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Family Relations/Fighting with sister-in law


My husband and I have now been married for almost 4 months, never lived with each other before then, and moved into a new house we built.  Just 2 months ago my husbands sister moved in with us.  She comes from across the country and doesn't know anyone.  She needed to start out fresh to get away from a 5 year relationship, in which her then fiance broke up with her.  Since she has been here there has been never ending issues, and at this point I have had it.  I am not sure how to handle the situation without putting my husband in the middle, and make him feel like he needs to pick sides.  My issues are the following - 1) she talks to my husband about either concerns, irritations, or issues that she has about me behind my back, which she feels she has the right to talk to my husband about whatever she wants since she is his sister. This I feel puts my husband in an awkward position and results in putting a wedge in between us.  2) she talks to me in a condescending way, as she is 34 and I am 25.   3) she denies and doesn't own anything she has said about my husband behind his back to others, including me, which are all negative comments about him. 4) I have caught her in lies, so therefore not truthful.  5) she doesn't respect other peoples property, ie ours due to having her dogs completely scratch up our new floors without feeling sorry or saying so, also having her dogs do their business on our neighbors property.  5) she still has not paid rent as we had expected her to so, but comes up with excuses as to why she can't make the pmnt.  Overall I don't know what to do in this situation, as she is family, just out of a long term relationship and is very fragile, and doesn't know anyone in the city.  Please help me in finding a proper direction to take this.

Hi, Lindsay, thanks for your question.

Let me first say that such situations are complex, and the thoughts below reflect only the limited information you have provided (and the possibility I have misunderstood you!). Please consider getting counseling from a professional counselor. It's very tricky to try to resolve such situations, when there are two other persons involved!!!!

Some thoughts:
1. any time you have another person living with you, when they are not paying their full share, they should abide by your rules. If they are paying full rent, then they have equal say in how things go. Even if they pay full rent, if you as owner decide you cannot abide by them, they have to go.

2. That said, YOU have the responsibility to make sure that the conditions are amenable to you. That includes setting up your guests so that your living conditions can be met. You have to be much more 'matter of fact', or logical about this. If the dogs scratch the floors, then you have to nip that problem in the bud, and it does not matter if she says sorry or not.

3. It would behoove you to be more fact-based about this. Think about 'proof', as in scientific, observable fact. If it cannot be measured, then you should not focus on it. For example, there is no way to measure condescension, so go on to other matters.

4. speaking of that, consider A., that she is under a lot of stress, dealing with a recent breakup and loss of prior home, and B., that she might always have behaved in a manner that is consistent with interpersonal conflict. IOW, these are personal problems of hers, her personality style, or way of treating people. Try to separate that from the facts - the spoken word and actions/behaviors

5. When dealing with problem ppl, the very best course of action is to prevent as many problems as you can. e.g., if the dogs are going on to other's property, put up a locked fence so it is impossible for that to happen.

6. yes, she has a right to say most anything she wants. Worse, you cannot be a 'gossip police', when you are not there, simply because you will not be able to think of every single kind of gossip that she might come up with. So, you are going to have to come up with alternative ways of dealing with it, such as preventing your sis-in-law from being along with others.

7. It's unrealistic to think that your sis-in-law will change her behavior, especially given that so much of what it is that bothers you is her style, rather than things that are objective and measurable. We all have our problems, things we are blind to, patterns that we struggle with. Other people resist us if we try to make them comport with our versions of proper behavior.

8. Push comes to shove, if you cannot create a set of conditions (preventing problems, rewarding good behaviors, reducing unwanted behaviors) whereby your live is somewhat sane, then it becomes a choice whether you are going to make your life livable and theirs not, or vice versa.

9. I don't think that this is a subject that you should hide from your husband. It is a problem that will come up in the future, in different forms. You might have friends over who have worn out their welcome, or feel taken advantage of when you go out (say, if they don't split the tab properly), etc. I think if you view it in the abstract, as a general kind of life problem, it will help. In a way, you could call it an ethical / moral problem - when does 'helping' become not helping? How much of our rights, values, and resources should we give up, in order to help, or even to 'get along'? I think if you and your H discuss it in this way, you will both learn from it, and will be able to decide what to do and how to do it.

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Bruce Borkosky, Psy.D.


questions framed similarly to 'what are some ways to respond when someone does/says X' are best. Questions posed in the form of 'why does my father do/say Y', or 'how would you diagnose my mother when she does/says Z' are difficult, if not impossible, to answer. I will probably reframe your question to fit the first question (what do I do). Nay question regarding any family member is fair game. Some of the most difficult are in the area of step-parenting and divorcing families.


I've been a licensed psychologist in Florida since 1994. I've evaluated and/or treated thousands of patients.

American Psychological Association Florida Psychological association National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology


Psy.D., Miami Institute of Psychology, 1993 M.CS., U. of Dayton, 1984 B.A., Ohio Wesleyan U., 1978

Awards and Honors
Award for Years of Dedicated Service, Palm Beach County Legal Aid Society, 1999

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