Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Case of the Overly Dramatic Sister-in-Law

I have had occasion to remark on the less than enlightening advice offered up by certain advice columnists. Among them, the Washington Post columnist, Carolyn Hax.

Today, however, Hax offers an excellent response to a woman who does not realize that she herself has contributed mightily to the situation she is complaining about. The woman who writes to Hax has been having in-law problems. She insists that she has done nothing to produce these problems, but that she is being picked on because she is older than her husband and has brought two children into her marriage. 

My husband and I have been together eight years and married for two. His family has always had an issue with me because I am older with two children from a different relationship. They have never respected me, although I have never given them a reason not to and always bent over backward to please them.

My husband's sister and father have butted heads with me the most. She has come between my husband and me on several occasions. I caught her best friend sleeping with him about three years into our relationship — which of course I blame him for the most. When I found out, he left me for her. It lasted for months. I was in a very dark place. About a year later we worked things out, got back together and got married. We have one son and another on the way.

While I was pregnant, my sister-in-law invited us to a party where her friend, the one who slept with my husband, would also be. My husband and I both refused to go, and she threw a tantrum. I set her straight. I told her I would never feel comfortable around this woman and I do not want her anywhere near my husband or my family ever. She said she was sorry and understood.

This Mother's Day my in-laws and I planned a barbecue at their house. When I showed up, this girl was there. I left. My sister-in-law never apologized. A few days went by, and I decided to text the sister-in-law and I didn't hold back how I felt. It wasn't the nicest text and I do not feel bad about it.

Now I am at war with the family because I stood up for myself. I do not want my sister-in-law to be a part of my children's life. She has no respect for me or my marriage, and I do not want any more problems or for her to have a bad influence on my children.
My husband disagrees and wants her to be a big part of my kids' lives. What do I do? I am on the verge of asking for a divorce to keep my sanity.

— R.

I have taken the liberty to boldface the salient parts of the letter. You will recognize that R. has chosen to follow therapy culture precepts. She has leaned in. She has stood up for herself. She has asserted herself and has spoken her mind, openly, honestly and shamelessly. And she cannot understand why this has not solved the problem.

Of course, such advice is not designed to solve a problem. It is designed to aggravate the problem, and to produce more drama. Beyond the pretense of standing up for herself R. has also made some operatically grand gestures, generally offending everyone.

Anyway, Hax sees through the ruse:

You’re “at war” with the family not because “I stood up for myself,” but because you did by nasty text what mature people handle civilly and in person.

In doing so, you not only escalated a problem you’d previously managed, but also handed the family confirmation of whatever bad impressions they’ve had of you over the years.

It’s important to stand up to bullying. No argument there. It’s your methods that are so problematic — and possibly your readiness to see bullying where there might have been another explanation? This is the sister’s best friend and your husband’s ex, so full erasure likely isn’t possible even if it were desirable, which I’m not sure it is, because an unspoken adult “You don’t scare me anymore, Honey” is always the winning play.

So, Hax advises her to deal with it like an adult, not like a drama queen. 

This isn’t to say calm-and-civil-robot is the only acceptable emotional gear. Sometimes you’re going to be the pregnant lady who realizes her [smirking] sister-in-law brought the [gosh-darn] [best friend] AGAIN to the [gosh-darn] party YOU [gosh-darn] organized, and who loses her [gosh-darn] [composure].

But when you’re pushed there, you hit a crossroads: You either serve your family, priorities and dignity, starting with a clear apology for losing your [gosh-darn] [composure] and following up — your husband at your side — with a reiteration of the larger point, whatever you jointly decide that is; or you double down on your tantrum and wreck it all, four kids’ home included.

She concludes:

Stop trying to “win” and prove yourself right. Instead: Breathe. Picture the outcome you want, think what’s fair for you and your husband to ask of yourselves and each other — then talk your marriage to that. In counseling if possible. Do nothing lightly or in pique.

As noted, its sound and sensible advice. Miss Manners could not have said it better. At the least, however R. has shown why her in-laws do not like her and perhaps even why her husband strayed. Clearly, she is not brimming over with self-confidence.


Giordano Bruno said...

She’s screwed. Her husband has contempt for her and she has a bunch of kids between two marriages and one on the way. In-laws equally have contempt for her. She has no good plan of action. She writes wounded texts instead. She should get ready for polygamous marriage and then getting blamed for causing it, because that’s where this is headed. She’ll get used to it, she has to.

You don’t declare war, you go to war. You never talk, you plot, then act. It you have no good options, you wait until one opens. Another example of why you always need your own posse, blood loyalty, who will get things done for you. The people with the largest and strongest tribes win prevail. She is a stranger in her own fake marriage and her husbands family knows it.

Anonymous said...

All the woman and her husband have to do is leave whenever this dame shows up. They don't have to say anything---just leave. The sister-in-law will continue to invite this floozy, so assume it will happen and be ready to leave immediately. The worst thing she can do is try to tell her sister-in-law anything. Her sister-in-law has lost the privilege of being given any information. The woman should never divulge a single thought to the sister-in-law.