Dealing with my sister-in-law

iVillage Member
Registered: 07-24-2011
Dealing with my sister-in-law
Fri, 03-08-2013 - 1:13pm

My sister-in-law is an adult a little older than me. She has been a single mom for many years now after a divorce of her own choosing. She is raising a daughter who is now a young adult but still lives at home while she finishes her last year of school. My sil has always been very self-centered. As long as I have known her, the focus somehow always turns out to be on her. My husband's family never says "enough already, this isn't about you." Instead, they ignore it, walk away, maybe make a comment that goes over her head, and then they talk about her after she leaves. The dynamic of the family is very odd, but we are not involved with them very often so it almost never affects us.

Anyway, we have recently made some major changes in our careers and our living situation, all good changes. My sil has told us she cannot hear about it, we cannot talk about it as it makes her sad because good things are not happening for her right now. She has been jobless for a long time living on alimony and too selective about the job-hunting process, telling prospective employers that she may have to leave if my niece is sick at school and she will not let her ride the bus home either. No one wants to hear that in the interview, right? She thrives on the single mother thing and thinks she is the only one in this situation. She is constantly complaining to us "but I am a single mom!" whenever we say anything that could be negative, like "had a long week at work" or "the kids have had us running crazy." Nothing is quite as bad as her situation, even though at this point, it is entirely of her own doing. No one can complain about their own situation because she deserves special treatment, and conversations are exhausting.

We are set to go to a big family dinner tomorrow. I was hoping she would not be around, but she is coming. This means that the entire afternoon will be spent listening to her complain about how her latest interviews didn't go well and how her house payment jumped significantly due to her poor choice of an adjustable mortgage, as she mentions her $150 hairstyle appointment, and how we need to change the subject about our positives because they just remind her of how badly people are treating her by not hiring her or dating her or how she may lose her home. We even gave her a good realtor name when she asked, thinking selling would be better than foreclosure but now she refuses. (I guess she would have to find something else to complain about?)

I almost do not want to go to the dinner, which is sad because I want to see the rest of the family. My bil is driving a long ways to spend the weekend and bringing his three small children and a new baby that I have not seen. A lot of good things will be brought up but the Big Black Cloud will be there complaining the whole time, driving everyone crazy, yet no one says anything. I may just be the one to finally yell "enough already! this is not about you and the world does not stop spinning because you can't have everything how you want it!" That would be seriously frowned upon and then I would look like the mean one, yet I feel like someone in her 40s needs to be told what she is doing to everyone else, as maybe it would stop, rather than everyone just enabling. We teach our children how to behave, why does no one say anything to the adult who behaves far worse?

How does anyone else handle a major Debbie Downer or all-about-me person? I need help, or I will have to get up every three minutes to refill my drink and find someone else to talk to, in the hopes she does not find her way to that conversation too. It will be a long afternoon of everyone avoiding. Not a lot of fun.

iVillage Member
Registered: 09-06-2010
Fri, 03-08-2013 - 3:25pm

Well that sucks! I think you are right, that if you decide to be the one to straighten her out, you will be considered the bad guy, especially since you are an inlaw. I think there are always people we don't like and always reasons and they don't change. But maybe you could cut her off when it comes to you specifically. When you bring up a topic or share your happy news and she starts trying to control what you are and aren't allowed to say, perhaps say something like, "Oh, I'm sorry. Anyway..." and then get back to your topic. Every time she interrupts and tries to control what you are allowed to say, repeat, "Oh, I'm sorry, that must be hard," and then continue your topic again, turning away from her and towards the others if possible, to emphasize that you will talk about what you want and that she is not in the center of it. Don't know if that would help or not but it's all I can think of. Otherwise, maybe just try to stay away from her as much as possible and leave early! Good luck. She really does sound like she's used to being allowed to control things. :(

Avatar for elc11
Community Leader
Registered: 06-16-1998
Fri, 03-08-2013 - 5:09pm

"My husband's family never says "enough already, this isn't about you." Instead, they ignore it, walk away, maybe make a comment that goes over her head, and then they talk about her after she leaves."

Has your dh ever explained why they never call her on it? Would he be willing to say something to her? What does he think would happen if you said something to her?

I can understand that you don't want to risk becoming the "mean SIL" but maybe you can approach it with some humor: if she starts telling you to stop with the happy talk you could tell her "remember that movie Old School where the guy said "earmuffs" before he said a bad word, so the kid would cover his ears? Well, I'm going to say earmuffs so you will know not to listen because I want to share my good news/hear BILs good news etc." You're not giving into her unreasonable demands, you're giving her the choice to listen or not. It might not work but it's probably worth a try. Good luck.

iVillage Member
Registered: 11-28-1999
Mon, 03-11-2013 - 10:54am

She sounds like a thrill to be with.  What is she going to do after her DD graduates and she can't complain about being a single mother?  Oh yes, she'll find something else to complain about.  I don't think you should say "everything isn't about you" because you will sound just as bad but I think you could be firm and not let her get her way in the conversation all the time.  If you are talking about something good & she interrupts you, you could say that you were not finished talking about that topic and that she can have her turn later.  I think when she whines about her problems, no one says anything because they have probably realized for so many years that they are wasting their breath suggesting anything because she won't actually do anything to improve herself so why bother?  So you can just nod and say "uh-huh" and try to change the topic.  Just concentrate on the people you want to be around.  and if she leaves & everybody starts talking about her as usual, maybe then you could ask why, if everybody agrees that she is annoying, do they never say anything to her but just endure her?

iVillage Member
Registered: 12-15-2005
Tue, 03-12-2013 - 7:13am

I agree that this situation is beyond frustrating and also agree that if you are the only one to say anything you will come off as the bad guy. Maybe you can talk with your dh and have him say something to his sister. However, if not I don't see why you should entirely keep your mouth shut. Remember, it's not always what you say, but how you say it and I honestly think that most people don't necessarily have a problem (though initially they might) with others pointing out their shortcomings and faults but in how they do it. We as people, and I speak for myself as well, are emotional and tend to throw our fury and disappointment behind our otherwise loving efforts to help people better themselves. Also, keep in mind that her behaviour or attitude may be hurting her in other aspects of her life but no one is telling her and the pattern continues, which essentially makes everyone who claims they love her and care nothing more than enablers. My dh's family are pretty much right out of Duck Dynasty and while at first I tried to deal, my approach is I have to be honest to myself and them because I HONESTLY care and want what's best for them and everyone involved with them, even if they can't see it. I don't always succeed, they are very set in their ways, but at least I know I tried....and I don't want others talking and laughing about them behind their back, so I get up the guts to step in and step up. I would try to not be overly friendly nor overly distant, though the latter is probably best in the long run if things don't on needs drama, there's enough drama we can't control. Also remember your opinion may not be popular but if it helps someone it doesn't have to be. Still, remember that everyone unfortunately is different and she may not see or understand your point or where you are coming from. She may continue to feel entitled to take this approach in which case I would either go and ignore her or avoid her all together. Best of luck with drama mama.

iVillage Member
Registered: 05-19-2008
Tue, 03-12-2013 - 11:33am

HI!  You've gotten some really, really good advice so mine is just more agreements with what everyone else has said.  Plus love the idea of telling her to cover her ears - prior to hearing you discuss positives in your own lives.  I'm guessing the runion has come and gone and I hope it was fun for you.  I would have suggested to simply talk and be with the ones that interest you and avoid being alone with this sil and also do not fall victim to her need for the pity party.  

YOu see - she's getting something from this whole notion of being a single mom and woe is me attitude and I truly doubt that she will EVER change because she doesn't want to.  It is easier and more pleasing for her to be the victim.  I know so many people just like this - honestly, it really surprises me how many people are like this in the world today.  I had actually made a new years resolution to make some more friends here where we now live.  I had been pre-occupied with work and family and just hadn't found those special people to hang out with - girl talk with.  But so far, it seems that many are just not fun to be around - more work than fun.  I will keep trying but in the mean time, I refuse to spend time with people like your sil.  I know we all say and we hear - life is too short - but ask yourself this.  When faced with being around her or others like her - do you really feel like it would be more enjoyable to be alone?  If so - then clearly she's not worth the effort.

That - gets to be your complete call to make.  Yes, you may encounter her a reunions or some gatherings but hopefully there will be others there that you can focus on.  However, do not ever let someone else dictate to you what you can and cannot discuss with regards to your own life.  She doesn't not have that authority and quite honestly, I think you should do what the one post suggested - just continue to tell your story.  If she does come out and say "you can't discuss this because it upsets me" then in my opinion - you look her in the eye and say in a question tone - " really?  that just sounds ridiculous and surely you are mature enough to be happy for others people in your family.  Aren't you?"  As her questions that when she replies make her look like the bad person.  I would always do this in a calm prepared tone of voice. 

Community Leader
Registered: 08-25-2006
Fri, 03-22-2013 - 4:35pm

I see that this thread is already a few weeks old, but wanted to chime in and hopefully the OP will let us know how it all went. 

This is really tough with family.  My short answer would be to simply not participate.  Similar to what others have said.  You have probably alread tried several of the ideas already mentioned here.  But I agree, that trying to be the one to fix her isn't going to work.  Well, I should say that doing it in front of everyone at a family gathering would not be the place.  

If you two had a private conversations, you could start with something like "I really care about you, and I have some ideas if you are willing to hear them." Or "It is unfortunate you are struggling, and I am sure being a single parent is hard, but I consider you family and was hoping you could be excited for me and your brother right now."

I don't know, just some ideas.  Easier to wean to toxic a friend out of your life than it is a toxic family member.  

Good luck and I hope you come back and let us know how things are going.

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