Family feud

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

About a year and a half ago my husbands sister held a baptism for their daughter without inviting us. Prior to this we were feeling like they really did not want to put any effort into having a relationship with us and our kids. There is a 3 hour distance between us. This is my husbands only sister. We visisted them when their daughter was born and I specifically told my sister in law to tell me when the baptism was and expressed that we wanted to be there. My husband and I are very good about traveling to attend all family functions.

i would say over about an 8 year period my sister in law has visited us 3 times and we have visited them at least twice a year.An it is always us that say Hey we are coming your way(we do see my husbands parents too becasue they are 30 min away).

Her argument was that she planned the christening in a “rush” and felt like it would have been a bother to us to come. I spoke to her on the phone and told her that her brother was really hurt and that she was going to need to talk to him becuase He was really upset. About a month or two later she wrote a letter basically saying (of course my interpretation) “Get over it” you are acting ridiculous it was my kid’s baptism and that is what I did and it was unintentional.

My husband did not respond to her letter and they have not spoken since. My in laws have told my husband he should be calling her but my husband is taking this stance that if she wants to work this out she needs to put forth the effort.

I was invited to a baby shower that i knew my sister in law was going to be at. I sent her quick email saying “i do not want you to be uncomfortable at your cousins shower let’s just be there and have fun and celebrate the special occasions. At this shower she gave me the “cold shoulder” she was casually cordial to me but despite my efforts to interact was quite cold. That made me mad.

So now, a family function is coming up and of course stirring up emotions because she will be there and it is going to be uncomfortable. My husband is saying things that he is going to do and it seems rather vindictive. My daughter is making her first communion in May and she is the godmother. 3 months ago we both agreed she would be invited and now he(my husband) is considering not invitng her or only inviting her to the church and then at some point he talked about retracting her as the godmother. He knows that he is wrong and being vindictive and realizes that is not a good place to be in. I am not sure what to do, my husband I know will not budge yet I know he really wants things to be different.

We have had problems like this in the past and we have always been the ones to “take the high road and let bygones be bygones to be honest I think we are just sick of it.I would appreciate any advice you can give to this situation. I know if my sister in law put forth the effort my husband would try and work things out. His argument is she never goes out of her way to make things go right and since it has been a year and half and she really has not done anything to hear him out then it just proves that she really does not want a relationship.

A: What a sad development. I understand that your husband has dug in and thinks he is right to be so angry but I’d like to offer another way to look at this situation. Different people simply have differing amounts of energy to put into relationships when they have young children. Of course, I may be wrong. You know your sister-in-law and I don’t. But often enough when I dig a little deeper in situations like this, I generally find one of two things. Either the offending person is simply overwhelmed but embarrassed to admit it or, another possibility, the two sides have differing expectations of the relationship but have never talked it out.

In this case, your sister-in-law did make an effort to respond to your complaint but her letter (following the christening) wasn’t what you expected. She was cordial to you at the shower but you wanted something more. She responds to your visits but you want her to also initiate them. From her point of view, it may seem that no matter what she does, it’s not enough to satisfy her brother and you.

Ideally, it would be wonderful if your husband could talk to his sister without judgment, accusations, or anger. Instead, he could talk to her about his heartfelt wish for your two families to know each other better and to raise your collective children as cousins who know each other well and care about each other. He could ask her if she shares that wish and, if so, what she needs to make it happen. That kind of conversation would open things up instead of shutting them down.

You invited your sister-in-law to be your daughter’s godmother for good reasons. Those reasons have probably not changed. It would be a mistake to disrupt the relationship between your daughter and her aunt. It would definitely make things much, much worse. I hope you will try talking things out instead.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 19 Feb 2009

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2009). Family feud. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 20, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2009/02/19/family-feud/