In-law issues...

I’ve thought about posting about this for a while, but held off. There’s been another ‘incident’ and I think I really need advice on how to address the situation.

I don’t want to go into the entire litany of offenses, but after I started dating her brother, it was like a switch flipped and my now-SIL decided she hated me. They had always had a rocky relationship because she was the baby of the family and their parents really spoiled her and never told her no and there still is a big double-standard to this day. It’s highly possible she suffers from narcissism, but I am not a psychologist and don’t want to make that claim when I’m not qualified to do so. Either way, she has treated us terribly for years and eventually we decided that we are not willing to engage with her anymore until she turns over a new leaf and sincerely apologizes.

So we have had barely any contact with her for a while, which has been fine…EXCEPT my husband’s parents will not accept the situation. They’re constantly trying to guilt trip my husband and me and will not admit that SIL has ever done anything wrong. It’s gotten worse since we had our baby, because they keep trying to push her on us and claim it’s not fair for our child not to see her aunt and have a relationship with her. In my husband’s words, yes, it is unfair that her aunt has made it so we cannot have a relationship with her, but that’s not on us. We firmly believe that if you treat the parents disrespectfully and abusively, you are not entitled to a relationship with the child, blood or no blood.

A few weeks ago, SIL acted up again and profoundly insulted me, but FIL and MIL have done nothing but make excuses for her and act like we’re being unreasonable. I really don’t know what to do. I’m just so exhausted of them getting angry with us when she’s the one who keeps treating us poorly. If she apologized and showed us she had changed, we’d open our arms to her, but we’re not willing to just sit there and take abuse, especially not in front of our daughter. Every time my husband has given her a chance, she’s thrown it back in his face and insulted him. This SIL issue is a big snag in our relationship with my husband’s parents and I’m at a loss. I understand that they love her unconditionally and she’s their daughter and they don’t want to see her as a wrongdoer, and that having their children be estranged is hurtful, but I’m exhausted by this constantly popping up and causing drama and I just wish they’d accept that she is, for now, regrettably not part of our lives.

Just as a start, how about “That’s between me and sis, mom and dad”

There’s a secular advice blogger named Captain Awkward who specializes in this sort of think. Have a look at her archives–I think you’ll find some good stuff.

I don’t have time to track down anything more relevant (but I’m totally sure there is something), but here’s a recent advice letter dealing with the problem of a sister who borrowed a lot of money, is not paying it, and the poor lender sister being seen by the extended family as the bad guy:

If I were you, I’d just skim the archives looking for sibling and parent stuff. Captain Awkward is really good at coming up with scripts and learning about how to defend boundaries politely.

Good luck!

“These are our boundaries, they are not up for discussion.”

Don’t engage. Don’t explain. Don’t rationalize. Don’t defend. These are your boundaries, and that’s it.

If they try to bring it up, cut them off immediately-- get up and leave, hand up the phone, whatever. Tell them once that they have crossed the boundary line and if they continue, follow through with the consequence-- which might be limited interaction with THEM as well as SIL.

Thank you! I’ll definitely check that out right now.

Oh, something I neglected to mention in my OP is that I’m not sure how to respond if/when the ILs visit and try to “talk up” SIL to our daughter either in person or on the phone. That’s a long ways away as we only see them once or twice a year and our daughter is still a baby, but if anyone has a polite way to deal with that eventuality, then I’d be very grateful. My husband’s suggestion is that we say we’d prefer to be the one to introduce other relatives to her.

That’s what I was afraid we’d have to do…My husband will try to change the subject or else make an excuse and say he has to go, but I agree we need to be more direct. I’m not sure how up to that my husband will be.

I hate conflict and I guess I’m just afraid of how they’ll react. With this past incident, MIL got passive aggressive and then gave us the silent treatment, and then complained to FIL who called us late at night :mad:, almost waking up the baby, to try and rationalize everything SIL had done.


Reading one of the Boundaries books might also be helpful.


This one is relevant:

Thank you! I sent this to my husband.

This is a grey area, just my two cents. Although that is probably not what you wanted to hear at this point. Admittedly though, you are jumping the gun here by a few years!

My family has cut off contact with family members in the past so I have felt your pain. Unfortunately, it is difficult, if not impossible to censor the everyday casual conversations and things that family members say to children especially if the things they say are not SINFUL.

I can stop people from telling my children that gay marriage is okay, I can stop people from telling my children that the Pope is the Antichrist, but I can’t really stop people from telling my children that their aunt got a job or planted a garden does that make sense?

I would wait, your child won’t be having conversations with you about this for a few years. You can slowly tell your child “daddy’s sister” and show a picture in an album if you need to for reference. Your child’s life will really be all about THEM like most children are self-focused! They care about their friends, their toys, their treats, their needs, they care very little about distant relatives I promise you that.

Her commentors also have a lot of good ideas.

Not every idea is going to feel right for your particular situation, but it will give you a lot of options to choose from.

Captain Awkward is the US Border Patrol of boundary problems in family, friend and work relationships.


It takes little kids a long time to get to the point where they can keep all the big people in their families straight.

Great advice here. I agree–MIL & FIL should butt out. I remember my therapist telling me that one of the most important job a parent needs to do is not set up divisions among their children. Sadly, it seems easier said than done!

Thank you all for your advice! I’m glad no one suggested sweeping everything under the rug, as I’d worried. I sweetened the deal for my husband by reminding him I will be much more willing to move to his home city if we set up boundaries and work this out with his parents.

Sweeping things under the rug will only build up resentment. Trust me, when that happened in our family, there was only so much I could take before I blew a gasket.

I will say this. When DH finally realized the effect it was having on me, he did change. You mentioned your in-laws “talking up” your SIL. Well, my MIL used to do the same thing to DH. He finally said, “Mom, I want to know what is going on in your life. If I want to know what’s going on with my brothers, I’ll talk to them personally.”

Avoiding triangles in relationships is really key. But, people use a middle person to “negotiate” for them because it is safer. As my therapist said, a triangle is the most stable geometric structure for a reason. Wise man he is.

Having a rough evening…It really hit me this afternoon how much it hurts that MIL and FIL don’t care at all how their daughter treats us (and especially me) terribly and expect us to just suck it up. It’s like they’re still stuck in the mode where my husband is the big kid who needs to always watch out for his little sibling’s feelings, even when she’s the one in the wrong. They don’t care how much she hurts us and I don’t know if it will ever change. After this last time, I don’t know how I can even look them in the face.

Thank you for sharing this.

You mentioned this had been a problem before and I recall also that it was. I just now went back and re-read some of your posts from the past. AClaire11, do you know that you have been sad about your in-laws and posting here about them for two and a half years? That is a long time and I know this hurts you very deeply.

I know your heart is breaking, but you cannot expect something from someone that they cannot give you, it simply isn’t fair, like expecting money from a poor person. Your mother-in-law was dabbling in tarot cards and in the occult at one time. Not that long ago she told you and your husband to “Go f*** yourself” when she was mad you mentioned that in a post remember? She does not seem to have a healthy lifestyle, and so she is not capable of giving and receiving healthy love, so **you cannot expect **this from her.

You cannot expect normal and healthy treatment from your in-laws, period. For whatever reason, they are incapable of giving it to you at this time. They may have emotional problems, they may have psychological problems, however they cannot give you what you want.

With all Christian charity, if you think about it, It is not fair for you to expect a certain treatment from them that you know they are incapable of giving you, then complain when they don’t give it. Your husband probably hears a lot about this too. You are going to keep going crazy I promise you that. I was once in your shoes or in a very similar place. Please let all expectations go. You cannot expect your in-laws to treat you fairly, you cannot expect your sister in law to treat you fairly, you cannot expect them to care, you cannot expect anything of them ever, ever, ever. I really mean that with all my heart.

Seek the freedom from this trap that you deserve and desire! Seek freedom in Jesus Christ! Stop all expectations completely! Stop complaining, stop expecting things, stop everything. Once you let them go emotionally, once you are able to not care and simply just pray for them you will feel the chains lifted from your heart and soul it is wonderful!

Thank you so much for your post. I’d forgotten about her saying that to us, honestly. And she’s still very into the occult. She’s going to be teaching tarot card reading classes this fall. What would your suggestion be for having a relationship going forward? As it is now, she texts us every day and my husband talks on the phone with her a few times a week. I’ve tried to draw back in the past, but it’s so difficult with so many ways to message people (facebook, etc) and it’s hard for my husband to break the habit of constantly being in contact.

We did draft an email we’re planning to send later that calmly outlines our boundaries with regard to SIL.

Think of her as someone that does not speak Greek, and you are someone who is fluent in Greek. It would be unfair for you to be frustrated with her for not being able to communicate with her in Greek.

Your mother-in-law CANNOT it seems, at this time, communicate with your family in a loving “language” she is not capable of that. She has either a disability in her heart, a disability in her soul or somewhere but she can’t so please stop expecting it. Since she is heavily into the occult giving tarot card classes she is likely dealing with the demonic, what she really needs is your deep sympathy not your irritation because she is a seriously lost soul.

Going forward: after your husband talks to her on the phone or gets a text or email just give him a hug and say “I love you, I know sometimes that is hard for you” and STOP. Don’t analyze what she said, don’t go over her words, just don’t do that anymore. I speak from experience. My poor husband had a mother like you are describing, not only did my husband have to listen to her but then he would have to listen to me ramble on and on about her for hours and days after complaining about her. Even though I was justified in many ways I began to realize the poor man never got any peace.

Be the place of peace for your husband! Be the arms of rest that he can go to after stress with his mom. You don’t have to discuss her any more, let her go. She is going to keep saying difficult things, just let them go.

Once your husband is built up, once your husband feels at peace and is built up in love he will have more courage to put more distance between himself and his family. Right now your husband is a battered soul too. Build your husband up, tell him that you love him! Tell him you are glad that you married him and that you believe in him and he is a strong husband and you trust him as a father! He is being battered by his mother and sister and feels he is letting down his wife, that is not a good place for a man to be.

The thing is, though, that 99% of the time, my MIL is perfectly pleasant. It’s mostly when the subject of us having a problem with SIL comes up that she gets angry. So I’m really dreading the phone call once we send the email…and I guess things might stop being so pleasant for a while.

But I do tend to complain about things like that for a while, so you’re right that I need to keep that to myself and let him have some peace from it. And maybe end the group texting chat and have him not talk to his parents on speakerphone when they call, depending on how this goes.

Sorry, but I haven’t had time to read the whole thread.

Has your husband asked them this: *You’ve talked to me about this over and over. What you haven’t told me is what you’ve said to her. When you tell her that she owes us an apology, what is her answer? What does that tell you about how important it is to her to have a relationship with us? Do you think this can be a one-way street? Of course you can see it doesn’t work that way.

I am telling you again and for the last time: she either treats me and my wife with respect, or she accepts the natural consequences that somewhere along the line I learned to expect from people I’d offended without apology.

Mom, we’re going to call that Rule One. In the future, if you bring this up again, I’m going to say the same thing: Refer to Rule One, Mom. When Ann learns Rule One, which is that you treat people with respect and apologize when you’ve offended them if you expect them to want to be around you, we will be more than happy to normalize relations. We don’t expect her to grovel. We don’t expect some big show of penance. This is not about getting a pound of flesh. It is about expecting to be treated with the same manners that everyone else in the world expects. It is one of those “things you learned in kindergarten.” That isn’t too much to ask, it is the minimum anyone in the whole world expects and I’m not backing down on it.*

After that: Rule One, Mom. Rule One. Other explanations just invite arguments.

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