Sister-in-law Issues

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I have known my sister-in-law for 11 years. It was through her I met my husband. So first she was my best friend and then my sister-in-law. Once we became in-laws we started having problems. I felt like we were always in this unspoken competition. I would do something and she’d have to outdo it and I probably have done similar. She’s not one who likes to talk about things and she’s gone behind my back a few times recently. We ended up having a fallout and it makes me really sad. She’s so full of anger, in general though, I’m terrified to really sit with her face to face. We’ve had problems for so long now it seems like it’s become too much effort and that maybe we just don’t work anymore. Is this common for sister-in-law’s? I’ve tried to ease things a bit recently but she still just wants to be angry. Should I just let it go? Seems unfortunate it has to be this way.

A: As far as I know, this isn’t common for sisters-in-law, especially when they started out as friends. It’s also true, though, that friendships sometimes diverge. What was interesting to us about someone at one stage in life isn’t so in another. If the two of you were just friends you could just go your separate ways. But you two are family now so it’s harder to let the relationship fade. You’ll undoubtedly need to show up at the same family events and gatherings. You don’t want every occasion to be awkward or hostile.

I haven’t a clue why she is such an angry person. Chances are it has nothing to do with you and therefore you can’t fix it. What you can do is focus on yourself, rather than try to change her. You admit that you’ve gotten hooked into the competition. You might ask yourself why. It hasn’t helped the situation. It probably doesn’t really matter who “wins.” You’re bigger than that. What do you care if she outdoes you now and then? Congratulate her and move on. You can let go of the competition without letting go of the relationship. Be friendly. Keep conversations on a surface level. Do’t expect her to be happy for you when she isn’t happy in herself. If you can manage that approach, holiday meals and family get togethers can go smoothly even if you aren’t as close as you once were.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 8 Jun 2011

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2011). Sister-in-law Issues. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 2, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2011/06/08/sister-in-law-issues/