Writer and broadcaster

My sister-in-law has made me feel hurt and excluded, and my husband has allowed this. The Guardian.

Dear Annalisa,

My husband and I have been together for 12 years and we have two sons. I have a problem with one of my sisters-in-law. I feel that she places too many demands on my husband, and she and I have fallen out on occasion. My husband has “not got involved” and the onus has always been on me to smooth things over.

She is quite a powerful woman within her family, and I feel they tolerate her poor behaviour. Over the years, we have tried to include her as much as possible, even though, at times, I have felt we were being too accommodating. However, my husband feels sympathy for her and is, I think, scared of upsetting her. 

Two years ago, for Christmas, my husband was bought a single ticket to a gig; both his sisters had arranged for a large group to go. I was not told about it, or included. I told them both how hurt and excluded I felt. My sister-in-law expressed surprise that I felt like that and said I was welcome to join them if I got myself a ticket. My husband felt sad that I wasn’t included but, again, didn’t want to get involved.

This Christmas the same thing happened. I was deeply hurt. This time, my husband did speak to his sister, and was reassured when she told him she had not intended to hurt me.

I feel I have had enough. I spoke to her and told her how hurt I was, as I didn’t understand how she could do the same thing twice without being aware. She said that I could “choose to be a victim” if I wanted, but there was no intention of malice, and I was welcome to go if I could get a ticket.

I do feel that my husband has allowed this, and wish he had been more supportive of me.

K, via email

There seems to be a real battle for control going on here, but it is from you and your sister-in-law. I could give you a list of comments to get back at her with, but I am wondering if that would really help, or just add to point- scoring. And as Dr Ged Smith, a family therapist (aft.org.uk), says of your problem: “You will continue to know each other for the rest of your lives, and these things need to be discussed or they will fester.”

But discuss with whom? Because, you see, I do think that this is more about your husband than you want to admit. And as you say in your last line, you wish you were more supported, and I think that, if you were, much of what your sister-in-law does (intended or not) would rather wash over you, because you and your husband would be united.

You say your sister-in-law behaves badly and that the family tolerate it, but does the family see it like this? Are you a bit jealous of the attention your husband gives his sister? Do you think he runs to her aid but not yours? Do you have your own circle of friends and go out as much as you would like? Think about these things and try to work out what is really upsetting you so you don’t put out the wrong fire.

Your husband may be perfectly happy with the situation. But he needs to admit that, so both your needs are met. Or, he may not be happy with the situation either, in which case you can work together to buffer your family from the more negative aspects of your sister-in-law’s behaviour. Either way, he does need to get involved. So a calm, clear conversation with your husband is needed, and you may have to listen as well as talk. You have a perfect right to feel as you do, by the way, but I just want you to be sure you are aiming your emotions, and your actions, at the right person.

Your sister-in-law’s comments that you can “just get your own ticket” or that you “choose to be the victim” were rude and insensitive. Dr Smith’s suggested answer to that would be: “How do you think I should feel?” But do you really want to go to this gig? If so I would get a ticket and arrange a babysitter. Or are you “just” miffed that you weren’t asked?

Dr Smith advises against forcing your husband to take sides (and I agree): “This puts him in an impossible position, which will cause trouble. He doesn’t need to declare allegiance, just his support.”


First published in The Guardian Family section.