I’m having an issue with my soon-to-be sister-in-law. We were friends in college for three years, and stayed in touch since, although we hung out less frequently. I met her brother, who I hadn’t known before, when I went to a party, and we instantly got on. We started dating and ended up spending most of our time together. I have to admit, this meant I saw my friend even less, but we were both so busy. Since my fiancé popped the question, she’s been really distant. I don’t know how to manage this, and I’ve been busy planning the wedding, so I haven’t tackled it head-on. I didn’t ask her to be a bridesmaid as I don’t want a huge wedding as I would feel overwhelmed. I miss her but I worry that our friendship is never going to be as close again. I keep thinking about it but don’t know how to bring up the subject. Would it be better to have my boyfriend there so that he could be a buffer and make it easier?
Tackling it head-on, as difficult as it sounds, might just be what you need to do. There could be lots of reasons why she is distant, such as feeling left out of the wedding, or feeling that you chose her brother over her, or something that hasn’t occurred to you. The only way you will find out is by asking. Direct communication will tackle any assumptions or misunderstandings that can arise from hearing information second- or third-hand.
You are getting married, and emotional maturity is a key ingredient for a successful marriage where you can enjoy authentic intimacy. This extends to the new family you are joining too. While they might do things differently, if you can develop your relationship with them, it can make for a smoother relationship. You shared some great years together as you grew into adulthood and discovered who you were, and now that you are in a different phase of your life, your friendship may be different too. Not every friendship has to be a lifelong relationship, but it would be beneficial to have some kind of positive relationship with your sister-in-law.
Talk to her and ask for a catch-up, and do something special together, whether that is brunch, a spa date, or a dinner. This gives you the chance to bond over a good experience, and to find neutral ground to chat about your relationship. Tell her that you know you have both been busy, but that you would love to see if it was possible to spend more time together.
Tell her that you miss her and explain why she wasn’t chosen to be a bridesmaid. She will appreciate hearing this directly from you, and it offers her a chance to express how she is feeling. Listening without interrupting will help you both feel heard. Is it possible that, even if she doesn’t have an official bridesmaid role in the wedding, she could participate in the preparation or on the day in a small way? This could help her feel included and she can get to know the other people in your life too.
It may be tempting to ask your fiancé to be present, but this could come across as outnumbering her, so if she feels anxious about it, this could make her feel even worse. I would imagine he would probably feel uncomfortable himself, being stuck in the middle of you two. Even if he doesn’t go, she may also not want to think about the whole conversation being replayed to your fiancé, which is also legitimate. Assure her that the finer details of what you talk about will stay between you, which will help her to feel more comfortable in opening up. You can talk to each of them about general topics if they both are okay with it, or maybe they would prefer for the two of you to talk first, then together at the same time. This way, there is a much lower risk of miscommunication between all of you.
Think about what you want to say beforehand, so that you feel prepared. It’s only natural to feel anxious when faced with a confrontation. This can be even more difficult for those who have experienced trauma and struggle with confrontation. Writing it down or even practising can help you feel more comfortable, and remembering the reasons why you became friends in the first place will remind you of how close you used to be.
If it comes down to it, how will you process it if she does not want to have a close relationship, either as a friend or as a sister-in-law? If your fiancé’s family often hosts get-togethers, will you feel awkward if you don’t interact much with her at these events? Preparing yourself for this will help your confidence and you can make comfortable choices about your interactions. If she doesn’t want to be close, will this impact your relationship with your fiancé? He might have concerns about his future wife and sister having issues, so talk to him about how he sees this situation. Some people feel strongly that all people in their lives have to get on; others take a more relaxed approach and aren’t as bothered if some family members don’t get on. You won’t know which camp your fiancé falls into unless you ask him. Then, you can make decisions about what way to tackle this stumbling block in ways that work for you both.
Knowing how to solve conflict is an essential skill for a marriage to work. Even if you find it difficult to tackle disagreements, it is a must-learn in order to make your relationship sustainable. These skills will also extend to your friendships and other relationships in your life, so learning these skills is homework that is necessary for your relationships to thrive.
Dr West is a sex educator and host of the Glow West podcast, which focuses on sex. Send your questions to email@example.com. Dr West regrets she cannot answer questions privately