I have a very unique situation. I met my husband about 5 years ago and we married 2 years ago. When we first met, he told me that he lived with his half-sister whom he had only met 10 years earlier. She was adopted and raised by another family, and had found him 10 years earlier. She was/is divorced and has been engaged several times, but never remarried. Well, we dated several months and fell in love. His half-sister seemed to be very upset that he was dating someone and refused to meet me for several months. At some point he confessed to me that he had a sexual relationship with her, not long after meeting her, but that it had long been “over” and he then considered her “just his sister”. (I’ve researched this phenomenon and found that it’s actually fairly common among long lost opposite sex family members who find each other later on..) Anyway, since this sexual relationship had been years before, I was fairly understanding but was still taken aback.

We continued dating and became engaged. During the engagement he continued to live with her. She had no job or money of her own to speak of. He said that she had never worked steadily since moving with him. To my observation, he was still very emotionally close to her, even though he said that he no longer had any romantic feelings, and that he now considers her to be just his sister. As our wedding date grew near, she became more hostile and refused to move out of the house. Then, her adopted mother passed away, and she inherited a small house. Then she started remodeling this house, and the remodeling job took over a year. All the while, I’m living in a 2 bedroom apt. and can’t even visit my fiance, because his half-sister would not want me around. I felt very conflicted during this period. They put the house they jointly owned (except that she had never contributed financially, not having a job) up for sale. It did not sell, so he offered her 60% of its value. She accepted but didn’t move out until 2 days before our wedding, which was 3 months after she received her 60%. All this time I was conflicted but still patient. When she moved out she took virtually all of the furniture and most of the shrubs in the yard, and left the house filthy and full of junk that she didn’t want. And lots more that she did want, but she wanted us to “store” it for her. She lived for a year on the 60% before she finally started working part time, minimum wage. All of this history leaves me with distrust for her, and still some questions about his relationship with her.

On a couple of occasions since we got married, he helped her around her house. I was fine with it, but found myself feeling very uncomfortable around the two of them when I stopped by one day. There is a bond that I find myself jealous of. And of course the house she lives in is fully decorated from the 60% from the house we now share. Our house payments are fairly high because he had to borrow more money and increase the mortgage. There is no longer any equity, of course. Anyway, when they are together they tend to talk about old times and sort of “forget” that I’m even in the room. It’s difficult to for me to deal with. I made it obvious that I felt uncomfortable and my husband became upset with me, saying that she’s only his sister now. He says that I’m being very unreasonable about it.

About 6 months ago, I tried to “break the ice” between she and myself by inviting her to lunch one day. She accepted and was very cordial to me. We had a nice lunch. I felt better about the whole thing.

Here’s my current problem: She calls him several times a week on his cell phone, but never when I’m around. Always during the day when he’s at work. I know this because he always seems to know what’s going on with her. He won’t mention anything to me unless I ask how she’s doing, though. I really have no reason to question his current relationship with her, other than it just doesn’t “feel right” that she doesn’t call him when he’s with me. And that he doesn’t talk about her unless I ask. This is something that I can’t consult my family or friends about, since his past sexual history with her is top secret. My question is: Is it reasonable for me to ask him to tell her to call him when I’m around? Is it reasonable that this bothers me for her to call him? (He says that he doesn’t call her nearly as much as she calls him, but I have noticed that he doesn’t call her when I’m around either.)

Thanks.

A: You do have a unique situation. Here you are in your 50s and trying to make a marriage with a guy who has another woman in his life. He may protest that she is “just” his sister but it doesn’t sound like she agrees with him. She is not behaving like a sister who supports her brother’s relationship with his wife. From what you wrote, she had things pretty easy until you came along and ended the gravy train. From her point of view, you’re the interloper.

Meanwhile, the friendliest explanation I can come up with for your husband’s behavior is that he feels somehow responsible for her and guilty that he is moving forward in his life. Does he feel his family did her wrong by placing her for adoption long ago? Does he think he owes her something because they had an incestuous encounter? Of course, these are just guesses. There may be something else underlying his inability to make it clear that the two of you are a unit and that his first loyalty is to his life with you.

I have a feeling that if you try to rock the boat too much by insisting on more transparency in their relationship, it might trigger a crisis in your marriage. For that reason, I suggest you find a counselor who can be empathetic with both you and your husband and who can help you both change the role his sister occupies in your lives. It is going to take some major changes for things to be different. You’ll need to be much less patient. He’ll need to draw more definite boundaries with his sister. You’ll need each other’s unqualified and loving support to make it happen, especially since the sister isn’t one to give up easily. Hopefully, with the right help, you and your husband can find ways to both be the primary support for each other and yet also give sister a more appropriate place in the family.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 18 Oct 2009

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2009). Am I too jealous of my husband’s relationship with his sister?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 22, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2009/10/18/am-i-too-jealous-of-my-husbands-relationship-with-his-sister/