Yo, Sassy is your local, no holds barred therapist. Hold on tight.*
I am at the end of my rope. My sister-in-law hates me. I know everyone probably says this, but I’m a really nice person! I’ve never had a hard time with anyone, have a large group of friends, good relationships with my family and coworkers. It seemingly has no rhyme or reason — and she is manipulative of her entire family. She’s bossy and they tiptoe around her just to keep peace. My husband is totally supportive of me, but unfortunately this seems to make her worse. Now I’m being blamed for him not allowing her bad behavior. I’m so tired. Help.
Oy vey! Not only is this one of the most common family issues I hear from clients (in-laws of some shape or size), but also Sassy can relate personally, girlfriend. The tough thing about these “Yo Sassy” questions is that I don’t get much background in them, but thank Buddha you have answered the biggest one for me from Jump Street: your husband is 100% supportive. That would have been your biggest hurdle and threat to your relationship. I now officially love your man, and want you to appreciate how rare a man backing his wife appropriately in that situation actually is. Often, one would have a better chance of trapping Big Foot and then spotting the Loch Ness than having one’s partner cross family to support one fully. When I tell you this is all you need, don’t roll your eyes: It’s really all you need.
We don’t need to go into the details of why your other parents-in-law have their cajones lopped off by their child, or why said in-law is set on making you sad. Doesn’t matter; you can’t change their family dynamic. You can only change how this affects you and your response to being treated poorly. I’m guessing having a rational conversation doesn’t work. I also glean from your letter that you take pride in your relationships and how many people love and respect you. Having someone target you with their anger is foreign and you are taking it personally, ‘natch!
What to do:
- Take a deep breath and look around your sister-in-law’s (SIL’s) other relationships a bit. I am willing to bet the way she relates to you extends to other people. You will likely see it isn’t just you. Give yourself a good pat on the back, pull up your big girl panties and know you are good enough just as you are.
- Don’t pick fights, incite anger, talk smack about or otherwise lower yourself to your SIL’s level. DO NOT DO IT. Can you hear me yelling? Good.
- Let your husband handle issues that you have decided upset you or have no place in your home. From your letter, it sounds like he will happily manage his family. Bless his mature noggin.
- Remember all birthdays, anniversaries and special events for your in-law family. You send and sign the card. Buy gifts you know are thoughtful. Do not distance yourself from any nieces or nephews that might be running around. Be as kind as you would be under utopian circumstances.
- Find the good things about your sister-in-law and focus on them. Highlight them! These good pieces do exist; she isn’t the devil, pinky swear.
- Continue to be nice at the family events and social gatherings you choose to attend. Do not take abuse, but be cordial. The nicer you get, the less ammo she has to continue verbally beating on you. Odds are, eventually she will move on to an easier target.
- Learn the following phrases:
“Really? That’s interesting.”
“Great, I’ll think about it.”
“I appreciate your perspective!”
“You look great in that outfit/color/shirt.”
These phrases work anywhere, try them! If SIL says anything from, “You should start trying to have a baby,” to “My brother hates brunettes,” to, “You bug the crap out of me,” you can plug any of those nice phrases in, smile and walk away. I give you total permission to silently mutter, “bitch!” in your head.
Taking the high road can be a lot of work, especially for a gal that has never been a target before. You’ll get great at it. It may even change your dynamic in the family for the better. Dress for the job your want, sister. Not the job you have.
Note: The columns and other materials included in “Yo, Sassy” are presented for informational purposes only in the areas of relationships, social commentary and humor. The content is not intended to replace professional medical advice, diagnosis, personal therapy or other treatment. If you have any questions regarding the content posted in this column, you are advised to seek the advice of your physician or other qualified mental health provider.
*Sassy is a therapist, just not your therapist. Don’t get attached. Clingy people make her claustrophobic.