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Ask Allison: 'I can't deal with my sister-in-law's behaviour'

Our resident therapist answers your queries about sex and relationships

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Allison Keating

Allison Keating

Allison Keating

Q: I'm struggling to cope with my sister-in-law. I have been trying to come up with coping strategies and read self-help books to deal with her but to no avail.

It's my brother's wife, and we had a courteous relationship for the first few years they were dating but were never close.

She uses my parents' house as a base a lot and often comes in and directly ignores my parents (or anyone else who happens to be there) and will walk right past without saying hello and won't answer a direct question asked of her.

She has a couple of children and is very possessive of them and a very strict parent - constantly shouting at them and not letting them go over to say hello to my parents.

This affects my parents' relationship with them; they are afraid to put a foot wrong with the children as she has sent them texts before over something she has perceived they have done wrong.

My brother just seems to ignore her behaviour.

 

A First off, I'm so sorry that this has been so upsetting for you. Have you asked your parents how they feel about it? Do they ever say anything to her or your brother? As this occurs within their home, I'm curious if they have called any of this behaviour out, or is fear keeping them quiet?

I'm going to jump straight in: speak with her. You are assuming that this will end the relationship with you and your brother, but the relationship that you are having right now is dishonest and the resentment is building.

Before you 'have it out with her' let's focus on how this is for you.

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I hear anger, in how you feel she treats your parents and her children. What about how you feel she treats you?

You mentioned that you had a courteous relationship before they married. Was this upsetting? Did you feel rejected by her?

It can be disappointing when a hope of a relationship doesn't come into fruition. There is a loss here that perhaps needs to be dealt with.

What specifically do you not like about her? The problem with being able to only see the bad is that it creates a negativity bias even when someone does something neutral or good.

I could be wrong as she may not be showing you any good behaviours such as kindness or the basic manners of saying hello.

Sometimes, it can be useful to give pause to this, and ask why? People know when someone else doesn't like them. You don't need to be psychic to pick up on those vibes.

I'm wondering why she drops in so frequently if there is so much tension?

I am not making excuses for rude behaviour but I have noticed a lot of people who are very shy are misunderstood as being stand-offish and or rude.

Regardless, not naming what is in the room will only keep the anger and resentment building with fresh experiences so it needs to be faced.

There are so many dynamics at play here that you are not happy with. Some you can look at bringing into the open but others you have no control over.

You have no ability to change her parenting style but the interaction between your parents and her is something that could be looked at, by your parents.

Rather than everyone tiptoeing on eggshells, bringing a fresh compassionate perspective in, to help identify and understand what is driving all these situations and behaviours, could be helpful, and quite healing as well.

I'd be very curious to hear it from everyone's perspective as you mentioned your sister-in-law was upset by how she perceived a situation that occurred between her and your parents. Be careful not to dismiss anyone's perception. What could be really helpful would be to understand everyone's perception to address any misunderstandings or hurts on all sides.

Perhaps give yourself space to name how you feel about your sister-in-law and what that means to you.

Anger presents itself when we feel something wrong or unfair has occurred. Use your anger to drive a new way to deal with this out in the open. Start with compassion with yourself, when you feel ready take a moment by yourself where you won't be disturbed and try this exercise:

Sit down and close your eyes. Feel where the emotions are present in your body. Connect physically with it - this may be by placing a hand on your chest or throat.

Tune into those feelings. Acknowledge your anger, breathe into this feeling. If it begins to shift you may notice that you feel a deep heaviness or ache in your heart and actual pain in your throat.

Connect to any sadness. Breathe into the pain. Allow any tears to come andacknowledge how hard you have found this.

You may become aware of pain in your throat. What would you like to say to her? Say it. This is your unabridged version. Say it out loud or in your mind or write it out.

Pain needs to be heard; Being heard is soothing and softens the feelings of rejection and the hurt felt by rudeness.

There are so many deeper levels to this. When new relationships enter a family, it can be disruptive to your sense of home. Acknowledge any anger with regard to any sense of infringement into your family home.

When you have acknowledged how you feel, decide who you would like to talk with.

Rather than 'having it out' with someone and going in with the mindset that 'they are wrong', go in with a desire for things to be better from this point on.

Life isn't black or white: ask yourself what the best outcome would be and what or how this could be put in motion, mindful of the limitations of things you can and cannot control. Acceptance combined with good constructive conversations can help to bridge a lot of differences, and renew hope of finding a better way for everyone.

If you have a query for these pages, email at allisonk@independent.ie


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