The Friendship Doctor

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When a Sister-In-Law Becomes a Frenemy

Relationships with a boyfriend's or spouse's siblings can be tough to negotiate

QUESTION

Dear Irene,

I need your help. My new husband of two years was involved with a woman before me for five years. Even though he told her to stay away from his sister and told his sister to stay away from her, they persisted in their relationship. His sister insists she is not in contact with the ex-girlfriend anymore but that isn't true and it is hurting my marriage.

Since the beginning, my sister-in-law tried to break up my relationship with my husband with all kinds of stories from this woman. It felt tantamount to being stalked. She tells stories that make my husband look like a criminal that are all untrue. To make matters worse, the ex-girlfriend is a psychologist/lawyer and was privy to many goings, which she has altered. My new sister-in-law has made me feel uncomfortable with personal attacks that are deftly done. I am a former model with an Executive MBA from Wharton/Columbia, undergraduate and graduate.

I want to stop seeing my sister-in-law but is this right? My husband and I are sick over it and don't know why this relationship with his ex is so important to her. Any ideas? I made his sister my maid-of-honor and her husband was the best man who also walked me down the aisle. It is so sad to have it end this way and we are sick over it.

Signed, Sara

 

ANSWER

Hi Sara,

You married your husband and not his sister; sometimes relationships with a boyfriend or spouse's siblings can be tough to negotiate. It sounds like your sister-in-law may be very protective of her brother and jealous of his relationship with you. She also seems to have found a kindred spirit in his ex. Nonetheless, whatever her motives, it sounds like she is being very destructive and disloyal to you and your husband.

Your husband needs to have a straightforward discussion with his sister---telling her that you are both upset by her behavior and don't want to hear about the ex or have her involved in your lives in any way. While she has the right to maintain her friendship, she needs to keep it completely separate from the one with you. You and your husband also need to restrain from asking her any further questions about the ex.

If she can't comply with this request, you may need to take a temporary hiatus from your relationship with your sister-in-law until she comes to her senses.

Hope this is helpful.

Best,
Irene

 

 

Other posts on The Friendship Blog about managing friendships with in-laws:

Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., is a psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. Her latest book is Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend.

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