#411: Frozen out by a relative.

A woolly mammoth frozen in ice.
Sometimes the elephant in the room is really cold.

Dear Captain Awkward:

I was hoping for some advice on dealing with my sister-in-law. Who hates me.

She’s a bit rude/rough around the edges most of the time, to most people, that I’ve seen – but she is really not a fan of mine. She doesn’t return simple greetings “Hi, SIL, how are you?” and looks right through me if I happen to be in the same room as her.

I don’t want to sound like I’m All That, but I get along well with the rest of the family – lots of cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. – this is all her. Other family members have noticed and mentioned (to me) her chilliness toward me over the 10+ years we’ve known each other.

I have no idea if it was something I said or did – and if it was I’m sure I would apologize for it! She’s never said. She and her brother (my husband) aren’t close at all, it could be auto-antipathy because they don’t get along? I don’t know.

And – here’s the awkward part? Although we have a lot in common, and it would be nice if we could be friendly, I have no real interest in talking to her, or in overcoming the barriers, tearing down the wall, or whatever. 

I’d really just like some ideas for coping strategies for being flat-out ignored when I’m sitting there making conversation or having dinner with a group of people, one of whom refuses to acknowledge my existence on the planet, let alone in the room.

Any thoughts on how to deal with her as the future aunt of any possible spawn would be great, too.

Thanks so much,
The Silent Treatment Makes Me Uncomfortable

Han Solo encased in carbonite.
You don’t have to meekly accept your role as Awkward Wall Hanging.

Dear Uncomfortable:

Let’s lay out a few axioms here:

  • Not everyone will like you or has to like you.
  • If someone really doesn’t like you, there isn’t that much you can do to make them change their minds. Usually the harder you try to make them like you, the more they dislike you.
  • Whether or not she likes you, as long as there is no history vile deeds between you, she is the one being weird and rude when she publicly gives you the silent treatment.

At family events, I would continue to give a perfunctory greeting – “Hello.” “Happy Arbor Day.” – and then not engage with her beyond that. Don’t ask how she’s doing. Don’t even say anything to her that has a question mark at the end of it. Go talk to the people you get along with and let her be as weird and rude as she likes. If she actually says something rude to you, don’t smooth over awkward moments. Keep your “Wow” handy, as in “Wow, that was really hurtful. I’d like you to apologize, please.“(See also: “Bless your heart!“)

Has your husband offered any insight or assistance with this? Do you guys think it would help if he (or another relative you’re closer to, like one of their parents) had a talk with your sister-in-law to say simply, “It’s fine if you don’t like _____, but the way you freeze them out of conversations makes ME really uncomfortable. Can you be a tiny bit more polite? A little less glaring, a few more perfunctory nods?” 

When you think about it, it isn’t about trying to run other people’s relationships, this is a straight-up host-guest problem. If I have a party, and someone is a huge jackass to one of my guests for no reason, it’s totally within bounds for me to say “You don’t have to like _____, but you do have to be a basic amount of polite to them while you’re in my house. I’d like an apology and your assurances that that won’t happen again.” And if I catch it in the moment, to say “Hey, _____ was speaking to you. Is there some reason you don’t answer?

If the gathering is going to be at your house, consider having your husband straight-up disinvite her or use the occasion as a reason to open up the topic. “Sister, The St. Crispin’s Day Feast is at my house this year. Let’s talk for a second about how you usually behave toward Spouse. It’s fine if you don’t like Spouse, and we don’t expect an apology or any kind of close relationship, but after 10+ years, it’s time you dropped the silent treatment. If you really can’t stand to be around Spouse and behave with basic politeness for my (and the family’s) sake, then you should make other plans, ’cause there is no way Spouse has to put up with that in their own house.”

Can your husband have your back? Can he (and other family) back you up, or have they just all accepted this as one of her “quirks?” Unfortunately this has gone on for so long that it’s become a habit and it may seem like you’re the one making it weird if you upset the status quo and demand different treatment.

Someone who isn’t afraid to straight-up shun you in front of others doesn’t sound very persuadable or embarrass-able, so I am pessimistic that addressing it directly with her would have any effect beyond letting her know that her behavior gets to you. But if you’re game, give it a go; it’s not like you can make things worse and it may snap her out of it. Script:

S-I-L, can we talk for a second? 

I know we’ve never gotten along, and I’m not interested in having a close relationship with you, but I’d really like you to drop the silent treatment at family gatherings and be a basic amount of polite to me. Thanks.

Don’t sugar coat it, don’t negotiate, don’t apologize, don’t explain, don’t linger and try to talk it out. You don’t want to give her any opening to gaslight you. Just ask directly for her to stop the troubling behavior and see if she does. If she doesn’t? Take comfort in the following:

1) You did your best.

2) You can truly throw up your hands at the WTF?-ness of it all. Whatever!

3) If her family brings up the weirdness, you can say “I asked her to stop doing that, but it looks like it didn’t work. Whatever! How are you?

Edited to Add: I realized after I posted that I didn’t address the question of kids. I suspect that your future Spawn will form their own relationship with Aunt Nasty. Either they’ll get along fine, because, babies are cute and it’s hard to maintain a steady stream of hate for them, or she’ll dislike them too and they’ll figure out that she’s mean and avoid her. Keep your expectations extremely low about any kind of relationship that they might have, and teach them good boundaries (for instance, don’t force them to hug/kiss people if they don’t want to, teach them to respect her space – “Aunt Nasty doesn’t like kisses, it’s okay to not like kisses.“), and if they form a happy relationship with her don’t kibosh it automatically. Since this is a future problem, I wouldn’t worry about it too much now, and I definitely wouldn’t make “but what about kids?” part of the conversations about how she treats you in the now. Probably the best thing you can do for Future Child or Children is to model both politeness toward people one doesn’t necessarily like and standing up for oneself when someone crosses the line.

Anyone else out there in Awkwardtown have a family member who acts as if you’re encased in Carbonite? Did you talk to them about it or improve the relationship in any way?

91 thoughts on “#411: Frozen out by a relative.

  1. My mother-in-law and both of my sisters-in-law don’t like me. (And I don’t really care for them.) They haven’t spoken to me in almost two years. So I pretend like they don’t exist, but I also don’t keep my husband from seeing them. If there’s a family event/holiday/get-together just because, he is always allowed to decide for himself if he wants to go and for how long. I either stay at home or go out and do my own thing. He can have a relationship with them if he wants and I sure as heck would NEVER get in the way of his relationship with them.

    So, in short, maybe you can avoid going to a family event here and there if her attitude toward you is this bad. And you don’t HAVE to invite her to the events you host at your own home. I think the advice to have your husband talk to her is especially good.

    In any case, I hope that someone calls your SIL out and things improve. But even if that DOES happen, you should still ignore her and do your thing.

    Oh and my sister had some issues with her in-laws and told me her relationships with them drastically improved when she had her kids. Here’s hoping that when you have kids, your SIL snaps out of it and is able to have good relationships with them and you.

  2. I never had a family-type person do this, but I did have an ex-and-coworker who did this for a while. It was INFURIATING.

    It’s actually quite a lot of effort to pointedly ignore someone. You can actually see the work involved, and the internal strain required, for them to cause the eyes to just pass right over you. It’s hard if you’re having your own emotional reaction, which is sometimes the entire point – ignoring you so you hurt and want their attention even more.

    Once I stepped back and disengaged my ego from this person’s choices, I could see that actually it was not about me. It was very very hard for me to do, but the more I did it, the more I was able to to dispassionately observe this person’s behavior and know that there was nothing I could do, and it didn’t matter.

    LW, I found that anything that distracted me from the emotional space and into thinky space helped. So I suggest trying to activate Observational You. If you’re together at dinner, how many times does this happen? Does she react if you’re the one sitting next to the salt, like she won’t ask for it but as soon as Bob takes it and puts it down she jumps right on it?

    You might notice how much work she is doing to remain in this cold state against you (you might not). You might start to be more efficient in staying out of her way (you might not). You might decide how to approach her or who to ask to intervene (you might not).

    Probably trying to talk to her outright won’t work, though. Using words with someone who won’t use words is, sadly, usually not very effective.

    1. I too had a co-worker who treated me as if I wasn’t there, and the same thing–being analytical about it–worked for me, too. After a while of observing how very much work she had to put into it–and how annoyed she was when a directive from her boss forced her to actually interact with me–became so clearly absurd that it was funny.

      I have no idea if that would work in a family rather than working situation, but sometimes recognizing the sheer wtf absurd of a thing can make it less hurtful, because a) it distances you from it, and b) it helps clarify that it is the other person, not you, who has the issue. It doesn’t always work, but sometimes it does.

      Also, LW, I second everyone who’s saying that you should not be asked to host someone who won’t even recognize that you exist as a human being. See if you can get your husband to have your back on that one, because it’s far, far above and beyond the call of duty.

      1. Ugh about your coworker… that is very unpleasant. I really sympathize.

        I was recently in a situation where I had to put a LOT of distance between myself and a coworker, and while I did not resort to The Silent Treatment at all, I did make it clear that I would not deal with her anymore by telephone and she accused me of The Silent Treatment, so it was mighty awkward.

        [Background, if it matters – I work from home, my coworker and occasional deputizer for my boss would telephone me repeatedly at all hours including very late insisting I do more work by helping her obtain information, help her understand something, or even do trivial things like reading a press release for her and telling her what it said. If I didn’t answer e.g. because it was 9.30 or 10 pm, she would hit redial until I did. Then she would freak out at me for not answering her before. This started happening every day. She would also call me during work hours for the same, keeping me talking on the phone for up to an hour at a time 😦

        Things came to a head after I tried to make things easier by spending a whole day (getting behind in my own work) setting up a system for her to get some of the information she kept nagging me to explain. She then called me that night at 9 pm when I was in a restaurant with my boyfriend. I didn’t answer. She called something like SIX TIMES, then sent a series of SMS and a bunch of LONG FEELINGSMAILS ranting that I was unprofessional, lazy, a terrible coworker, and insisting I tell her exactly where I was, that she had a crucial press release that she needed help to understand. I even replied to two FEELINGSMAILS saying that it was totally unacceptable to talk to me that way – and it was late and I was not at work, which prompted more angry FEELINGSMAILS about how professional people help their coworkers and how I was a lazy person.

        I finally complained to my boss (I forwarded all the FEELINGSMAILS to him) who was sympathetic but said he could not do anything about her.

        Since I could not carry on that way I told him that I would not deal with her on the phone any more and that she was welcome to email me and if I could help her of course I would, but not out of work hours and that it was not helping either of us to have her continue with this phone behavior.

        Hence the ‘you’re giving me the silent treatment’ accusation.]

        Sorry about the length and possible derail, it felt good to get that out though 🙂

        1. That is so bizarre. I’m sorry you had to deal with that, and sorrier still that your boss was spineless in disciplining the other employee. At least it sounds like Boss has your back in sticking to email-only contact?

          The additional benefit of email is that it covers the “document, document, document” strategy of dealing with workplace bullshit for you 🙂

  3. Speaking as an offspring, it can be okay. My mom’s sister seems to not really be willing to talk to my mom, like, at all. My aunt made a token effort to be sociable at my grandmother’s (her/my mom’s) funeral service, and then proceeded to sit far away from my mom at the meal afterwards. We did not try to interact with her (or her husband or kids). I feel bad for my mom, and I try to help her feel better when I know she’s feeling sad that her sister treats her like she’s in carbonite, but mostly we just agree that we’re better off without that kind of awkward. (Granted, it was more of a problem before Grandma died, when my aunt moved her to a different nursing home and didn’t tell my mom. But otherwise, we just ignore each other and it’s okay.)

    My aunt has definitely done enough crap directly to me over the years (I’m in my 30s) that I have found my own way (not) to interact with her. I agree with the Captain: don’t worry about spawn until they are not theoretical.

    1. We had an awkward family moment along those lines, but it was my mom behaving badly to my aunt. My sister-in-law had organized a family Easter brunch at a supper club for her spouse’s (ie, my sibling) family. My cousin was visiting from out of state, and I hadn’t seen hir for years, so I invited hir and zie invited hir mother and siblings too, who I hadn’t seen since I was a child. And at a table of around 20, my mom and aunt ended up across from each other. My aunt tried to make polite conversation, and my mom just completely froze her out. My stepfather tried to smooth it over by answering questions instead. The whole thing was a total surprise to us offspring. We hadn’t had a gathering with that side of the family since we were kids and my grandma was still alive. Back then, my aunt and mother were civil and seemed to get along, at least from our children’s perspective. So we were just stunned at the Easter brunch, and completely unprepared for it.

      Well, I’m pretty sure my mom was abused as a child, and I think as the oldest she bore the brunt of it, including from her sister/my aunt. In fact, she cut off contact entirely with her family until she was divorced and suddenly a single mother. So there was a lot of history there that we just didn’t know. We didn’t know to accommodate this rift by ensuring that they were seated away from each other, and my mom wasn’t proactive in seating herself to avoid her sister. Because my sister-in-law made the arrangements, my mom may have been surprised by the presence of my aunt and not coping well as a result. We haven’t had a gathering like that since, so it’s never come up again.

      As a bystander, it’s nice to be aware of such problems in advance so that such social breakdowns can be mitigated, yet sometimes you only figure it out after the fact. But 10 years is plenty of time to figure out what’s going on and develop a strategy–direct confrontation, work arounds, whatever. Not any easy situation.

  4. I used to behave a lot like your SIL when I was a teenager. For me it was mostly due to being incredibly uncomfortable and not knowing what to do with myself. It sounds like your SIL is coming from a different place from that (given that she is an adult and 10 years is usually enough time to get comfortable around a person), but I did want to say that all the things the Captain has suggested your husband say to her helped me out a lot and got results pretty much immediately. However, when my also teenaged siblings tried to have the same conversation but instead took an approach like, “You’re so mean! I can’t imagine anyone I love ever acting like that!” they did not get what they wanted.

    Your situation is quite different from mine, but based on my experiences I do think that your husband having those conversations with his sister stands a good chance of helping.

  5. It sounds to me like your SIL is being hateful because she can be….and all you can do is walk away from it. If your husband has your back and wants to call her out on her stupid behavior, that’s up to him, but why should you engage someone who is so clearly going out of her way to passive-aggressively and pointedly let you know that she doesn’t like you? My MIL has pulled this on me, and it never works out for her, because she thinks that I am going to fall all over myself to try to make it better with her. No, I really will not. She pulls the silent treatment and I-don’t-see-you act on me, and I ignore her.

    Blow your SIL off. She’s not worth the mental effort you’re exerting. When the rest of the family comments, while she’s sitting right there making it obvious she’s ignoring you? Smile and say, “Well, I guess not everybody is comfortable being polite. Bean dip?” Let her know by your actions that it doesn’t bother you, and you don’t give a shit if she likes you or not, or feels like exerting the effort to be polite, other people like you, and that’s fine with you.

    As far as future kids go? Why should you subject your SIL to offspring of the person she hates so much she pretends you’re invisible? At family gatherings, steer your kids away from her. When someone asks why, bluntly ask, “Why should I push my kids on someone who obviously dislikes their mother? I don’t think so.” and move on.

  6. Boy does this letter hit close to home! My parents divorced when I was 2? 3? I don’t remember. My mom remarried when I was six. My stepfather was also divorced, and had two daughters, one my age and one 5 years older. I lived with my dad, and visited my mom (and stepdad and stepsisters) every other weekend.

    For a while, things went smoothly. We did fun family things, my stepfather treated me fondly, and all was well. But tensions began to increase between him and my mom, and one night I called my dad to come pick me up. (My mom had wanted to leave with me, but it turned out she had been drinking, and even very young me knew that was bad.) My stepfather begged me to stay, but I was too scared and upset.

    Not long after, I too became invisible. If my stepfather had something to say that he wanted me to hear, he told my stepsisters or addressed it to open air. (I was about eight at the time.) I was mystified. I don’t recall being hurt, just frustrated. The fighting escalated between my mom and stepfather, to the point where they spent their time fighting and we girls spent our time pretending not to hear.

    When I was 14 or 15, I was still visiting every other weekend but my stepsisters had mostly stopped. I was over at the house, and Mom said “Maybe if you talk to him and ask him why things will be better.” At that point, I surely didn’t give a shit – it was an inside joke with me and my family, actually. But it was important to my mom, so I went downstairs into the family room to ask him. (I will never forget, he was sitting watching the OLD Batman movie, with Adam West and Burt Ward. SURREAL.)

    Why did my stepfather hate me? Because I was a spoiled brat. Why did he think that? Because I would sit in his recliner without asking him, and when I was 8 he told me to get out of the pool and I said “you can’t tell me what to do, you’re not my dad!” When I visibly boggled that that was ALL, he got defensive. “Well, I can’t think of the other stuff right now!” When my then 4 year old half sister began crying because we were fighting, I asked if she could go stay with her grandmother. My stepfather refused.

    And THAT was when I figured out it wasn’t about me at all. It wouldn’t matter what I said or did, as long as I wasn’t under his control, I was NOT GOOD. Much later I would understand he was also using me to control my mom. And that is how things stand to this day.

    How do I cope? I ignore him as much as he ignores me. I make my life happy in spite of him. His behavior HAS strained my relationship with my mom. I found out much later that, when they got married, I was living with my mom. My dad offered to keep me for a bit to give them some time to settle in. And then my stepfather announced that if his daughters couldn’t live with him, I couldn’t live with my mom. So even when I THOUGHT he was being nice, he was being a total asshole. And the knowledge that, on some level, my mom chose him over me has been very painful.

    Painfully amusing coda: my mom and stepfather invited us to a weekend family getaway at a cabin in Gatlinburg. I wasn’t excited that my stepfather would be there, but wanted to spend time with mom and family, so we accepted. Imagine my surprise when I found out my stepfather’s family was going too!!!! (They’re all just as spiteful and nasty as he is….) I feel that it’s too late to back out, since they’ve paid for stuff, but have resolved to accept no bullshit from anyone. And we’ll see what happens.

    PS My mom’s family is aware, but is firmly in the “don’t make waves” camp, so while they might be Team Me, they are not overtly so. But I HAVE heard from extended family that stepfather is making an effort to come to more family gatherings. Apparently being an asshole has gotten lonely. Poor him. 9.9

    1. This is different for several reasons, because a) you were a kid and he was an adult and b) you had to live with him in a place where he had authority over you. It was 100% your mom’s job to go to bat for you and not allow you to be subjected to this coldness and rudeness.

      1. No argument here – that’s at least part of why our relationship is so fraught. It is interesting to me how it’s actually MORE awkward now that I’m an adult, and understand social interactions better. I catch myself feeling badly for not talking to him, because YOU DON’T IGNORE PEOPLE.

        I get over it quickly. lol

        1. The “silent treatment” used to be called the Cut Direct, and there were all sorts of etiquette things about when you were allowed to use it and when you weren’t. My general distillation of that etiquette is: only use it for things that are Really Awful. Unforgivably awful. But in that sort of case (and your stepfather’s behavior toward you falls into that category!) then by all means, Cut away.

          1. Among friends, I am civil and polite but distant and do not engage in conversation with those people I do not like. If what they did was so terrible, I’d rethink hanging out with any group that would welcome such a person. If what they did was just annoy me or be a doofus, then I’ll be civil but not waste my time on them.

            I think the only time you were ever allowed to use the cut is if the person you were cutting did something truly awful. And by truly awful, I mean pee in your flowerpots or something. Emily Post side-eyed the heck out of it:

            “For one person to look directly at another and not acknowledge the other’s bow is such a breach of civility that only an unforgivable misdemeanor can warrant the rebuke. Nor without the gravest cause may a lady “cut” a gentleman. But there are no circumstances under which a gentleman may ‘cut’ any woman who, even by courtesy, can be called a lady.

            A ‘cut’ is very different [from someone being absent minded or preoccupied, or just not recognizing you]. It is a direct stare of blank refusal, and is not only insulting to its victim but embarrassing to every witness. Happily it is practically unknown in polite society.”

            That is not to say that we should all be nice and put up with ridiculous bullshit–certainly, many of the letters here show how being nice to everyone no matter what can put people in danger. But there’s a difference between nursing a grudge over a minor infraction and protecting yourself.

          2. Yeah, the only time in my entire life I Yeah, the only time in my entire life I have used the silent treatment/complete non-engagement was when my best friend and roommate was on-and-off engaged to a completely abusive Darth and he was in my apartment. I tried to be a supportive friend as long as possible, but between really caring about her and not being able to handle how he treated her and having my own history of family and relationship abuse that made interacting with him very triggering. But “I’m not comfortable having him in the apartment” wasn’t respected, so all I really could do to protect my own emotional health was stay out of the apartment as much as possible, desperately search for a new place to live, and avoid interacting with him by any means possible when we ended up in the same space.

            But it was a) a temporary measure and b) to protect myself until I could get away. I can’t imagine doing it as an ongoing thing, because as others have pointed out, it is really, really hard. And very emotionally draining. But sometimes it’s all you got. (Totally in response to this thread, not the letter. LW, your SIL seems to be a hot mess and I am sorry.)

    2. I am so sorry that your parents did that to you. You deserve so much better than that from your family. I’m sure there will be so many awkward army commenters will you in spirit at your weekend family reunion, givin’ your dad and his family the side-eye.

  7. I should also note that there is potential for hilarity, if you have a dark sort of humor. I remember joking with my dad about how my stepfather had thanked me for helping them move, the first words he had spoken to me in years. Dad asked “Did he develop a twitch afterwards?”

  8. My SIL hates me, in a very similar, freeze-out way. Years ago she had a serious health mishap, my husband and I helped her, and in some insane subsequent fit of embarrassment, she lashed out at me violently. Ever since, she has quietly frozen me out, and told my husband that she will attempt communication with him and other family members, but not me, because I am a horrible person.
    But, just like TSTMMU, the rest of the family and I get along fine. The result is that SIL has effectively frozen herself out. So, basically, TSTMMU, stay warm. Not hot, just generally warm.

    1. Wow, what a horrible situation!

      One of the worst things about the Silent Treatment is that it makes the Silent Treatee go crazy trying to figure out what s/he “did wrong”. It’s the worst kind of passive aggressive.

      1. Hi,

        First time poster here, Lilly I so agree with your last paragraph. I am going through this right now with my uncle and aunt. Every year I got a Christmas card from them, but not this year. At first I just figured they didn’t send any out this year, or were late with them, but my sisters and parents received one. Ok, to me that’s deliberate and quite frankly hurtful. There were also some snubs on FB that started me thinking that they were having an issue with me and the Christmas card freeze out has confirmed it. I have indeed been racking my brain trying to figure out what I did wrong as this sort of behavior is out of character for them. I’d like to send them an email asking what’s up, but am not sure how to word it.

        1. I’d probably go for brief and innocent: “Dear Uncle and Aunt, I didn’t get your Christmas card this year, and you seem to be avoiding me on FB. Have I done something to upset you?”

          This script doesn’t come with a guarantee. If they’re the kind of people who will react with “Come on! She knows what she did!” there’s probably nothing you could say to get past that belief to get you an answer. But unless there’s weird family dynamics you haven’t mentioned, it probably won’t make things worse or get them to start yelling at your other relatives. This script doesn’t mention that other people did get cards: you’re used to hearing from them every year, this time you haven’t, and you’re wondering why.

          1. Vicki’s script is great. I just wanted to add: Don’t grovel or apologize for anything in advance. The sorts of manipulative shits who pull the Silent Treatment willy-nilly absolutely live to see their victims abase themselves this way.

          2. I guess some people would call it passive-aggressive, but when I’m pretty sure I didn’t do anything wrong, I tend not to pre-emptively introduce the idea that I’ve done something wrong into a conversation. So I go for, “I didn’t get a card this year, which is a pity because I so love hearing from you! Facebook doesn’t seem like as good a way to connect, so please tell me, how are you doing? I feel a little out of the loop with you.”

            On occasion this has merited me a reply of HOW THE HELL HAVE YOU NOT NOTICED THAT I HATE YOU NOW, but on the other hand, if my card got lost in the mail and they really didn’t intend a snub, it’s no harm, no foul.

            (And if they want to passive-aggressively pretend nothing is wrong when they secretly hate me, that’s on them. If they don’t reply, I at least have the clear conscience of knowing I have done everything I can to heal the breach, and leave it alone.)

          3. Thank you the responses, I’ll email them asking if I’ve done something to upset them, no apologies or groveling. I hate to say it, but looking back I see that the weirdness started around election time. We have different political ideologies, but that was never an issue before. I didn’t post anything political on FB, but I did however comment a lot on a pro marriage equality page (I’m 100% for it). Maybe they saw my comments on the newsfeed and didn’t like it? I hate to think that they would be that way. I thought we were above all the political divisiveness going on now, but maybe not.

      2. “One of the worst things about the Silent Treatment is that it makes the Silent Treatee go crazy trying to figure out what s/he “did wrong”. It’s the worst kind of passive aggressive.”

        So true.

        A few years ago I became really good friends with a work colleague and we spent a lot of time together outside of work. As in, went to get tattoos at the same time kind of good friends. We still caught up every now and again after I left that workplace (more than with any of my other former colleagues). She was still one of my good friends, as far as I was concerned.

        One day, another friend from said workplace invited me in one lunchtime to say hi to all my friends there. Everyone was excited to see me, but eventually I realised that Tattoo Buddy was giving me the nose-in-the-air silent treatment. To the point of dramatically turning her back on me whenever I tried to get her attention (because we were all sitting around a big lunch table, and I still hadn’t twigged by this point).

        Later that day I emailed her to say, ‘you seemed upset today, is everything ok’, and I got a very formally worded reply telling me that if I ever contacted her again she’d have me arrested for harassment.

        I never found out what her problem was. (I never contacted her again, obviously). The couple of former colleagues I asked refused to tell me either. It killed me for a bit, until I finally had the epiphany that it doesn’t become my problem until she’s prepared to at least tell me what the problem is. Up until then, the problem is 100% hers and I have better things to think about.

  9. Crap. My long post was eaten by WordPress, or something. Argh. Very long story short:

    My stepfather has ignored me since I was 8. I’m now 34. Apparently when he and mom married (I was six), my dad kept me for a while to let them settle in. After which my stepfather announced that, if his daughters didn’t live with him, I couldn’t live with my mom. So he was ALWAYS an asshole.

    He stopped speaking to me when I was 8 or so. I didn’t mind overly much, it was just annoying and weird. If he said something I needed to hear, he would address it to my stepsisters, or the open air. When I was 14 or so, my mom suggested that I talk to him to see if we could mend fences. I didn’t give a shit, but did it for her. He said I was a spoiled brat because I 1) sat in his recliner without asking and 2) told him he couldn’t tell me what to do (when I was 8).

    That basically showed me that there was nothing I could do. Which was a relief, really. I had wondered if it was my fault somehow; now I knew it wasn’t. The bad part is how it’s affected my relationship with my mom. Things have been strained since my adolescence, at least in part because spending time at their house was so uncomfortable. I sometimes wonder if he deletes the voicemails I leave at the house, since I so rarely hear back from her when I do call.

    So no. I don’t miss the relationship for its own sake, but it’s been brutal on my relationship with my mom. I hope it’s easier for you, LW. And rest assured that it’s not *your* problem; it’s hers. She’s the one being rude, not you.

    1. Agh. My wall o’ text wasn’t showing up, so I thought it got eaten. Sorry for the double post.

  10. My sister-out-law seems not to like me, for unknown reasons. She’s been warming up to me lately, but for most of me and partner’s many years together, she just ignored me as much as possible. She didn’t outright shun me like your SIL seems to be doing, but she’d ignore me as far as she could without being blatant about it.

    Mostly I just ignore her rude behaviour with a cheerful sort of ‘whatever, not everyone has to like me’ attitude, and as much as possible let her and my partner hang out without me.

  11. I had a similar situation with my SIL. It didn’t improve until she had kids. Before that, she alternated between talking to me in a sugar-sweet, yet subtly barbed manner and completely ignoring me. Which state she engaged in depended completely on who was around to witness it.

    Direct confrontation didn’t work. Witnesses did, especially my dh who up to the point where he actually saw the WTF-ery tried to mediate the relationship and was not supportive of my POV. Her mother never saw it, but her second dh did, as did my SIL and my daughter. My other kids are too young. She was better with my kids, even my daughter when she was young, since they are FAMILY and I am just an INTERLOPER.

    I’ve said that the situation has improved, but really? I’m waiting for her to turn on me again. No telling when, where or why, but I feel confident it is going to happen.

    1. I think it may be worth considering the possibility that the performance is not directed at you so much as it is the audience. Although ten years is a hella long time to be flourishing a grudge and no one notice.

  12. I’ll chime in from the other side of a similar(?) situation — not that I assume the LW is doing something wrong, mind. But the freeze-out technique may be used under some circumstances to *improve* the situation.

    I have An Uncle. He has proven himself over the past 20 years to be generally bigoted and vaguely unpleasant, although he’s not done anything specifically awful. He is rarely in face-to-face contact with me because he lives in another country, but occasionally I have to make nice at a family gathering. And… well, I’m really not interested in engaging with someone who has (and expresses) negative opinions about women, gays, and brown people (to name but a few). Neither does my also-female Mexican-American partner. So I largely ignore him. If he speaks directly to me, I’ll answer, but then redirect to include other people. Usually that keeps the conversations short enough that he doesn’t say anything offensive. The rest of the time, it’s more like he’s not there.

    And, I gotta say, having just returned from a family visit of a couple of days — it WORKS. It was very pleasant for me and for my wife and seemingly for the rest of the family. (I overheard only one icky remark about “redneck cousins”, which was deflected by my aunt with what sounded a lot like a CA script. :)) And I honestly don’t care whether it was pleasant for him. He’s aware that I don’t like him, and why. I got a few small gifts for him, because I thought it would have been rude to exclude him completely (presents are big in our family, and me and my wife and my sister and our parents each had a stack), but he didn’t give gifts to anyone, and maintained that “Christmas is for kids”, so whatever.

    So, LW, I don’t see why you have to bend over backwards to be more than civil to your SIL. Why not ignore her in turn — at least as it’s convenient? Engage everyone ELSE in the conversation. Don’t get invested in whether she likes you (because it’s clear she doesn’t, for whatever reason, and you probably can’t change that), and if she’s actively rude, call her on it.

    1. If it’s not too much of a derail, I’d love to discuss this further. Captain, let me know if I need to just write this up as a letter!

      I’ve resorted to pretty much what Remy describes with a close relative whom I loathe. Making eye contact with the guy makes me feel physically ill – if I have to respond to a direct question, I look at the table or the floor while doing so. I’d love to just never be anywhere he will be ever again. Unfortunately doing so would drastically reduce the amount of time I can spend with other family members that I care about, which is not a trade I’m willing to make at the moment.

      I’d be thrilled if he took the Captain’s advice and let the situation be what it is. Unfortunately, he does complain about my behavior to other family members. Not because he actually cares about having a good relationship with me, he just can’t live with the foggiest implication that he’s not a perfect human being. This is a) stressful for the rest of my family, albeit mildly so, they’re getting good at the ‘I don’t know, you’d have to talk to her directly’ reply, and b) makes me wonder if this is really the appropriate way for me to handle this situation. We tried to discuss it once, but it ended up being a lovely recap of why I stopped talking to him in the first place – he threw a pity party about all hard stuff in his life and was unwilling to hear my point of view or apologize for how his behavior has affected me. I have zero expectation that another conversation would result in anything else, unless there’s a radically different approach I can take.

      What do y’all think, is this a reasonable way of handling relative-I-cannot-stand? Have you used similar tactics and how did it turn out? Is there anything else I can do?

      1. It’s not a derail! Sometimes you have very good reasons for not wanting to interact with someone. The LW says they don’t know of any reason that the sister-in-law is so hateful, and has good relations with the rest of the family, so I’m taking their word for it that this is coming out of the blue and treating the S-I-L’s behavior as the outlier.

  13. My family has one of these. 😦 My brother in law (sister’s husband) has never spoken a word to my sister in law (brother’s wife) in nine (that’s right, 9!!) years!!! You will not be surprised, I don’t think, to hear that we’re all in complete agreement that the problem is him!?! Because he took against her before they ever exchanged a single word… literally. My brother brought his wonderful new girlfriend to my sister’s birthday party, and B-I-L never even acknowledged her existence. Since then he has not so much as said ‘Good Morning’ or ‘please pass the butter’ to her. But of course this is not the only instance of his rude-and-weirdness. He is a Broken Stair if ever there was one.

    But no, no one talks to him about it. Becuse my sister has it tough enough with him as it is, and he would be surly and unpleasant and keep us from seeing her or their children. So we just make it plain that we love her, and he’s a jerk. And she’s as ok with that as she can be, which is not perfectly ok, because even if it is clearly HIM and idiosyncratic and irrational, it still hurts.

    Mostly I’m writing about the children. Mine are 14 and 16, so have mostly grown up with this situation. When they were little, they were clueless about what a jerk their uncle is, and we never pointed it out because we figured clueless made it easier for everyone to get along. They love both their aunts to death. They love their cousins, including my sister and the B-I-L’s kids. As they grew up, without anyone pointing out anything they figured out on their own that Uncle X can be charming and genial, or inexplicably unpleasant. So they’re polite, but they don’t like or trust him.

    Your as-yet-imaginary imaginary spawn will probably be the same: as infants, they will be clueless. As they grow, they will see ‘one of these things is not like the others,’ and be able to tell for themselves who is the nasty one. As long as she limits her irrational enmity to you (and to silent treatent), it will be bearable. But don’t leave her alone with them, and if she EVER targets them, you will have to make clear that it can NEVER happen again or you will curtail contact. Do not put family unity above your children’s well being, ever.

    1. This is excellent advice. I have an uncle that I had no idea I was never left alone with as a child. It just never came up, although various of my cousins stayed at his house. It never occurred to me to wonder why I never stayed with him. I did know what everyone thought of his ideas and money-making schemes. I think I understood something of my parents’ attitude towards him and so never grew very close to him.

      When the theoretical kids get old enough to understand, you can (and, I think, should) start revealing some of the dirt under the rug. It can be as easy as laughing in the car on the way home about something particularly obvious that trip.

  14. Spawn perspective here: my mother’s sisters don’t like her (and have legit reasons including years of shitty behavior from her) but they’re fine with me. I’ve always worried that they won’t like me because of my mother, and my social anxiety doesn’t help with that, but we can sit in the same room and watch football together on holidays.

    It’s a toss-up on how your SIL will react to your kids, and I’d err on the side of “poorly” given her ability to evil-eye you for a decade, but you never can tell.

  15. LW, I dunno if this helps at all, maybe I’m reading too much into some of the things you wrote. From the letter it seems like you really wanted/wish you were friends with SIL (so much in common) and that’s why this bothers you so much. It’s like you have/are always trying to have the friend thing and get smacked down. So maybe it’s time to tell yourself it is not that important, it’s not going to happen and let it go. It sounds like you are halfway there, you have decided you don’t have the energy for “overcoming the barriers”, etc. It just seems like there is a yearning that still exists or you crave her approval for some reason that is more about you. So I propose you make that clear to yourself. Even though you have never been friends maybe if you gave her an African Violet it would help you let go of that desire/wish to be friends, signal an end to that in a concrete way, in your own mind/heart.

    1. From the letter it seems like you really wanted/wish you were friends with SIL (so much in common) and that’s why this bothers you so much. It’s like you have/are always trying to have the friend thing and get smacked down. So maybe it’s time to tell yourself it is not that important, it’s not going to happen and let it go.

      Yes, I agree that it sounds like the LW has some tension between theoretically wanting to have a good relationship with her husband’s sister, and then in practice not liking the actual person. But her behaviour also stings a bit! So then it’s all a bit tangled. LW, perhaps it would help if you took a bit of time to allow yourself to feel sad about it, then reframed her as “acquaintance I see more regularly than I would otherwise choose but oh well” and just politely roll on with things?

    2. Ha, for the next family holiday, give her a literal African Violet in a literal pot! Perfect.

  16. I had a similar situation in a close-knit group of friends, and learned a couple of things: the being-ignored that I found so glaringly awkward turned out not to have been noticeable to a friend who, when I asked her if she knew what was going on, was first shocked and then independently took action to make it stop. And, for people who did notice, it made the person ignoring me look a lot worse than it made me look. Given that it’s your SIL’s family, they’re going to keep loving her. But if she’s rude and you’re polite, there’s no way it can reflect badly on you.

  17. Wow, very timely for me. My sister in law has frozen me out for almost three years now, (and my other brother for five) and I finally asked my brother M to acknowledge this and step up if he ever wants me to have any relationship with his family.
    I have two nephews who I haven’t seen in years now, and it’s been pretty painful.

    My SIL is a total control freak, she’s always been pretty unpleasant and bullying (screaming, lies, threats) but I’ve ignored it for years and just gone along with what she wants to do for holidays etc, because it’s the only way to get face time with brother M and the kids. About five years ago, she took a dislike to my brother T’s fiancé- she didn’t show up for Christmas one year. SIL complained she cooked (reheated take out) and slaved and somehow this one person out of eight being a no show made a huge difference and ruined the holiday. She rehashes this grudge so often, her husband forgets her oven hasn’t worked in four years and we order Chinese!

    Since then whenever T tried to make holiday plans, for Xmas Eve of Boxing day or any day during their annual Xmas week off, SIL would insist it had to be Xmas day or nothing at all and lie and say they had plans.

    When my Mom died and we inherited the old run down house, it was the bottom of the market and the house was not up to code. T and M left me to handle and pay for everything and it turned out that even after investing 15K to clean it up we were getting offers of about 50-60% of the former value. I began to think about and prep it for renting.

    At some point my sister started to badger me about selling the house, because they were due for Spring storms and they’d had basement floods before. And went on to say that my brother would die of a heart attack, the kids would have nervous breakdowns if they didn’t get out of there, and laid that at my feet. She wanted to move. When I asked about them putting their house on the market, she literally said “only an idiot would sell their house”. I replied, yeah- it’s the worst time to sell, and I think your first instinct about us and the house (to stay out of the issue- only because I needed help!!) was correct.

    Bam! Exiled just like that- ignored emails, off the guest list for kid’s parties (which I told her hurt, and she responded nastily denying there was anything wrong) , blocked on FB, and basically told flat out that they don’t celebrate Xmas anymore because both of their two living rooms are filled with crap (she’s a shopaholic/ hoarder) and don’t have time during their whole week off to make plans. I know them well enough to know Xmas week is filled with watching cable and trips to the mall.

    My brother acts completely powerless, and I suppose he’s always felt that way. It was disturbing as hell over the years to see him lose all his friends because SIL has no interest in what makes him happy. He’s miserable, and drinks too much. Just over a year ago, e was very upset to find his brother stopped returning his calls about a year prior. I explained how unwelcome SIL had made him, and that we should make an effort. Also, that I hand’t myself seen my nephews in two years. I tried, for what I swore to be the last time to make plans with them. Fail.

    This year, we talked and I brought it up, and he said he didn’t know if the house would be clean to celebrate Xmas again. I replied that it had been three years, we could do something outside the house, that this was hurtful, I didn’t understand why this was okay with him, etc. I got a lame, sorry you feel this way email.

    I asked him not to text me Xmas day, because it just irks me, but to get in touch of he ever wanted to spend time together.

    1. If your SIL is a hoarder, then she’s really seriously mentally ill in a way that’s affecting every aspect of her life and that of people who live with her. It’s not something she’s doing AT you.

      Of course you didn’t mean it that way, but when he admitted that the house wasn’t clean enough to celebrate Christmas and then you said “oh, we can do something outside the house,” that probably really hurt. It’s like admitting defeat.

      They have a Big Secret, and they’re hyper-sensitive to everything that touches on it. I’m not at all saying you should enable that, just explaining that it’s not about you and they’re also probably not deliberately being mean or hurtful, just very wrapped up in maintaining the horrible status quo.

      1. Thanks for your reply! I have to admit the hoarding thing was a bit of an exaggeration. She’s just always got loads of toys and shopping bags of stuff she bought months ago lying around filling most rooms. Last few years, they started entertaining downstairs (hence her flood concerns) because they didn’t clear out the upstairs. But it’s clean and literally nothing two people couldn’t take care of in an afternoon…after an previous afternoon of clearing the closets. Sorry I led you astray!

        I think she’s pretty obsessed with money and shopping but her real issue is control. She will scream and berate my brother at the top of her lungs demanding he spring into action anytime anywhere, in front of anybody. This is pretty unsettling, but has been going on for years (you could hear a pin drop in Planet Hollywood in Times Square last time we all went to NYC!!) but this is normal and not at all embarrassing for her. She doesn’t miss a beat and promptly forgets whatever her fit was about as soon as she gets what she wants.

        And I know from others they have had many barbecues, kid’s parties, and more distant family over in the past few years. There’s no ifs or butts about it, they do socialize and have had lots of people people over. She will however, lie through her teeth in order to have her way. My darling nephews would occasionally call her on it (one knew her “tells!) but my brother just parrots her excuses. He’s really the biggest doormat I have ever met.

        This has always been her MO, when they married she had eleven bridesmaids, a year later she wasn’t speaking to eight of them because it’s always her way or the highway. But I do expect her to reappear at some point when she thinks she can squeeze some money out of me from the house we all own that I am now renting out. (boy will I post some questions then!) But in the meantime, she’s getting a kick out of holding the kids hostage.

        I feel good that I at least made my brother realize this is not cool with me, and put it on him to change things, if that’s what he wants.

        1. This has always been her MO, when they married she had eleven bridesmaids, a year later she wasn’t speaking to eight of them because it’s always her way or the highway.

          …So she had six bridesmaids and five understudies. Or maybe I should just call them spares?

        2. This must be tough. I’m really sorry. And usually I would be all for talking to your brother about his wife’s behavior to you and letting him bat for you. But from what you’ve written it sounds to me like your brother is not as much a doormat as he’s being abused by his wife. The bullying, control issues, screaming and berating, disinterest, and on top of that, the isolation – it’s a list straight from the Abuser’s Handbook.

          It seems like she’s succeeded in isolating him from friends and family already. I think it’s important to understand that this is a highly common scenario playing out here: abusers do this deliberately. They don’t do it at the people they drive away, they do it at THEIR VICTIMS.

          If your brother is indeed in an abusive marriage, as I suspect, he’s in survival mode and his perspective is skewed. You say you don’t understand why this is okay with him, and I think the answer is that your disappointment in him/anger at him is, in his mind, highly preferable to whatever she’s going to do when he’ll show signs of taking anyone’s perspective over hers. I suspect he’s not going to change things much. He can’t. As you say, he feels powerless.

          Isolating a person from his family and friends only serves to give more power to the abuser. Abusers need their victims to have as few confidantes as possible, because they’re a threat to their power. Your brother doesn’t just stand to lose any meaningful relationship with his friends and family, he also stands to lose potential lifelines to the other side.

          It can be horrifying to watch and I don’t know how you should deal with it, but I did want to offer up this perspective on the situation you described.

          Again, I’m sorry.

          1. Oh boy, a light just went off. What’s weird is that I knew the screaming was abusive, but always failed to look at the bigger picture. Her texts to me trying to convince me to sell the house were over the top crazy talk. My poor nephews being exposed to those outbursts and disrespect for their Dad constantly breaks my heart. She has a brother that lives with them and her Mom, another screamer, did too until she passed) and she treats her own brother like a slave too. So she’s pretty used to having the whole household under her thumb.
            What’s really hard is that my brothers and I were super close from our teens to our thirties. We had a fairly rough childhood, a mentally ill brother and then losing three siblings in just over a year (suicide, car accident) before we were teens. So we were always super tight and very protective of each other. His friends (who are banished now) were great friends of mine too, and vice versa. It’s hard explaining to people what happened.
            I feel guilty I don’t know what to do to help him, but also angry he’s allowed SIL to put me in the dustbin of history. I just didn’t expect it, after fifteen years of kissing her ass, to be exiled over one unreasonable request. Me and my other brother are not having kids, the nephews are all we had. Very sad to think I will miss seeing them grow up.
            Thank god I have other friends kids to play Aunty too.
            Thanks for your insight! Love this blog. So many great comments here!

          2. Reached end of nesting, so I can’t reply directly to BB. Also piggy-backing on the excellent points from Keks…plus this is expected to get trapped in filter…

            Here’s an old post that describes a pretty similar situation that you may find helpful:

            And two excellent posts by The Goldfish:


            It is heartwrenching to be a bystander to abuse, but please don’t write off your brother and nephews entirely.

            It is heartwrenching to see someone you love

          3. @BB Oh, I understand your anger. It’s hard enough to stand by and watch someone putting themselves up for being treated like crap, but then have them not only letting the crap seep into everything good but also allowing the crap to land all over you is awful.

            Still, I wonder if there’s any way you can have a relationship with your brother that doesn’t involve your SIL? Emails, phone calls, going for coffee sometime, just the two of you? Seeing as she’s the one who actively froze you out, you owe her exactly nothing, don’t have to keep up a relationship with her for your brother’s sake, but can instead ignore her to your heart’s content. You don’t have to deal with a toxic person anymore! She may be able to control your brother’s relationships, but she can’t control you.

            Plus, you get your brother to yourself, which may have the added benefit of allowing you some kind of presence in your nephew’s lives, or at least knowledge of what’s going on with them. You may be able to rebuild some level of closeness and trust between the two of you. This, by and by, also may be very helpful to your brother.

            @solecism those Goldfish posts are terrific! Incredibly useful.

          4. Keks and Solecism- Thank you both for widening my perspective and the wonderful links. Very helpful stuff! I do feel guilty for having endured all those outbursts for years without any comment. I know if it came from a man I’d sure as heck speak up.
            I will definitely reach out to my brother to reiterate that I am there for him, and try to connect more and preserve our relationship. He absolutely does need a lifeline. I hope at least I have given him some thoughts about how isolated he has become. He seemed truly clueless that this had to do with anything but everybody else. I have to remember he’s been drinking from a poisoned well for many years now, and is indeed pretty beaten down and confused himself.
            So thanks for the sage advice and blueprint for the New Years. You guys are an awesome resource.
            My best wishes to all of you!

      2. Of course you didn’t mean it that way, but when he admitted that the house wasn’t clean enough to celebrate Christmas and then you said “oh, we can do something outside the house,” that probably really hurt. It’s like admitting defeat.

        I’m not sure I understand why suggesting doing something outside the house would be hurtful, or at least why it would be an inappropriate comment even if did unintentionally hurt the SIL/bro. It sounds really considerate to me. It removes the inconvenience of hosting a visit, moves the meeting into neutral territory so SIL doesn’t feel invaded/neither party feels at a power disadvantage, and even tactfully allows the option for the SIL to stay home if she doesn’t want to join bro and the kids. If there is a hoarding issue then the suggestion allows the meeting to not be about that. I agree that of course we should employ tact and politeness when talking about how a person keeps their home, but I don’t think that needs to include buying into or accommodating their whims or delusions in your own life. Besides, suggesting meeting up outside was a practical suggestion in order to facilitate a meeting, it wasn’t a comment about SIL/bro’s housekeeping.

        1. Yes, it was just strategy- so far it’s been the only way to plan anything that SIL can’t cancel at the last minute with excuses about the house or her sinus headaches. (it worked exactly once) It has always been one of the other, and lately it’s extended to her sinus problem being so bad, my brother and the kids also cannot leave the house. I’d offer to help clean if I believed she wouldn’t put up another blockade, but from past experience I know she would. “Nothing” works when she has a sinus headache, no medicine know to man alleviates it, so it’s her go to. The house thing is just an Xmas excuse- but it irks me because they both get one month vacation plus an extra week off at Xmas. I want to yell, just put away all that crap!! LOL. But I know it would just create more sinus problems for poor SIL.

  18. My father’s wife likes to pretend that the children/relatives from his first marriage do not exist. We find this hilarious and respond to her coldness with a cheerful initial greeting, blowing past her on the way to hug our dad and then ignoring her for the rest of the visit; we are polite and happy and leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that her behavior has no impact on our lives and the fucks we give about her rudeness are on back order.

    (This has proven to be a considerably better response than my sister breaking her nose when baited about personal relationships, and then physically prevented from leaving the premises: I can’t recommend it, though it was terribly satisfying for about 5 minutes.)

  19. I think I am on a similar situation except I am the SIL. Well, I try my best to be polite but I really dislike my sister’s husband, for no reason at all. He has never done anything or said anything bad to me or anyone else as far as I know, he just irritates me as hell! I don’t even really know why! So most of the time I just ignore him, I don’t have anything to say to him anyway. The reason I am saying this is that you should really not take it personally, it’s not about you at all and you probably can’t make her like you because she probably dislikes you for no reason and it doesn’t matter. I would definitely ask the husband to talk to her, she is HIS sister after all, and being very rude to you! Good luck with everything!

    1. Sure, but you at least manage the civilities like “Happy New Years to you, too,” and acknowledging his existence, right? That’s way different from cutting someone dead.

    2. Ugh, my sister is engaged to a guy I CANNOT STAND. He’s rude and often says and does rude things and is just generally a jerk. My sister says that this is just how he and his friends joke around, by insulting each other. Problem being, normal people that you don’t’ know very well are not up for that. Plush e’s super patronizing and acts like he’s hot shit, and he’s really high maintenance.

      (Ridiculously irritating example from this Christmas I ask the room “Should I have another drink or stop?” on my way to the bar. My sister responds with “maybe have some water.” to which I respond “I just had like 6 glasses of water.” Because I did, plus there was water at my dinner place, this is not the question I asked. And then the fiance is all “Typical Shinobi, ask for advice and then just do whatever you want.” as though this is some example of my fatal character flaw. AS IF YOU KNOW ME? )

      I feel like if there had ever been a point in our 6 years of knowing each other where I hadn’t wanted to punch him in the face little things like this would not bother me and I would laugh it off.

      I really like my family, we all get along and have a nice time together. We’re disgusting, it’s like the Brady bunch, we mostly legitimately enjoy each other’s company. But now he’s going to be at all of these events, and I’m going to have to be polite to him for eternity and he’s going to be a jerk. I don’t know how I’m going to manage to say anything nice at their wedding. Someone else is going to have to write my speech.

      1. Perhaps your wedding speech could just be lots of insulting, condescending jokes. You know, to make him feel comfortable joining the family by speaking his native language and behaving like a real pal.

    3. Is this an “I ignore him” in the sense of “I don’t initiate conversations” or in the sense of “I pretend that I am literally unable to hear or see him”? The first is certainly your prerogative, but the second is WTF NOT OKAY, and the second is what the LW is dealing with.

  20. Being frozen out – for no apparent reason – can be confusing and very painful. I understand that it can be a necessary evil, particularly with a relative or co-worker you are unable to avoid. A history of aggression/antagonism/bad blood with this individual means that it may be for everyone’s benefit that there is no exchange of any kinds of words, greetings, etc. This should also go without saying that the lack of verbal acknowledgement should not have sneers, glares, eye-rolling, snorts of derision or disgust, or any other obvious signs of contempt. If you can be in the same room, and can have a pleasant interaction with the other people there, but gracefully remove yourself when the person-you-can’t-get-along-with is in too close of proximity, then I think that is all that can be done. No flouncing, huffing, sarcastic or insulting comments, as you exit, either.

    I had a strange freeze out with a group that I volunteer with. I am not as active as some people, but more active than others. One woman started out being very friendly to me, then for no reason (I could tell) would unpredictably scold me via email for doing something I had done many times before. It was like the rules had changed but no one told me. Sometimes this person would act friendly towards me, but then twice(twice!) when there was a meeting at someone’s house this woman did not acknowledge me at all when I arrived, make eye contact when we were the only people there, or make any effort to engage me even in trivial small talk. I felt really weird and hurt, and of course neurotically obsessed about possible reasons why this could be happening. It felt like she was making a special effort to act like I was not even there. Then, at other events this person acts all normal and friendly towards me again. WTF ?! It made me feel very bad, and I volunteer much less now. I think that I would have been okay with this person not liking me, consistently, but the hot and cold treatment really sucked extra. So freezers out there, don’t do that.

  21. The brother/LW husband’s lack of involvement in this is what really jumps out at me here – does LW not feel comfortable saying “Husband, why is your sister acting like this? Nobody in the entire family has said anything to LW about why SIL is not merely a jerk but an incredible jerk to her? Maybe I’m overreading here but it sounds like there are major issues with the family dynamic overall.

  22. I had a co-worker like this. I responded in a similar manner to Epiphyta above. I greeted him when I saw him first thing in the morning and thereafter behaved towards him as I did to all my other co-workers, except that I didn’t actively try to engage him in any conversation other than that required for work and generally kept my distance. Luckily there wasn’t much I had to do that required me to work with him closely.

    Speaking later to my now former co-workers it’s clear that (if they perceived anything at all) they perceived me as friendly/polite and him as rude.

    If your SIL is behaving in this way to you then it’s likely that those around her are either not noticing anything wrong (with her *or* you) or they think she’s rude (but family so waddaya gonna do?) and that you’re a saint for putting up with her nonsense.

    You don’t say she’s poisoning the family well in any other way (badmouthing you to relatives for example) so I’d be inclined to just follow the scripts the Captain has given you and demonstrate by your behaviour that her childishness has no effect on you.

  23. My husband’s brother hated me since he knew of me, before we ever spoke, on principle. I don’t know what principle. It’s been five years and he’s come up with various reasons to despise me and say hateful thing (the two brothers also do not get along). I can’t really offer much optimism — the weird hatred my brother in law was willing to display toward somebody he’d never met made my husband reconsider being in contact with his family. He saw his family dynamics in a whole new way, that his family couldn’t accept me and be happy for our marriage. They’re now all blocked on facebook, their emails are filtered to the trash and their calls are screened to spam on google voice. Not accepting a partnership after half a decade is a great ticket out of somebody’s life. Remaining in, maybe it would be helpful to remember that you’re a bit player in a larger story that you can’t effect. It sucks to be cast as this person’s personal satan, though. Believe me, I know.

  24. My former SIL was the same way. But with her, it was from the beginning. The first day she met me, she ignored me and pointedly ignored me thereafter. I mean, there were occasions where she was sitting next to me doing everything in her power to make it seem like I wasn’t there. I never did take it personally, since she had never met me or my husband at the point she started doing this. So, why? I don’t know.

    Now, I will admit that I have a perverse sense of humor. But I always pretended like I didn’t notice that she ignored me. I didn’t go out of my way to try to make nice or to antagonize her, but if we were all sitting around having a conversation and something came up when would naturally direct a comment or question to her, I would. Because the contortions she put herself through to not answer me were absolutely hysterical.

    But look, I think the important thing to realize is that this isn’t about you. Even if it were initially about you, it’s grown into its own thing now. The best thing you can do for yourself is to let it go and behave as naturally as possible around her. That means giving greetings and goodbyes and otherwise not going out of your way to either include or exclude her (at times when you’re at someone else’s house, I agree that there’s no reason to put up with this in your own home).

    And any spawn will be fine. It doesn’t matter if this gets better or if it gets worse, the spawn will adapt because that’s what spawn do. It doesn’t hurt children any to have an aunt or uncle they don’t know particularly well. And everyone needs a bizarre family member or two– you adapt to a cold aunt the same way you do to a crazy uncle. I have a grand total of six aunts and uncles plus their various spouses and a whole gaggle of cousins. I haven’t even met most of these people. I cherish the relationships I have, but I don’t feel a lack in the relationships that aren’t there. So, if she wants a relationship with your kids, then the base price of admission for that should be a modicum of politeness to you, but her relationship with your kids is hers and theirs to have or not. You don’t have to go far out of your way to foster a relationship with her for them, unless she’s going out of her way to get to know them.

  25. Wow, does this letter sound eerily familiar. My fiance’s sister in law – his older brother’s wife – has hated my guts for close to ten years now. When we are together in public, she acts exactly like this – cold, dismissive, as if I’m not in the room. We have literally never – in an entire decade – had a conversation. She supplements the public freeze with private nastiness, always directed at my fiance. (She’s never addressed me directly.) She has called him drunk in the middle of the night and screamed at him about what a horrible person I am. She has invited him to her house and then added that of course I am not welcome. Every time we are sent a mass email, she hits reply all and deletes my email from the list so I am left out of plans. She has hosted parties for mutual friends and not invited me, leaving people to assume I didn’t want to come. She has staged “interventions” with my fiance to tell him that everyone can see how miserable I am making him. I could give a different story for every day of the year.

    It will be interesting to see if she changes at all with children – she is currently pregnant. I decided long ago that any children of mine would never, ever be left alone with her.

  26. I had an ex who’s mom never spoke to me in four years of dating, just hated me off the bat. But I finally figured out that she hated me because she had worshiped Previous Girlfriend, and no one could ever measure up to her. Previous Girlfriend was a bit of Darth Vader (so was Ex’s Mom), but that didn’t matter to her – they were just too alike and she was the One she had picked out for her son. (Pretty dysfunctional family, them).

    For many reasons I’m not in that relationship anymore, but I wanted to share this perspective as an example of why someone might have irrational hatred of you. I had never done anything to make her not like me except to not be Previous Girlfriend. And I could never overcome that. I don’t know how this might apply to LW’s situation, but I just thought I’d share as something to consider.

  27. When I was 13 and at summer camp, my cabin leader did that to me. I developed a workaround: when I needed to say something to her, I’d say what I needed to say, out loud, and then when she ignored me totally, my best friend at camp (whom the cabin leader didn’t hate) would repeat it to her, and she’d answer my friend.

    Years later I realised that she was only 18 herself, so her immaturity was probably because she was actually chronologically immature.

    I think that if I had to do it again knowing what I know now, then right after the third or fourth offence I would have said in front of her co-cabin leader and the other campers, in a tone of polite confusion, “Jen, why don’t you talk to me any more? It’s like you’re giving me the silent treatment.”

  28. I have a bad history of freezing people, which is something I am working on pretty hard. Sometimes it’s because I just don’t like people, or because they said something that hurt me and I don’t know/trust them enough to bring it up (again, my problems, not theirs).

    That said, the thing that has melted me in the past is someone whom I love and trust bringing it up to me (any other relatives you’re close to?) – not in an accusing way, or in an explicitly going-to-bat-for-the-other-person way, but just like, “Yo, what’s going on with you two?” and then I can either be like “THIS THING AND THIS THING AND THIS” and they’re like, “Uh, maybe you should just talk to them about it,” and I muster up my guts to do it and it gets better…or they’re like, “I get that you don’t like them but they are my friend so seriously you need to stop being rude,” and I realize I’ve been being a jerk and try to shape up my relationship to them in the future.

    Or maybe she’ll be like, “Fuck off,” and refuse to change. The nice thing is that it seems like you have LITERALLY NOTHING TO LOSE so it’s worth a shot.

  29. I had a coworker like this. I never managed to have a good working relationship with her. The only thing that helped was deciding that she was a narcissistic hosebeast who would never, ever treat me well. I also had to admit to myself that the way she had treated me before was totally unacceptable–that it wasn’t because I was mean to her or a bad person or difficult or WHATEVER, just that she was kind of awful. And that a lot of my hackle-raising had been a reaction to her awfulness. Maybe I had not handled the situation with aplomb and finesse, but the situation? Was her.


    It took me a long time to get over, though. Chang Rae-Lee called silence “the bluntest instrument,” and that’s how this works: there’s nothing you can do about it, nothing you can do to confront it. It took me a really long time to figure out why I was so upset by her, so angry, and then it dawned on me: treating someone like a bad smell is in fact extremely disrespectful! It makes one furious because it is infuriating!

    If I were you, and if I were minded to confront her directly, I’d do it right in front of everyone the very next time she refuses to acknowledge a Hello. Don’t go off on a tirade. Just say, “You’ve given me the silent treatment for ten years. You don’t answer when I say hello, even. It’s really rude and hurtful. Why do you do it?” And let her try to explain. Then walk away, because she won’t have a good explanation (and, really, why do you care to hear it?). But don’t manage hers or anyone else’s feelings on this when you challenge it–she’s basically sucker-punching you every single time you come face to face, and it doesn’t help to pretend that it’s not a really rude, mean thing to do. It makes sense that it would make you feel terrible: it is terrible.

  30. Silent Treatment–at this point, your SIL’s assholery has been on display to everyone. She has not shared her beef with you, she’s being passive aggressive as all fuck, and she is not worth your problem. This is bitch of me, but fuck it–let her show her ass to everyone. She’s the one who’s coming off poorly. How to deal with her? Be as polite and civil as you are and let her be a shitheel in contrast.

    1. Sheelzebub, you seem pretty knowledgeable about etiquette. So I’d love to have your advice on how to deal with a “lady” who was my husband’s first mistress some years ago (she dumped him at some point, she’s still happily married with her husband, but I did separate, after my husband had other mistresses). Her kids and my kids are in the same school, and sometimes have extra-curricular activities together.

      The thing is, although I’ve never ever been impolite to her, she usually looks right through me when I say hi. I’ve walked the high road in this, and only two of my closest friends know what role she’s had. I’m not saying my husband’s philandering was her fault, but both of them have behaved in really horrible ways towards me – including getting my husband to invite her and her family over at my own home for one New Year’s Eve, on the pretense to let all the kids play together – he menaced me to talk to her husband about the affair if I refused, so that her husband would dump her, and he would elope with her – something I was not ready to consider happening over a stupid dinner, after 10 years of marriage and our 3rd child still in infancy, and having learned of the affair just ten days before, so I did give in that time.

      Anyway, back to now. Last time our kids had an event together, she was talking with two moms I go to choir practice with, when I arrived and saluted all three of them. Both responded, but the ex-mistress gave me the silent treatment. I was really pissed, and itching to let the ladies know what’s the bad beef between both of us. At the end of the event, she brushed past me in the crowd when the kids were exiting, and she said “your kids are so sweet” – but we were going opposite ways, I was still hurt from her cut earlier, and two words whispered in passing are not an apology in my book, so I didn’t acknowledge her.

      So, should I impolitely cut her from now on ? At what point of bad behavior from her should I let other moms know that she was my husband’s mistress ? I don’t want any unpleasant consequences for my kids, nor for hers. Her kids are the only reason I’ve kept it so quiet all that long – they don’t deserve to be shamed for their mother behavior. I’m in Europe where making a big deal about adultery is not polite, so the worse that will happen to her is people whispering behind her back. No adult will ever come and confront her about it. But if those adults do tell their own kids, her kids may hear that their mother is a slut, from other kids. I don’t wish that.

      Thanks for your help

      1. Hey, not Sheelzebub, but my thoughts: you seem to be working hard to be kind to First Mistress and to take her feelings in consideration. The same for her kids. But that’s not really your responsibility. She was FM. Your husband acted like…I don’t even have words. But no responsibility to ‘behave’ and play nice should fall on you.

        1. Thanks for your thoughts. What does FM mean ?
          I don’t care for her really, but her being rude to me in front of those other moms was just awful. I do care for her kids though, true. I have a soft spot for kids, all kids, not just mine.

      2. OK. I’ll say that although Emily Post side-eyes the cut, I think it’s just fine to not say anything to your husband’s ex mistress. Honestly, think of her as the emotional equivalent of the bubonic plague and be very, very happy that she is steering clear of you. That sort of foolishness is catching. Let her cut you. Welcome the silence and the unpolluted air. The thing is, she’s going to show her ass, she’s been showing her ass, and people have taken note.

        And. . .in that vein of safety first, I’m going to highlight this:

        “I’m not saying my husband’s philandering was her fault, but both of them have behaved in really horrible ways towards me – including getting my husband to invite her and her family over at my own home for one New Year’s Eve, on the pretense to let all the kids play together – he menaced me to talk to her husband about the affair if I refused, so that her husband would dump her, and he would elope with her – something I was not ready to consider happening over a stupid dinner, after 10 years of marriage and our 3rd child still in infancy, and having learned of the affair just ten days before, so I did give in that time.”

        This worries me a fuck of a lot more than your husband’s ex girlfriend on the side. Are you still married to your husband? Has he ever acknowledged his horrible behavior towards you? Has he done jack shit to rebuild your trust–not just in his fidelity but in his behavior and treatment? (Since she wasn’t his first I’m doubting this . . . but maybe he’s made an effort after a long history of asshattery.) I don’t mean to be all Camp Survive Alive, but this behavior of his sounds abusive. It actually does not sound safe. Even if he never hits you, that sort of treatment is demoralizing. Fucking around on someone, rubbing it in their face, and threatening them are shitty and awful things to do. You deserve better than that.

        1. Oh, so nice of you to answer back ! Don’t worry for me, I separated 5 years ago, and I’m really fine now. He’s still the father of my children, of course, but I have come to understand that he had been abusive to me through the whole marriage.

          I have main custody of the kids. He’s been awful after the separation but I’ve not let him bully me, and it’s always someone else who deals with him when he brings the kids back from visitation. I have no contacts with him except mails about the kids’ schedule maybe 5 times a year.

          Actually I feel some gratitude towards the first mistress, because until then he had persuaded me I was the bad one in the marriage, and the cause of every small trouble… But I couldn’t stay blind to his abusive ways after that !

          Nobody has taken note of her ways… I’ve kept quiet, her husband has kept quiet too. In fact, he knew, and he was being manipulated by her too – she told him my husband was the one pushing for it, and that she was scared of either him or me exposing her. Her husband practically begged me not to expose her cheating on him… unbelievable.

          Periodically I feel like revenge in exposing her, but pity for her children wins. They are sweet kids who deserve a better mother. And a less coward father.

          1. Oh, thank the FSM! I’m glad you jettisoned the creep. As far as your husband’s ex girlfriend, people will see (and they do see) that she’s acting like an ass.

      3. Oh, and while I’m deeply flattered that I seem to know a lot about etiquette, it doesn’t come naturally. I am terrible at interpersonal things, have developed viable workarounds after 43 years, and once I learned the “rules” I figured out how to jack them. Which is not good if you’re trying to be a genuinely nice person (etiquette and manners are supposed to make people feel comfortable, after all). I am also a champion equivocator which makes writing thank you notes for passively insulting gifts downright fun. But again, it’s not nice. 😉

      4. My first reply was caught in mod. I’ll just say, right here, that I’m actually more concerned about your husband’s treatment of you. Is he an ex husband or are you still married to him?

  31. We have a family member like that. In our case, he married into OUR family. Also in our case, he doesn’t just hate one person, he hates everyone. He will rarely speak to anyone besides his wife and children, unless he is butting into other conversations to offer up his own condescending sort of wisdom or cause offense (always followed by “no offense!” like it makes a difference). He refuses to respond to “Hello” or “How’ve you been?”. It’s at the point where if he responds to any sort of polite attempt at a greeting, the rest of the room gets quiet out of pure shock. If someone talks about a promotion they received at work, or a business venture becoming successful, he will be overheard telling his wife about how the successful person is a work-a-holic who neglects his family in pursuit of the all-mighty dollar. If someone brings a bottle of wine that costs under $15, he makes remarks about the cheapness of some people, and how his palate finds our bourgeois tastes unacceptable. (While he and family bring boxed, frozen entrees as their contribution because they are just too busy…) The worst of it is, it has been revealed that he is writing a book for his bucket list–about us! And based on his “interview questions”, it is not going to be flattering. His wife is mortified, and has begged all of us to not tell her parents.

    In short, his rudeness is his own problem. Over the years, it’s gotten so bad that even the most polite of family members have nothing to do with him. There’s nothing we can do to change him–although we have made it a bit of a game, chasing him down, corning him to see if we can get him to say hello to us. So we ignore him and mostly laugh at him. My advice is to try and find the funny in your SIL’s behavior. Find a friend in the group with a sick sense of humor and play Dysfunctional Family Bingo. If she says something appallingly rude to you, it’s okay to do the, “Bless your heart!” and then crack a joke to try and make the situation a little lighter. And get ready to write scathing reviews on amazon when SIL’s book, “Why I Hate My Brother’s Wife”, comes out.

    1. OMG, that BOOK! That sounds epic. I can think of more than a few memoirs that have made me go, “Everyone they’re describing sounds perfetly fine, actually–it’s the author that’s the asshole here.”

  32. While there isn’t much excuse for not returning a “Hi, how are you?”, I suspect she picks up on the fact you’re not really that interested in socializing with her unless you have to, either. So if she’s convinced herself you don’t actually want to talk and she’s just saving you the trouble (again, not an excuse for her behavior; just a possible explanation), clearing the air with her might help.

    Or maybe not. Maybe it is something about your husband. Maybe she’s jealous of how easily you get along with everyone else when she doesn’t have that gift. Maybe it’s something else entirely. But trying can’t really make things worse, right?

  33. I have an Aunt Nasty. She is my Moms sister, and she and my Dad hate each other, but she is incredibly rude to my mom as well. When I was a kid I had a couple years where I was really hurt because she’d constantly mock my sister and I or make fun of us/generally be mean. So then I figured out she was mean and didn’t like me and stayed away. And as an adult I now know she is awful and evil and her not liking me has nothing to do with me and good riddance.
    People who are that rude and intolerant of family without just avoiding certain people seem to be out to make trouble in my view. Don’t worry about trying to save a relationship- if I were you I would try to distance myself as much as possible. She doesn’t like you and she makes that very clear so you have a perfect excuse for not inviting her to stuff. Why invite someone who hates you to come visit you?

  34. Thanks, Captain, for your reply, and everyone, for your comments. Holiday timing means I am not able to reply individually right now but I really appreciate all that you’ve said and will come back and reply at a later time!

    I have seen Aunt Nasty (which is what I’ve decided to call her) this holiday season and we mutually ignored each other. Awkward (for me at least) but I just mantra-ed myself with “not everyone has to like everyone” and tried to have a good time anyway.

    Happy holidays to all those celebrating!!

  35. Letting it go is always an option. Why continue to let this woman dominate your headspace? Don’t talk to her, don’t approach her, don’t talk about her. Acknowledge her existence if, say, she is between you and the buffet or something, or if she is talking to someone you want to talk to. Other than that, just ignore her back. It’s much less effort than continuing to think about it. If you feel you want closure on the situation, which is frequently the case and usually means “want her to admit she’s a dick”, read CA’s advice two letters up: decide it is closed. Boom.

  36. Dear Silent treatment makes me uncomfortable,

    This is awkward because while I want to explain my fervently offered advice with some precedent, it is not about me.

    I agree–I have–or had–an awful sister in law. The high princess of shit and shirley temples. Sweet, cloying, utterly insincere when my husband was alive. Calling and demanding jewelry–that her right to inherit was questionable–the week he died. And by ‘the week’ I mean, three days.Put one of his oldest friends into broken-hearted tears by yelling at her. Gave the most vapid speech I’ve ever heard at a funeral. Tried to convince the rest of family in law that I was an amateur art-thief, then accused me of that, of stealing other things, in fact pretty much everything short of being in the hitler youth. Cut off–and continues to cut off–the whole family, me included, from any medical information about my mother in law who is permanently in a nursing home. Fortunately her oldest son has access to the info and thank the Gods he’s a nice man, so while the news blackout remains we know SIL is not running the show unwatched.

    I was in this place with my SIL due to very unexpected circumstances. I honestly pray nobody else ever encounters them. I can’t add any better advice to dealing with yours to what others have said above. But please, please make sure that you and your husband have both got settled established documentation of final wishes, wills, medical proxies that are fully updated. It’s a very good idea in any case and it could be vital with this.

    I am so sorry, I do not want to channel the grim grimness, and I apologize for the doom and gloom.

    All blessings to you! –And the Cap’s Saint Crispin’s day feast sounds great? What does one serve, roasted French battle banners from the 15th century?

  37. I think you should count this as a blessing. This woman has revealed herself to be a rude and unpleasant person, someone that you would not want to interact with anymore than you had to. If you saw her acting towards someone else in the way she is acting to you, you would draw reasonable conclusions about what kind of person she was (ie rude and petty) and try to avoid her as much as possible. You are fortunate because this way, she is doing the work of avoiding her for you.

    As someone whose mother is silent treatment jerk to my entire family and I, just wave at her at the beginning of the night and talk with other people for the rest of the visit. Don’t give her the chance to be silent treatment jerk at you. If she joins the conversation you are having, finish what you are saying and excuse yourself to help in the kitchen, go to the bathroom, catch up with uncle jeff, ect, when she starts being silent treatment jerk at you. There can be no awkward jerky pauses if you are not there to awkward jerky pause at. Don’t let her use other people as secret drug mules of pure, uncut, Columbian jerky silence to you. If someone asks why she is acting like this, just tell the truth and say you don’t know why but you wish she would talk to you and sort this out.

    Other than social interactions, treat her like you treat a family member you don’t know that well or see often (ie send gifts, extend invitations to her for once-in-a-lifetime, big family events like marriages/graduation/baptism/ect but not yearly events like holidays) so that you can’t be accused of being silent treatment jerk yourself. Treat her the way a guest that does not care for pet’s would treat a host’s pets. Remember that she is not being silent, she is being deliberately rude at you, so treat her accordingly. Her silence is radioactive waste, and you do not want any of that shit on you. Letting her silence on you only encourages her fantasy of you as the evil person, causing her distress by…existing, and her nobly and silently suffering through your vague, undefined EVOLNESS.

    I think that what will eventually happen (based on what eventually happened with my mom and our family) is that you’re husband’s family will simply not invite you and SIL to the same events and SIL to less events. She is the one making things awkward (as you’ve already tried to smooth things over with her). People who act like jerks get a reputation for being a jerk, and people don’t want to willingly hang out with jerks, even if they do share genes with them.

  38. I’m writing this as anon because I don’t want any chance that this could leak back (I apologize for that, but this is what gaslighting combined with cyber-stalking does to a person). Part of me has the urge to stick up a bit for the silent-treatment givers – sometimes, the person on the receiving end of the silent treatment does know exactly what they did and refuses to acknowledge it. Not saying that this is what the LW has done, but just simply reacting to some of the comments and the situation in general, as it hits VERY close to home.

    Context makes my position clearer. I am currently Silent Treating/Ignoring my two members of my immediate family, which pains me to do, but right now it’s the only solution I have. They recently said some incredibly hurtful things (the wording of which I will probably remember to my grave, because it is SEARED into my memory, making it all the harder to “forgive and forget.”). I mean, these were truly horrific and nasty things, completely out of proportion to something I said with which they disagreed.

    When I spoke to my mom about this, she told me that they had told her I was overreacting to things said in jest (there is no way in hell that their version of events as relayed to my mother is the truth – what they said could not remotely be perceived as “in jest”). So the lie they were spreading through the family was that I was unable to take a joke and was all kinds of extra-sensitive and that’s why I was cutting them out of my life.

    So I think it’s especially important to recognize as a bystander in this type of situation that the person receiving the silent treatment may just be lying to you in an effort to gaslight the person doing the cutting off. As a person on the wrong end of this, I think it’s important to figure out both sides of an issue like this before you pop in and defend the person getting ignored. It’s entirely possible that it’s being done without reason, but it’s also entirely possible that the person has a very good reason that you are only getting one side of. Blah.

  39. Regarding future kids, though this is with a Grandma, not an Aunt so that might make it a bit different, here is my story…

    My Dad’s Mom refused to talk to my Mom until the day she died (on her deathbed, she finally talked to my Mom once) because my Mom was Lutheran and my Dad Catholic and she was corrupting my Dad or whatever. It seems so weird to me as Lutheran is as close to Catholic as you can get, I can’t even imagine what she would think of my brother (who is agnostic) marrying a Muslim (albeit non-practicing). Anyway, I don’t remember her much as she passed away when I was 4, but I didn’t even know until a few years ago when my Mom was talking about the deathbed story in passing that my Grandma refused to talk to my Mom, we apparently were also baptised Catholic and went to Catholic and Lutheran churches until she died, then my Dad converted. Yeesh! She had a “normal” Grandma relationship with me and my siblings and I had no clue she was giving my Mom the silent treatment. I’m sure I would have noticed as I got older and I am not sure how my Mom would have handled it, but it was important for my parents for me to have a relationship with my Grandma despite her behavior towards my Mom.

    And all the insight about how the person doing the freezing out often ends up freezing themselves out is good. I’ve never had someone give me the silent/ignore treatment, but I’ve certainly felt the icy hate/dislike/etc. from someone for no reason I knew of anyway and for me letting it go was the only thing to do as it really wasn’t my problem, but they at least would acknowledge my existence.

  40. I may have a slightly different perspective. My Sister-in-law instantly disliked me as well and is cold and rude to me at family gatherings. What I’ve realized is that she is an insecure woman who wishes my family (mother especially) is hers instead of mine. She acts like she resents my existence because she actually does (resent my existence). She would rather I not exist and, instead, she becomes the “daughter” of the family.. Every time I show up at a family gathering, it reminds her that she is not actually the daughter. So, she basically wishes I were dead so she can realize her fantasy of being the daughter.

    How do I deal with it? Certainly not well. I feel hurt and angry and I’m more than a little worried that my brother’s marriage to this insecure woman isn’t good for him.. Mostly I try to ignore her, but it takes energy to deal with the passive-aggressive behavior, so sometimes I just avoid the family events all together. I would rather spend my days off feeling happy rather than hurt.

    Anyhow, even though some insight might make you feel better, it doesn’t necessarily fix anything.

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