you are firm about boundaries. Who knows when you fiance and his sister will get their relationship in order, so make sure that you don't get dragged into an awful situation in the meantime. It's extremely important that you make a distinction between the person and the behavior (like henna said). My SIL has an open invitation to talk and reconcile, she just has to accept and be willing to be friendly (or at least civil). I wouldn't have the support of my MIL at all if I was closed off to building a healthy relationship with the sister.
henna-red henna-red 5 years
There is no easy choice here, for you, I'm sorry to say. You cannot fix the issue between siblings. You cannot fix the issue within the family. You cannot change her bahavior. You can address her behavior that is stressing you out by telling her that you don't like it, describe exactly and quote what she says that you dislike, and ask her to stop. Let her know that her comments are unwelcome, and if they don't stop, then she will be unwelcome. She is family, but that doesn't require you accept poisonous behavior into your life, or into you wedding. This is something you need to discuss very seriously with your fiancee'. It is his place to protect you from this behavior by stepping between the two of you, and, if neccessary, uninviting his sister from participating in your ceremony. And it is his place to do that, to save you from further antagnistic attacks. You're right, they need therapy. But they have to take that step themselves. You can encourage your fiance' in that direction, supporting your partner in healing is a great thing. For right now, you are in the middle of a dilemma, and I'm so sorry that you're facing this. Take a deep breath, and remember that there are things you can change, things you can't and must accept, and things you don't have to accept. Taking a stand about not accepting miserable behavior is a tough thing to do. You understand that your sister in law has been hurt, and that the family has an emotional crisis, and you're now joining that family. The fact that you're now in the middle of this crisis isn't fair, but it is life. And as you say, they are disfunctional emotionaly, and so don't understand what the appropriate boundaries are, or what the appropriate fixes are for this situation. So it may be up to you to demonstrate what is acceptable to you, and what is not. This wedding can set the tone for you new family interactions for years to come, so don't accept anything that you don't want in your life from here on out. And really talk to your fiance' about his part in this, your need for his protection and his buffering in the situation. If he leaves this up to you to handle alone, you will be in this position for years. Stop it now, make a stand now, gently but firmly, and set your boundaries now. You may not be able to change their behavior, but you can make an effort to make them understand that they must restrict their behavior to be welcome in your home and your life. Best of luck with this. I come from family that's very disfunctional also, and I have a clue about what you're facing. The fact that it's his family, rather that your own, makes it harder. Just try to be clear that it's a specific behavior that is unwelcome, not the person, and if the behavior is reigned in, then the sister is welcome.
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