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Messed up family dynamic: my wife and my sister


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Old 28th March 2014, 2:31 PM   #1
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Messed up family dynamic: my wife and my sister

Hey everybody... this is a complex situation that I'll try to distill as best I can. I'm not sure how to handle this.

I've been with my wife for nearly four years. Living together for the last two, married for just over a year. We both have kids from previous marriages; mine are teens, hers are single digits.

The issue concerns my sister. I'm 42, she's nearly 39. At some point during the second year of my relationship with my wife, my wife perceived that my sister had been quite unfriendly to her, starting with one particular occasion where my sister evidently took offense to an innocent comment meant in jest, spoken by my wife. I didn't observe this myself, so all I can do is go with what my wife has told me. My sister didn't lash out at her, just gave her an apparent case of stink-eye that has soured things since.

Over the next 1-2 years, my sister was, I noticed, distinctly cold towards my wife. Not overtly hostile, but somewhat cold and unfriendly. After an experience two summers ago at which I really witnessed this over a period of several days, I basically stopped talking to my sister for the better part of a year, because I was tired of the coldness and lack of friendliness, which I had perceived too. (My dad also confirmed at one point that he witnessed it as well, and had no idea why my sister was being that way.)

It needs to be mentioned that my family has a rather longstanding issue as it relates to my sister, wrapped up in issues like "middle child syndrome" and other stuff that has nothing to do with my wife, except that she's now dragged into it. About 15 months ago, my parents, I, my sister, and my other sister all met with a counselor to address this messed-up family dynamic. The focus was issues of much longer standing than the thing between my wife and her. My wife wasn't part of that sit-down; the issue of how my sister had treated her did come up, and my sister's response was that it was all a misunderstanding, she liked my wife just fine, etc. This was rather dissatisfying for my wife, however, because everybody got some "satisfaction" out of this sit-down except her, because she never got to hear anything from my sister directly. A bit of an email blow-up between the two of them ensued in the subsequent weeks. I phoned my sister in the aftermath of that, asking if she would be willing to "make a gesture" to my wife to try to mend the bridges. Not an apology, just maybe a phone call or an email. My sister refused to do so. We didn't speak much over the next year.

The current situation: my sister and her husband have been trying to have a baby, without success. After two unsuccessful rounds of IVF, they finally conceived, and are having twins by C-section in about three weeks. (I see this as likely very good for my sister psychologically; she's always wanted to be a mother, and two failed rounds of IVF and the idea that she might not ever get to be a mother was devastating to her.)

Obviously I want to be part of my nieces'/nephews' lives. My wife, while recognizing that and agreeing (she doesn't have any nieces or nephews of her own, and loves babies), feels that, because my sister is now going to have babies, the unresolved stuff involving my sister being cold to her, which my sister has never acknowledged or expressed really any interest in trying to alleviate (we're not even talking about an apology, just a gesture), but rather brushed off or denied, is just going to be swept under the carpet, and my wife will basically be expected to eat shyt and smile about it, and that's how it's going to be forever. We had an argument about this today.

I have no idea what to do. What SHOULD be done? I see a few options:

1. We cease communication with my sister. The results of that are that we don't see our new nieces/nephews, and probably look like the "baddies" in this situation as a result. NOT an option.

2. I try to get my sister to make some kind of gesture of reconciliation to my wife. The results of that are that it would be extremely ill timed because she's about to give birth, and even if that weren't the case, it's unlikely to help because my sister's already refused that in the past. So that probably won't work.

3. We (and primarily my wife) suck it up, leave it all in the past, and "fake it till we make it". This is wholly unsatisfactory to my wife who, as I said earlier, feels that this will basically mean she has to just swallow my sister's crummy treatment of her, and keep doing so when/if that treatment happens again, all for the sake of family harmony.

Sorry this is so long. Can anybody offer any thoughts? Advice? Guidance?

Thanks all.

MM81


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Last edited by Madman81; 28th March 2014 at 4:36 PM..
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Old 29th March 2014, 12:50 AM   #2
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I think any attempt by you guys to request your sister 'right a wrong' at this stage in the pregnancy will go down badly for all. It's too late for that in my view.

I will also say that since my sister, after many years of trying, gave birth to twins 2 months ago she is literally a changed person. She was uptight, and closed, and really difficult to be around. Now she's (tired but) happy, open and warm.

I would recommend one last try for you and your wife, using the birth as a catalyst to put things behind you. And the first sign of trouble after that? Run, and don't look back.
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Old 29th March 2014, 12:12 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Silly_Girl View Post
I think any attempt by you guys to request your sister 'right a wrong' at this stage in the pregnancy will go down badly for all. It's too late for that in my view.

I will also say that since my sister, after many years of trying, gave birth to twins 2 months ago she is literally a changed person. She was uptight, and closed, and really difficult to be around. Now she's (tired but) happy, open and warm.

I would recommend one last try for you and your wife, using the birth as a catalyst to put things behind you. And the first sign of trouble after that? Run, and don't look back.
Hi SG... thanks for taking the time to respond. I'm somewhat hopeful that what happened with your sister will happen with mine. And that might have been okay for my wife a number of months ago, except that the coldness was experienced as recently as Christmas.

I agree that the third option is the best of a crappy lot. The real question is how to get my wife on board with it....
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Old 30th March 2014, 4:48 AM   #4
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Can you maybe post some examples of your sister's coldness or unfriendliness? I'm also slightly curious about the email blow up.

Because these vague descriptions kind of make it seem like your wife is being overly sensitive about this. By your description, your sister gave your wife the stink-eye and has been cold and unfriendly. These don't seem like good reasons to stop talking to your sister. They also don't really seem like things your wife is owed an apology for.

Quote:
1. We cease communication with my sister. ... NOT an option.
Not an option. Okay.

Quote:
2. I try to get my sister to make some kind of gesture of reconciliation to my wife. The results of that are that it would be extremely ill timed because she's about to give birth, and even if that weren't the case, it's unlikely to help because my sister's already refused that in the past. So that probably won't work.
Probably won't work. Okay. So it's not really an option. (Side note, I think it's a little strange to ask someone to make a "gesture of reconciliation" when she's never even acknowledged that there were any issues.)

Quote:
3. We (and primarily my wife) suck it up, leave it all in the past, and "fake it till we make it". This is wholly unsatisfactory to my wife who, as I said earlier, feels that this will basically mean she has to just swallow my sister's crummy treatment of her, and keep doing so when/if that treatment happens again, all for the sake of family harmony.
So you're left with this option. It's really not that unsatisfactory. I think most families or even social groups have members who just don't like each other. They do indeed suck it up for the sake of harmony. What is more important to your wife - having a relationship with your nieces/nephews, or getting an apology or "gesture" from your sister?

It would be one thing if you could point to a specific occurrence and say, "Sis, this was ****ed up and you owe wife an apology for this particular thing" but you don't even have that, you're just asking sis to make the first move in a relationship that hasn't been going well for quite some time, a relationship where your wife could also just as easily make the first move. I'll go out on a limb and say that your sister doesn't care enough to reconcile, so it's up to your wife.
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Old 30th March 2014, 9:24 PM   #5
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You are not in the middle. Your sister was a ******* to your wife and you did not tell your sister to knock it off and demand she grow the hell up and treat your wife with respect. Then you guys had a pow wow and excluded your wife? Nice dude.

Now she is having children and you seem to want to forgive and forgive, when the bitch never did apologize and would likely still treat your wife like dirt. Also, your little comment about how you did not witness this crap seems like you don't believe your wife.

I have told a couple of my SILS off royally, after years of bull****. They no longer give me grief. I told my husband that he either dealt or I would. After years and years, I just said to heck with it. I am not going to live my life around people who treat me like dirt and just forget it.

Maybe you ought to decide what is more important: Your marriage or Sissy.
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Old 2nd April 2014, 7:57 PM   #6
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I think when your sister started giving her looks, your wife shouldve asked her then and there. Conflict avoidance has created years of assumptions, stress, other family members whisper ing about it, etc.

If the goal here is family harmony, your wife should give her another chance. If issues start, sHe needs to address them RIGHT AWAY. You shouldn't make assumptions about why someone is upset. Just ask them. If something they do or say bothers you, tell them. It doesn't have to turn into a big drama with people silently seething and building resentment.

If your wife can't move on without an apology, why do you have to stop seeing you sister? My husband cannot stand my sister, so I go visit her without him. You can see your sister and her babies and your wife can stay home.
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Old 2nd April 2014, 8:51 PM   #7
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We have some similar issues. We suck it up and act like adults for the sake of the kids. There is no reason to fake, really. We are happy to see their family whenever we can. We just avoid the personal stuff between adults, changing the subject if necessary. Keep it neutral, about your mutual love of the kids.
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Old 2nd April 2014, 9:03 PM   #8
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Oh, don't worry. Once your sister needs a willing babysitter, she'll be coming around with her hand out.

I usually think rather than not talking at all, you just don't try to talk but are just distantly polite when at family gatherings. You've done right trying to resolve it with your sister, as it is unfortunately in your lap, but if she's messed up, you can't be expected to work miracles. And now this is having children. That's kind of scary, but maybe it will give her a new focus, one hopes.
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Old 7th May 2014, 4:28 PM   #9
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Hi everybody. Sorry for dropping off the thread like that. Other, more pressing issues came up that had nothing to do with the relationship between my sister and my wife.

My sister's twins arrived about three weeks ago; both are girls. So we have two nieces. However, unfortunately it was communicated to me in the days immediately following their birth that, while it would be cool for my wife and I to visit, my wife's kids couldn't be accommodated. Given that MY kids (16 and 13) have gotten to see their cousins, my wife took this as a slight. I can see her point.

My sister has since invited me and my wife to visit two weekends ago, but this time asked that I not bring my kids (the teens). The reason is that my sister is overwhelmed, is barely sleeping, having difficulties with nursing, etc. Basically all the usual stuff new parents experience, multiplied by two. She can't handle multiple visitors at once. (I had breakfast with my dad before work today, and he confirmed all of this -- it's a real struggle for my sister right now.) I do get that. We weren't able to go due to other commitments. About a week ago, I proposed my wife and I visit them this past weekend, but my sister didn't get back to me until yesterday. In the interim, before my sister replied, my wife told me that she was basically not psychologically able to be the bigger person and didn't want to visit my sister at this time.

Anyway, in my sister's response yesterday (by text), she said that things have been hairy, one of the twins isn't gaining weight, she's having some surgical complications from the C-section, and both babies got awful eye infections after her other sister-in-law visited with her kids. I relayed the details of this text to my wife yesterday.

My wife has, in the last hour, sent me a slew of text messages, saying that she's not going to visit my sister, and that she's going to be mad if I go without her.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Quiet Storm View Post
If the goal here is family harmony, your wife should give her another chance. If issues start, sHe needs to address them RIGHT AWAY. You shouldn't make assumptions about why someone is upset. Just ask them. If something they do or say bothers you, tell them. It doesn't have to turn into a big drama with people silently seething and building resentment.

If your wife can't move on without an apology, why do you have to stop seeing you sister? My husband cannot stand my sister, so I go visit her without him. You can see your sister and her babies and your wife can stay home.
Yeah, that seems to be off the table now, or I'll raise my wife's ire.

Not sure what I'm asking for with the above, or if I'm even asking for something. No idea what to do or how to deal with this. I'm probably leaving out a bunch of stuff.
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Old 7th May 2014, 11:37 PM   #10
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So sorry that these ladies are behaving in such ways. I do think your wife is being fair and protective of her rightful place as your wife. Your sister doesn't get a free pass simply because she is gaining more adult responsibilities. The reality is, you are in the middle of this tension. Something will naturally give in due time. Its hard to be diplomatic when the heart is involved. Yet it can be done. Validate your wifes' perspective. You don't have to agree or disagree, simply acknowledge her side. So too with your sister. Acknowledge her side. Then with the wisdom of solomon, share with them that , that you are moving forward on your terms. Which might well be: sis, i"ll be glad to be an uncle just as soon as your nieces and nephews can meet their new cousins! And to my loving wife, i"ll be there for you when we visit them or they visit us. I have faith that you"ll be your cordial self. Lets be a team and work out the kinks together. Little steps together til we gain a newfound regard. Your sister needs to see a united front and concede that she isn't going to behave or speak poorly. She is setting a bad example for her children.
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Old 9th May 2014, 11:16 PM   #11
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Sounds to me like a grin-and-bear-it type of situation. BUT I would argue that if your sister starts in with the crappy treatment towards your wife in your presence, that you visibly stand up for your wife. Sometimes siblings continue this kind of petty nonsense BECAUSE the people around them tolerate it. You don't have to cut sis out of your life... but why not say "gee sis, that was mean. I don't think my wife deserves that."

Asking for a reconciliation doesn't usually work. Apologies have to be heartfelt to mean anything. But what you can do is draw a boundary and reestablish the tone you expect your sister (and all family members) to take with your wife.

As for the detail concerning wife's kids: I don't have children, so take this with a grain of salt... but that's a secondary issue of minor importance. Tackle the bigger issue, and let this one go. (Easier said than done if your wife is upset, though.).
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Old 12th August 2014, 8:55 PM   #12
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This is the wife.

Came upon this very unfair representation of the situation - which, was left "vague" to push for a specific outcome.

Here are the events.

I accidentally said something that offended sis. From then on I was dirt and don't belong in the family.

Our first Christmas together, H's sis, specifically ask the family not to invite anyone outside of the direct family. What it meant was that I was left alone by myself on Christmas day waiting to catch a plane to my parents.

Thanksgiving: Sis hosts at her house and then says "fine you can come, but there are no room for your kids (5 and 6 at the time). I was then left to either get rid of my kids or not be a part of the family's thanksgiving

The next Christmas I was made to feel incredibly unwelcome. His sister would ignore me even if I asked her a direct friendly question . She would look me in the eye, then roll her eyes and walk away. She would complain about things I did in front of me. She would complain about H and I being too loud at night in the bedroom etc.

I thought about leaving the relationship because every family event was torture. I cried for months about this - wondering what I did or what I could do to fix this. I talked to my husband about it immediately. We launched a dual campaign to "fix" the problem. His sis and her husband was invited over about half a dozen times, and the invitation promptly rejected.

Family events were torturous for me because I sucked it up - and took being treated like I was an outsider, ignored, belittled. I was trying to help set up at the kitchen at his family once and his sister told me "Would you please leave, we know what we're doing". Particularly difficult is the constant exclusion of my kids (who had never done anything to her).

The family is terrified of her. They are traumatized, and I have seen the trauma response in my husband to upset her. The family does something called "triangulation" which essentially means they triangulate against one individual to unify them in an alliance --- usually the siblings take turns turning on each other, and the parents are no exception in joining into the dynamic.

Then we both wrote her a very apologetic email, apologizing if we had done or said anything to her upset her and we all want to have a good relationship to move on. My H and I both sent it - wrote it together. There was NOTHING inflammatory in the email.

The email was met with a venomous reaction. I wrote back saying "Please tell me what I need to do to make this okay" , to which my husband phoned me at work and started berating me for sending the email in the first place. He then told his family I had made him sent it.

He is terrified of them.

The problem is - me being on the outside, I am an EASY target. They can have family unity at the expense of treating me like an outsider.

The only problem for me is it means that I am the one having to be excluded or be treated like I don't belong - subject myself to being treated lesser, constantly for the sake of my husband.

My husband was quite happy to allow this to go on. Conflict avoidance and appeasing the family/sister at all costs, the easiest thing was just not to have me around.

Lunches with the sister where I wasn't invited, etc.

I have no problem with my husband having a healthy and happy relationship with his sister, or his new nieces.

With the babies now here, and in anticipation of them coming I knew I was going to be pushed down an additional rung in the family dynamic, because with the twins here now, his sister can use the babies as leverage.

I just wonder where do I get to say "listen, this hurts me. I've had enough" - or sign up for a lifetime of awkward painful family events where I know I'm not welcome.

It pains me. I don't know what the right thing is to do, and as I can clearly see from my husband's words he likes to paint it like I'm the baddie (which is my biggest fear - I end up being bad because I'm not willing to concede to my own psychological wellbeing and need to feel safe and welcome during family holidays.)

Please help.

I'm very much in love with my h, and will put up with so much to make sure he is okay. Just sometimes I wonder if he will do the same for me, or will his family's need to not upset his sister always be the most important part of family holidays and interactions.

For our wedding reception, his mom phoned him after the invitations were sent out and told him to uninvite his uncle or she won't attend.

He went after me, saying I made him send out the invitation to his uncle - which was not the case - and I ended up cancelling our reception to appease his family.

I'm just getting tired of making concessions to appease his family - and him turning on me to make himself look good in the eyes of his family.


Please help. I don't know how much more I can take.
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Old 12th August 2014, 9:10 PM   #13
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Oh my... Welcome.



Quote:
I just wonder where do I get to say "listen, this hurts me. I've had enough" - or sign up for a lifetime of awkward painful family events where I know I'm not welcome.
I can't blame you for being hurt. I wouldn't stand for that if the other party wasn't making effort to change things for the better.

Enough? Sure! Since your H isn't supportive then why continue feeling less than within his family? He's afraid? Conflict avoidant? That would leave me not respecting my man!

If he's not capable of understand how this hurts you and if he's not willing to start supporting you - HIS WIFE - then I'd leave him.

Having a spouse work against my better self rather than being a partner by supporting me is a complete deal breaker.

And you may want to open your own username.


As a side note - went back to his other threads:

Are you still off the drinking and prescription medicine. Please tell us how that's going for you.

Last edited by beach; 12th August 2014 at 9:14 PM..
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Old 13th August 2014, 5:33 PM   #14
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Thank you for understanding beach.

Yes and yes. Doing much better. Feeling more in control and taking some really positive steps: two resumes out today, updated business website -- changed price structure which should help give a little umph to the business.

Taking things by the horns if you will.

Hubby and I had a long talk last night which also helped and defined some specific tasks, to-do's and goals for our relationship and for making living with me more bearable for him.
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