#1104: “Help me reach common ground with my sister-in-law.”

Dear Captain Awkward,


I’m trying to find a way to normalise relations with my future sister in law (“Sally”). She has been with my husband’s younger brother (“Bill”) for many years and they’re marrying soon. I’ve been with my husband (“Frankie”) for about half that time and married a year. Sally is simultaneously very polite and welcoming, but quite cool and sometimes scornful (it seems) of things I have done. I admit in several cases this is my fault and would like to make it right. Other times she seems to deliberately exclude Frankie and I from events or avoid invitations from us. Frankie does not like her at all and I try to defend her and get Frankie to accept her, because she is Bill’s partner. I would like to get on better with her and get Frankie to accept her, for peace in the family.


Sally and Bill are very successful late-20s professionals in a big city, own their own home and have solid careers. Frankie and Bill’s parents are retired in a nice town. Frankie and I are in our early-30s, work in poorly-paid fields, rent in a much poorer area, and are not as set up in life due to planning to move elsewhere (so we live cheaply and are saving up).

I quite admire Sally, as she has excelled in her (demanding) field, seems to be a really decisive and motivated person, has gone through some hard legal stuff, has made the house look amazing, is really stylish etc. I try to ask about her achievements or compliment her skills (eg. the house, her work, even a nice dress) but she is very dismissive of any compliments. (I don’t say things like “wow you’re the best ever at your job!” but “that sounds like a cool job”, so I hope I don’t come across as sycophantic).

We have never seemed to click.

On the one hand, Sally is a consummate hostess. They hosted Frankie and I several times in their previous home, when we travelled to their city to see the extended family – I would try to buy them dinner in thanks but it was politely refused. (I felt as though we have taken advantage of them, and would suggest staying in a hotel, but Frankie would ask and I wanted him to spend time with his brother. I have said many times I will return the favour if we live somewhere they want to visit).

On the other hand, Sally has sometimes seemed … disgusted (?) by things I have done. Some family friends had visited from abroad, and I had failed to book a restaurant for all of us for dinner – she actually curled her lip and rolled her eyes at Bill. (the dinner turned out fine BTW). I have offered to plan a holiday for us all and pay for a cabin, but never been taken up on it. I have invited them to Frankie’s birthday and chose a date that suited them after contacting Sally to check, but then Sally booked a cabin for herself, Bill and Bill & Frankie’s parents on that same date. I have offered to help with wedding preparation etc but have not been taken up on it.

Sometimes this has definitely been my fault: in one case, a lawyer friend offered to refer her to a colleague re: her legal issue, unfortunately this somehow turned into my friend grilling her for an hour over the issue (when I was not there to stop her doing it!), and I was mortified (I had just wanted her to pass the contact details to Sally, as I had asked Sally beforehand if she wanted more information, and I don’t know how it turned out like it did!). Another time, Sally had very kindly asked if I was OK due to some relationship stress, I confided in her a bit (and was really grateful as no one else had asked) and then I think she attempted to help, in her forthright way (it came across quite bluntly), but Frankie became very angry and stormed away.

It doesn’t help that Frankie has never approved of her and I am concerned that Frankie and Bill’s parents also are (secretly) cool towards her. They have always been very kind to me AND to Sally, and Frankie has said his parents never outright expressed opinions on any partner he or his brother has brought home.

But – at the parents’ house, I made the mistake of laughing a bit about a text Sally had sent me (it can be hard to read tone and I was initially very upset, but was later laughing about it and how I had misunderstood), and somehow that turned into a conversation about her blunt manners. I left the room and later Frankie seemed pleased that maybe their parents share his feelings.

So I am very, very worried that some kind of “them and us” situation will develop, which will cause a division; I often stand up for Sally in discussions where she is not present, as Frankie can be critical of her. I ask: “How would you feel if Bill said these things about me?”; “I can empathise with her, I have similar worries” etc.

I accept that we’ll probably never be bosom friends due to the age gap and different interests, but I would like to become allies and maybe one day friends due to shared experience. I worry perhaps that she might see me as an interloper/stealer-of-thunder, as Frankie and I got engaged and married in a much shorter timeframe?

So I guess I am looking for scripts for three things:
1) to apologise to Sally for those past instances where I’ve made things awkward
2) to say I would like us to have a better relationship, or at least start on making one
3) to help Frankie understand that Bill has chosen Sally, and Frankie needs to get over the issues he has with Sally (I have outright said this, as have his PARENTS, repeatedly, but it is not sinking in!)

Please help –
Stressed-Out Soon-To-Be Sister-In-Law

Hi there!

What I see in your letter: You never clicked with Sally and your husband actively dislikes her. You seem to be taking on a ton of worry and emotional labor around Sally & her relationship with the rest of the family (worry and labor that they don’t seem to share) and I am not sure where this pressure to make things right or the idea that it’s your job in the first place is coming from.

To me, this is one of those bad news/good news situations where a) Bad news, there’s nothing you can do to fix the situation! and b) Good news, there’s nothing you have to do to fix the situation!

Let’s look at the specific scripts you’re looking for.

1) to apologise to Sally for those past instances where I’ve made things awkward

– No need! It sounds like anything that got awkward between you and Sally from her end was minor and is long over, and bringing it up to apologize about it again will probably just make it weirder. It’s extremely unlikely that she’s going to apologize for (or even remember) awkward stuff that she did, like rolling her eyes at you during your family’s visit. An occasional stilted interaction is not a crisis that needs solved. Sometimes the kindest gift you can give someone is space and a clean slate to try again another day. Sometimes “we don’t really click but we try our best to be nice” IS normal.

2) to say I would like us to have a better relationship, or at least start on making one

If you want a better relationship with Sally than you have right now, here are some things you could try:

a) You’ve never quite clicked and you might never click. So, what if you just…respected that? What if you stopped trying so hard to be closer? You can like someone and wish good things for them without being close to them. You can be kind, friendly, welcoming, and polite when you interact with them and otherwise let them be. You say that she doesn’t want your help with the wedding – that’s an okay thing for her to want! Think of it as a gift she’s giving you rather than a slight, where you can just be a guest and not have to do any work.

b) If she doesn’t invite you and Frankie to certain stuff, think about why that might be. Frankie openly dislikes her, right? Maybe sometimes she wants to do stuff without having to deal with the dude in the family who really dislikes her, and this is how she navigates that. Maybe Bill is the one driving the decisions around when and how to include members of his family – don’t fall into the trap of assuming that she’s because she’s a woman it’s her job to manage everyone’s calendar and emotions. Invite her when it’s your turn to do the inviting, thank her and enjoy yourself when she does include you, and give her some space and the benefit of the doubt about the rest.

c) Try not sharing texts or things she says to you with Frankie & his parents anymore. You know what happens when you do that (the people who don’t like her use whatever she says as an excuse to talk about how much they don’t like her). So don’t open her up to that criticism in absentia. Don’t say anything about her that you wouldn’t say to her, especially to people you know don’t like her. “I don’t like to talk about people who aren’t here to defend themselves” is a good way to start being a better friend and ally to her in the family.

3) to help Frankie understand that Bill has chosen Sally, and Frankie needs to get over the issues he has with Sally (I have outright said this, as have his PARENTS, repeatedly, but it is not sinking in!)

Stop. Stop telling him this. Stop trying to make him understand. Sally’s been around for a long time, it sounds like, and there is history here that isn’t your history. Frankie doesn’t “have to” do anything, so get yourself out of the middle of this drama. You can’t fix it, so, what can you do to stop feeding it?

For example, what if you stopped listening to him complain about her? What if you kept changing the subject when she comes up? It will probably take a few tries before this sticks, but if you are consistent – “I hear you babe, and I know you don’t really like her, but I really don’t want to hear it” – he will most likely stop bringing it to you so much. Frankie can tell a therapist or Bill or his diary or his parents or the wall or the magic tree in the back of the garden how he feels about Sally. Frankie’s family weirdness = Frankie’s problem.

You and Sally have the whole rest of your lives to be related to each other. If you can reset some of your expectations and learn to disengage a little bit from what’s stressing you out, a series of low-key positive interactions over time will do more good than all the Talks About Our Relationship And How We Should Be Closer. I especially don’t think that right before her wedding is the time to make any big moves or declarations about anything. You can make a lot of “common ground” over the years by rolling your eyes at sibling rivalry (or whatever Frankie-Bill-Parents weirdness is going on here).

Finally, you didn’t ask about this, but I can’t help wondering:

What are your relationships like with your family of origin? Any siblings or cousins that you could draw out and build a closer relationship with?

Do you have the kind of friendships you want? It seems like you want Sally to fill a very specific and important role in your life, but maybe there are other ways to get that connection. It probably can’t hurt to think about how you could re-channel some of the worry and stress you are feeling about Sally into more positive relationships with the people you *do* click with.



143 thoughts on “#1104: “Help me reach common ground with my sister-in-law.”

  1. This is a good problem to have, in that it is actually not your problem at all. Sit back, relax, and enjoy never worrying about this again.

  2. LW, stahp.
    Just STOP all this. Take a deep breath or three, and just let this ball of feelings drop.
    Now let it lie.
    And walk away.

    Let your husband manage his social relationships with HIS family as works for him. It’s not your job. If he wants to spend time with his brother, or his parents, let him and -his- family of origin manage that, including the presence or absence of your sister in law. Not your circus, not your monkeys.

    If your sister in law will never be your friend, well, that’s just how life works out. Not everyone is friends with everyone else.

    Focus on people in your life that you like and who like you, instead.

    1. Yeah, I remember when I first got into therapy someone said to me “Purps, have you considered…. caring… less?”. At the time it seemed like a bizarre message from another planet. How could anyone not obsessively care about what each person in the surrounding county is feeling at all times? That’s a thing? Surely obsessing over everyone’s feelings is the only thing between us and societal collapse?

      So it was a shock to read this letter that could have been from past me and think “yeah LW just needs to find a way to care about this less.”

      LW, the only factor here within your control IS how much of your energy you’re putting into this. Maybe SIL genuinely doesn’t like you. Maybe she just has way fewer thoughts and feelings about you than you have about her. Your job is just to live with that fact – you’ve tried, she’s not followed up, oh well, maybe someday it’ll click and maybe it won’t – and continue to occasionally make an overture that she can easily get out of, and by occasionally I mean every couple of years. The door is open but you can’t make her walk through it. I would encourage you to mildly decline to participate in badmouthing her yourself with your own personal words, and otherwise just… let people feel whatever they’re going to feel about other humans.

      1. Purps, well said – and I believe I know very well how you have felt. Your comment could have been written by me; just ilke you I have often cared far too much and I have paid for it dearly.

        I only have one thing to add: one of my own principles in life is never to lie to myself – but there is one exception. In things which are beyond one’s control and where one does not really know the reason for them; like in this case, the LW does not know why SIL behaves towards her like she does, I would encourage the LW to actively think that it is not about her, that it is not her fault at all.

        We humans cannot really pick the thoughts which pop to our head but we can choose which thoughts to pay attention to and which thoughts to think actively and I would advice to choose the thoughts least harmful to the LW. It might ease her to think that the reason why SIL does not like her is because of chemistry (after all, she said that they never really clicked) or differences in lifestyles and age, reasons which are beyond her control.

        1. SIL might like her just fine but be someone who just doesn’t mix, even with family all that much. It took me just shy of 50 years to get my own actual sister (not SIL, sister) to understand that it’s not her, it’s me. I just don’t want to do *that*…whatever “that” might happen to be.

        2. Agreed. I would actually be surprised if SIL *had* a more complex, personal set of thoughts about the LW than “we’ve never clicked” or maybe, at the worst, “she’s not my jam”.

          Here’s my working theory: LW started off, like, 80% invested in having a relationship with SIL. SIL started off being, like, 3% invested in having a relationship with LW, for reasons that probably have nothing to do with LW.

          LW feels like she must have done something HUGE for SIL to be this disinterested in hanging out, because to LW that would be going from relationship score of 80 to almost nothing. That’s a lot of change! Probably you don’t lose 80 interpersonal relationship points over something small! So LW’s reaction of “I must have committed a huge breach, I need to apologize and fix this” makes a lot of sense from LW’s point of view.

          But if SIL came in about 3% invested in this relationship, then it doesn’t take a big breach or a major dislike for 3% investment to drop to 1% investment. That’s “I didn’t like her socks once” territory. That’s within a standard deviation made of “meh, we could interact but I’m sleepy”.

          LW, your vision for your future relationship with SIL is very sweet and beautiful – but it’s your vision, and she has her own vision of how she wants things to be, and it probably looks a lot like the degree of closeness she’s engaging in right now.

          Not only is there no ethical way to _make_ other people share your vision, it’s also probably impossible. That’s secretly a good thing! There’s no secret code to make it all happen the way that you think would be best, you’re no longer in charge of figuring out that code, you’re off the hook to make this situation turn out a certain way. SIL will decide her own degree of closeness to you and her availability for friendship, in her own time, and all you can do from your side is be your kind and respectful self and trust that she’s doing whatever’s best for her, without your help, as captain of her own ship. (Your other in-laws will also decide on how they behave towards SIL and towards other family members; you can decide what you say and how you behave, and decline to participate in badmouthing, but they are also the captains of THEIR own ships, even if their ships are steering the being-mean-about-it seas).

          1. That’s a wonderful metaphor! 🙂 … And something about the last paragraph made me suddenly realise how all this advice applies to some of my own worries too. Ha 🙂

          2. purps, I hope you don’t mind me taking the beautiful investment analogy you just presented and keeping it forever to use on my own situations, as well as giving it out to everyone I meet!

            This was brilliantly stated. Thank you.

          3. Purps, again, very well said – and just like the other commenters, I _love_ your ship analogy.

            I realized that I have been both in LW’s shoes and in SIL’s. Years ago, when I started in a new workplace for a temporary job – it was only for 6 months because after that time I would begin new studies. In that workplace there was this very nice lady who really, really seemed to like me and I did like her back, it was just that she would have wanted to talk with me on the phone every day and I really hate talking in the phone and gossiping. Beside that, I was very busy: I was taking classes in the evening preparing for my studies and that left me with very little time to spend with my family and my friends. At that time I had all my friend slots occupied and I truly did not have any spoons left for a new and demanding friendship. It got pretty weird and I wish I had been more forthcoming in the beginning and explained my situation to her more clearly.

            Perhaps the situation with SIL is somewhat like that: perhaps she just has a tight circle of friends and family and she is very busy – or perhaps her attitude to family members is a bit like mine: I trust that they do not disappear even though I must admit I should contact them more often. Still, I do love them and they are very important to me.

            I admit I have sometimes wished I would get to know someone – but quite frankly in those situations when I actually did, I was very often disappointed (though there are exceptions). It turned out that we did not really click, or that the other person was something completely different than I had pictured them to be.

            Being a memeber of a family means that LW is going to spend some time with SIL anyway. If I were in her shoes, I would try not to worry about it, treat her well and curb the badmouthing if LW has enough energy to do it. I completely understand her dislike to badmouthing: I personally cannot stand it, except in cases where dangerous or criminal behaviour is concerned.

            As a geek I bought to the Geek Social Fallacy that Ostracizers are evil and I tried to make friends with the people who were badmouthed. Some of it turned out well – and some did not. It turned out that sometimes there is a reason for people not to like someone. I am in my 40’s and I still have not figured out how friendships work. I probably never will.

      2. Hey, Purps. Your comment really hit home for me. I’ve been working on “caring less”, and finding it so difficult! Do you have any advice or pointers to share?
        I’ll find myself mentally re-playing interactions, obsessing about what the other person really meant, what they must think, why they said what they did, sometimes regretting what I said.
        How does one “shut that off” and “care less”? It’s becoming almost debilitating and I’d love any advice you have.

        1. I have this same issue, and I wish I could provide more help. In my case, it’s even stupider and less productive – I worry about FUTURE potential conversations, map out exactly what a person could say and how I would respond… and then realize that I’m stressing about an argument with my husband that DIDN’T HAPPEN and may never happen. It takes a wrenching effort to redirect my energy to something else every time, and it happens several times a day. Considering whether it might be a side-effect of anxiety – I mean to bring this up with my therapist next time I see her.

          In terms of emotional codependence, though, I have had SOME minor success with reminding myself that “Other peoples’ emotions/problems/burdens are none of my business unless they choose to share them. Going visiting others’ emotions when they haven’t invited me to is trespassing.” I’m not able to make changes on my own behalf, a lot of times, but if I can reframe what I’m doing as a problem for someone else – I’m being rude by trying to take care of their own private emotions – then I can work on it in that spirit.

          1. I do this too. Usually in regards to people I have unfinished business with. Unfortunately the only thing that seems to work for me is when the relationship is cut off. My first mother-in-law for instance. She drove me crazy. But I would take it because, well, she was my mother-in-law. And the relationship got so toxic. When my husband and I divorced I would still be reliving my anger with her. Plus inventing new situations in my head, such as – if I saw her in public, what would I say? Eventually I stopped. But it took a long time. Too long. Currently I have a sister-in-law who has wronged me. I obsess about her often. Trying hard to not – but I do.

        2. Not Purps, but have worked on “caring less”. What helped for me was really reframing other people’s inner worlds and emotions as a privacy/boundary constraint. Their inner lives are their own and me trying to untangle them without invitation was disrespectful and rude. If they wanted my presence or help, they’d ask or invite, or sit me down with a cup of tea and lay out the feels.

          No clues? No stories about their inner worlds? Then it is none of my business.

          I care deeply about other people. But I care about actually respecting them as their own people a little bit more, and way more than my desire to understand “what’s really going on with them”. It didn’t start as “caring less”, though it comes out that way, it’s caring about self determination and privacy and emotional boundaries. For everyone. Which gives others space to just not be as invested in me as I may want to be in them, and that’s okay.

          Not advice, but having a kid also helped me clarify my own priorities. I have some mysterious feral being who needs help untangling their emotional responses, but they’re three and I’m their parent and it’s my job. And doing that job is more important than whatever is going on with some half acquaintance I see at holidays or work or whatever. I don’t suggest parenthood purely for the purpose of focus, but if you have something you could/“should” be spending emotional energy on instead, that could help too.

    2. I agree with this.

      LW, Sally is not Frankie’s sister. She will be Frankie’s sister-in-law. Maybe forever, maybe for less. All you have to do is be civil to her at big family get-togethers. If Frankie can’t contain his dislike of Sally and lets it fuck up his relationship with his own brother, that’s HIS problem.

  3. It really can be hard to not click the way you’d like with someone you think well of. But in the end there’s really not much to be done about it beyond acceptance. File it away in the wistful part of your mind where you do long-past significant others, maybe take it out every half-decade or so and roll it around in the what-if scenario you run while waiting in line for the grocery. Then go on about your business, secure in the knowledge that you didn’t do anything wrong or make the wrong choice and that it’s actually just fine the way it is. These people are the same as those celebrities you see on tv and think “they actually seen like a legitimately nice person,” except you sometimes spend some time with them. You’re not close and never will be, but you can enjoy that distant sense of mild admiration.

    1. Yes, this. I have never really gelled with my SiL. We’re just very different people, and while it makes me wistful (I have no sisters, so I had hopes that a SiL would be someone who I could have some of that closeness with), it’s not really something I see changing. We see each other at holidays, our kids play together, and that’s pretty much it.

      I know my mom would like us all to be closer – she’s suggested trips for the three of us – but I don’t think we’ll ever be anything more than “sibling of my spouse” to one another.

      1. This, times three! I have the same kind of situation with a daughter-in-law. I am happy to be “pleasant, polite and professional ” toward and about her (much less stressful than trying to fit a square peg into a round hole). By making times with friends the kind of activities that I would have enjoyed with a more compatible DIL, any residual angst about not having a closer relationship fades fast.

        Acceptance of the situation, without beating oneself or the other up about it, really is the key.

      2. Yeah, I have two sisters-in-law, and we’re just… very different. They’re lovely people, and I’m grateful for them, but similarly to the LW, my husband actively dislikes his brother’s wife, which makes the four of us hanging out really difficult, and my brother and his wife live halfway across the country from me. There’s just not a lot of scope for us being Super Close Sister Friends. And that’s too bad in its own way, but it’s also really ok! I wish them well! I’m glad for their happiness! We are friendly, cordial, and kind to one another! And as anyone who has ever read an advice column knows, that is NOT. NOTHING.

  4. The only ‘problem’ between you and Sally, as far as I can tell, is that you’re not super close. You treat her as well or better than your husband and his family treat her; she treats you pretty similarly to how she treats everyone (there have been some off moments, but it sounds like she’s prone to coming off as awkward or rude, so I wouldn’t assume she dislikes you just based on that).

    You can’t force people to be close to you. Sometimes things don’t click, and that’s ok, even if you’re related to each other. It’s not a problem that needs solving (and trying to solve it via forcing closeness is likely to do a lot more harm than good.

    You also can’t control anyone else’s relationship with Sally. You can’t make your husband like her, or even tolerate her. You can’t make your husband’s parents stop talking about her communication style behind her back. Like the Captain says, you can decide not to be a part of these things–but you can’t control whether they happen at all. It’s time focus your efforts on the things you can change, and learn to accept the things you can’t.

  5. I’m genuinely good friends with some of my siblings-in-law or the partners of my best friends.

    In the case of other people with the same nominal relationship we are distant but friendly. That is, we get along and catch up when we’re in the same place for other reasons but don’t proactively plan to just meet for fun. I’d happily help them if they asked but I don’t expect I’d be the first person they call.

    It sounds like LW and Sally are an example of the second type of in-law relationship, and that this is as far as Sally wants to take it right now. All of this is fine. It may change in the future, or this may still be their dynamic in 30 years. Trying to force something else certainly won’t help.

    Sure seems like the right approach is for LW to relax about their own relationship with Sally, and especially to just check way the hell out Frankie’s own relationship with his family until such time as it actually causes a problem for LW beyond not matching up to what they think it “should” be.

  6. LW, everything the Captain said.

    It’s okay if you and Sally don’t click. Don’t try to make that happen. Just be polite and civil and friendly. Include her when/if you want to, and don’t take it personally if she doesn’t always include you and Frankie. Also, you don’t have to manage Frankie’s relationship with her-he’s a grown man and has the right to feel his feelings. Not everyone is going to like each other. As long as he’s civil to her and doesn’t bore you with hours-long gripe sessions about her, leave it be. You’re his wife, not his mom. If he’s complaining about her, use the scripts the Captain provided or say something like, “I’d rather talk about something else besides how much you dislike Sally.”

    Nurture your own friendships and relationships with your family (outside of the in-laws, I mean). Cultivate new friendships. Basically, go live your best life and let everyone else navigate their feelings on their own. This isn’t your circus or your monkeys.

    1. I also have a feeling that the reason SIL doesn’t invite or like the LW that much because she lumped her in with “that family that’s kinda jerks”. And yes it sucks to be lumped in with a group you don’t mind, but from the SIL perspective LW is married to someone who’s a jerk to her. So why would she want to get close to that side of the family?

      1. Yes, exactly. I keep my distance from my dad’s entire family. I’m sure a few individuals are ok, but as a whole, that family has been jerkish to me and my immediate family. The chance that one or two of them are nice is NOT worth dealing with the rest of the people.

      2. Good point. Sally may not think the LW is a jerk, but her husband is being jerky, so she is jerk-adjacent and that’s enough to make Sally hold back.

    2. “You’re his wife, not his mom” AMEN. She’s not his social secretary or family therapist either. It’s also got to be super annoying to be constantly told by your wife how to feel. As long as he feels it silently, he can dislike or avoid whoever he wants. Sally being a bone of contention within his marriage is just another reason to dislike Sally, and mourn for The Days Before We Knew Sally.

  7. I’m curious what script or image you have in your head, LW, of what this relationship is supposed to be like, and what your perceived consequences are for it not being that way?

    Something is causing you a lot of anxiety about this relationship not being a certain way. What happens if you imagine letting that go? What do you worry about, and what positive things do you feel?

  8. Awww, LW, I get it. You want the nice happy family; maybe you’re like me and didn’t have sisters growing up so see SIL as an opportunity.

    And it sucks when those opportunities don’t pan out.

    But all you can do is hold the course. Sally knows you’re there. She’ll either come around or she won’t.

    1. Same here. I have one, much older brother, and when he got engaged I really wanted that sister I never had. It did not work out that way, to say the least. However, I have a 20-year friendship with a dear woman that, maybe I didn’t grow up with, but is my ‘big sister’ now.

      I also have/had two friends I met in law school that I really, REALLY wanted to have a very close relationship with, but they were not as into me as I was them. These things happen.

      LW, recognize and appreciate the relationship for what it actually is, not what you’d like it to be.

  9. This seems like triangulation to me. The parents don’t really like Sally, and they won’t say it to Bill, but they stand back and let Frankie be openly disrespectful to Sally. So Sally retaliates by trying to cut out Frankie and the LW. LW, there are some complicated family dynamics here, and I don’t think you can make the six of you into One Big Happy Family. I think you need to let everyone be as they are, and instead focus on you and Frankie and the plans you have for your life together. Be the guest at Bill and Sally’s wedding, and don’t try to make big family events happen. Set down your end of the tug-o-war rope; it will change the dynamics, and you can go on from there.

    1. Yup! I suspect the LW’s potential friendship with Sally is just collateral damage to the pre-existing family dynamics in this. A lot of people view couples as one unit and if Frankie’s been being hostile to Sally since before LW was on the scene, LW will probably be avoided as part of the Frankie unit.

      1. We generally expect that loyalty will go first to your spouse, so in Sally’s shoes there is no way I would tell the LW anything I didn’t feel comfortable with her husband knowing because I would fully expect him to use anything personal or painful against me.

    2. Yeah, seems like triangulation is a real possibility. My husband’s family does something similar where they bond over sh!t-talking about a third party, usually a neighbor, client or boss who is a real pain in the butt. They hold bitter grudges for fun together as a family for decades. I’ve never joined in, but I wasn’t *really* expected to since I married in. But most upsetting recently was that my father-in-law tried to turn the family against my husband’s sister’s husband’s little sister (is she my SIL? Idk…), whom my husband and I both like. When my husband point-blank refused to tow the line and and instead defended his SIL, it was a *major* upset to the dynamic that has still not been forgiven over a year later. Seriously. Anyway this may be relevant to LW in 2 ways:

      1. Interfering with the family grudge/triangulation/whatever else dynamic may put LW at the center of a much bigger upset than “parents are cold but polite to SIL.” It’s not the end of the world if the family gets upset, but it’s a really great motivation for “give up the illusion that you can mend family dynamics single-handedly and accept that you can only control your own self.”

      2. The spectre of family sh!t-talking looms large for everyone in the family. It may be a momentary relief to join in, but the unspoken reality is that the family could turn against anyone at any time, and that is unsettling for family members. People like the LW who don’t join in these dysfunctional dynamics are giving a valuable gift to everyone in the family. But don’t expect that gift to be appreciated by all. For LW, a corollary to “you can only control your own self and you can’t fix everyone else’s problems” is that sometimes controlling yourself and doing the right thing will not only *not* fix everyone else’s problems but will also have harsh consequences which you must accept and let go as best you can. It really is SO important to separate “everyone else’s behavior” from “things I can control.”

      Of course, the family could be trusting their instincts and exercising their best judgement about the SIL, and who knows, LW may come around to their POV in the future. There are just so many reasons back off and accept others’ attitudes toward SIL, even as LW chooses to behave differently. Best of luck to LW.

  10. Oh, LW, I feel for you, as I suspect I’m the “Sally” to my own SIL. I don’t click with many people, and I often come off as prickly to people I don’t know well, and it’s always been very clear to me that I’m not the confidant and bosom buddy my SIL would have preferred. And if there were any doubt about that, she was kind enough to tell me recently about how she had to deal with her disappointment at not getting the sister she always wanted. Please, for both your sakes, give her a break and focus on enjoying the relationship you have.

      1. Well, I have another brother who is unmarried and straight, so there’s still hope for me. 🙂 Seriously, though, in context it was less deliberately cruel, but God did it hurt all the same.

        1. You are a much better person than me. The instinct to turn around and say “oh you can just divorce and remarry, that way you’ll get the sister you were always entitled too” would have been too strong.

          And in all honesty I think that’s one of the most sisterly thing you can say to her. People forget how catty sisters can be.

    1. she was kind enough to tell me recently about how she had to deal with her disappointment at …………… !!!

      “We all have our trials”

      at not getting the sister she always wanted. ……

      My other favorite is “Excuse You.” But that I usually say to myself.
      Or maybe “I want a Pony”

      Good luck out there

      1. Or “Dreadfully sorry, would you like to return me to the store for a full refund?”

        1. I so need to steal that response.

          Dear LW, I really relate to Sally in this story. My husband and I have been together for six years. We are both older and this is a second marriage for both of us. For the first five years of our marriage, his family was constantly trying to be overly friendly and inclusive toward me. It was always too much. I am a very boundary-oriented person who is also very private, and they had (and still have) no respect for boundaries or privacy. They stepped all over my boundaries. They wanted to pry into my life. All they managed to do was make me angry and upset. I always just wanted to yell at them to Please Stop. Please just stop trying so hard! Just let me be me and stop trying to so hard to make me “fit” in your family.

          I’ve given myself five years to try to adjust and be more welcoming and accepting of them. And nope, just not going to work. I have come to dislike them all immensely. I finally had to tell my spouse to tell his siblings to give it up. After a year of him helping enforce some boundaries, they are finally getting the message to Please. Just. Stop. (BTW, I have had therapy sessions regarding my spouse family. My therapist’s conclusion is that gatherings with my in-laws are not “safe spaces” for me.)

          This all may or may not be how Sally sees you. This may or may not be parallel to your situation. But from one Sally’s perspective, please, stop trying so hard.

  11. In dealing with Frankie, I think it makes sense to respond as you would if he bad-mouthed a close friend or family member.

    “Frankie, I know you don’t like Sally but I do. I refuse to listen to you say negative or mean things about her.”

    “I get that you don’t like Sally, but I don’t want to hear you speak poorly of her. Tell it to someone else.”

    Regarding your relationship with Sally:

    In my husband’s family, I am Sally. I like his sister and sister-in-law well enough, but we’re not close. There’s really no reason for it other than that I just don’t have a lot in common with them. They’re not people I would necessarily choose to be friends with or find particularly interesting. This has nothing to do with what kind of people they are–it’s just comes down to my taste in people.

    My sister-in-law has made some small overtures to become closer, but I’m not terribly interested. Right now, we’re warm and kind to each but not closse. Maybe things will change over time (we’re in our 30s–give it a couple of decades and we’ll see). For now, I’m happy with our relationship as it is.

    1. This is definitely how I viewed my (soon-to-be-ex)sister-in-law. She’s lovely. She’s also not the kind of person I would try to spend a lot of time with. I’m perfectly content to be warm but not close – realistically, that’s basically the relationship I have with my biological sister, let alone the SIL I’ve only known a few years.

      1. I feel you with the bio sister thing. We share DNA, that’s all. She is not someone I would probably have ever said more than a couple of sentences to if we’d not been related and just happened to cross paths at some point in our lives.People don’t understand how we can’t be super close especially considering we are the only two siblings. We never were. It’s going on 51 years now I don’t see it changing. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

        1. Same with me and my brother. People are all “but faaaaaamily!” And I just shrug. I don’t feel like I’m missing out. We’re very different people.

  12. Can someone send this to my SIL? (different relationship dynamics and ages etc, so pretty sure I’m not Sally — but I totally could be Sally)

    This is advice is all I want from my SIL and my coolness towards her would dissipate (I hope).

    My SIL tries soooo hard to be close to me and I just don’t feel it. My polite attempts to place boundaries don’t sink in (i.e. not asking for help, refusing help, not always inviting her to everything, not engaging in meaningful conversation with her), she crosses a boundary she doesn’t understand (comes early to parties to help when she’s not asked to, guilt trips about how FAAAAMILY helps each other when I refuse help, inviting herself to events she finds out about and then awkwardly brings up that she invited herself, making up weird nicknames for me, unwanted hugs, awkward I love you’s that she desperately wants me to say back to her) and then I get upset, then she profusely apologizes and seeks reassurance from me (1-2 times a year she asks me if I like her…). And then she doubles down on her over the top attempts to “fix” our relationship and crosses boundaries again. It’s a vicious cycle and IMO it’s just as much MY fault as it is hers. If I could more forcefully establish and retain boundaries, I think it would help. Also if I didn’t get as upset as I do, maybe there wouldn’t be anything for her to *fix*.

    All this to say… LW, I doubt you’re as persistent as my SIL, but it’s good to remember that you have the rest of your lives in your shared family to become close. Your relationship with you SIL will become whatever it becomes, over time. Trying to force a relationship onto someone who doesn’t seem to *want* that relationship… isn’t going to get you that relationship. I wish you all the best!

    1. Thanks for that perspective. That sounds like a mini-hell.

      And I don’t see how you’re at all to blame. It’s HARD (really really hard) to establish boundaries directly, especially with someone who you will have to see in the future. And every time you’ve establish boundaries (not inviting people to social events you don’t want them at is a well-known boundary-establishing tactic and thankfully, it’s one most people respect) she’s tromped all over them AND tried to embarrass you for having them (“I invited myself” is obnoxious asshole for “how dare you not invite me to some event I wanted to attend!” AND proclamations of this is how families behave is both odious and hubrisitic – why assume your family gets to set the standard). I am just an internet stranger but I think you are handling her really well and being a bit hard on yourself. You sound very kind and patient.

      1. I say I’m to blame a bit because I had trouble disengaging. She’s a difficult person and I had a hard time learning not to take her difficulties personally and we had some bad interactions for a while. It’s gotten a lot better, and I think this lingering need address past issues and be “sisters” is the last roadblock in the way of us having a stable, not necessarily close, relationship.

        1. This might not suit your style, so take it with a pinch of salt….but what about actively chasing her for very short, well spaced out bursts so as to prevent the dynamic where she is the one who chases you?
          I mean her reassurance schedule is twice a year, so what if you sent her a ‘just because’ bouquet of flowers thanking her for (trying to be) a great sister in law, just before she’s due? Or a movie, brunch, or anything short-timescale that you can name ‘sister in law’ time? But just cheerfully say ‘nope’ to her overtures in between deliberate chases which suit your energy level.

          Also! I used to get nutters calling me up at the news desk all the time, that I would hang up on nine times out of ten, but if I was cleaning out my desk, I’d actually give them a hearing because it was somehow less annoying while my hands were engaged and I was just throwing in the odd ‘uh huh’. It would end up being weirdly satisfying on both sides. If she shows up pre party you could insist that you always do this stuff yourself, but hand her a margarita and ask her to talk to you while you do. Or just put her to work in a different room?

          The bluntest way is to just tell her to cut it out, but it does sound like you want a different option.

          1. I have occasionally tried this, with mixed results. finding areas where she can help but that don’t bother me — typically in another room, or hey, go walk me dog while I’m still getting food ready… sometimes that works really well, other times it gives her permission to take up more space. Times when she helps out at a party, she starts treating our other guests like they’re her guests… or like it’s her house. I don’t know that I can explain that better, but it gets additionally frustrating when a guest asks me where the bathroom is and SIL yells from the other room to answer their question not directed towards her. I think she’s the ‘asks for a mile, so I give her and inch, so then she asks for 2 miles’ type person. I think it’s better for my own sanity to keep her at as much of a distance that doesn’t hurt her. It’s just been difficult to find that happy medium.

            As far as one-on-one SIL time, I have no interest.

    2. NERd, you are a far better person than I am! If someone was regularly stomping my boundaries they way your SIL has been stomping yours… I would hate them with the fire of 1000 suns and would not be AT ALL good at hiding it.

        1. At this point I think I’d be telling her “please just leave me alone”. And forcibly escorting her out the door when she crashes an event to which she was specifically not invited. This person has one hell of a lot of chutzpah.

          1. I don’t know… I personally have had times in my life when I desperately wanted to connect, to belong. I did what so many do in that situation. I tried too hard. Trying too hard usually results in pushing others further away, which is the exact opposite of the desired result. When people try too hard with me, and I find myself pulling back, I try to dig deep for compassion. Sometimes the best way out of the situation is to meet someone- especially someone who is trying too hard- partway. Take the pressure off them to try so hard. When someone tries too hard with me, I try to respond with warmth. I try to make it so they don’t HAVE to work so hard. It sounds to be like NERd’s SIL is trying way too hard. Imagine the way her gut probably twists. Chutzpah? No. Give her an inch so she doesn’t have to force a mile, and you’ll probably find your boundaries being encroached less. “Forcibly escorting her out the door?” Really? That’s… just… so rude. Yeah, the SIL is being rude, but the first rule of etiquette is pretty much, “Don’t respond to rudeness with rudeness.” I bet if you pour into the relationship with the kind of energy you want to get out of it, you’ll be much happier.

          2. @AutumnSunrise, out of indenting here…

            Would you still say this if the person repeatedly stomping boundaries and then expecting NERd to do the emotional labor of reassuring them that she likes them were male? Because if you ignore the gender, this behavior sounds an awful lot like a stalkery ex-boyfriend’s MO. Being nice to this person is just not getting the message across. So yeah, if it were happening to me, by now I’d be feeling like a more forceful approach was needed.

          3. Agreed, CarpeFelis. I really cannot stand “the high ground” anymore. In my experience, being polite to rude and boundary-stomping people is generally interpreted as permission to be treated like a doormat. Rude people don’t get to demand politeness.

          4. Forcing her out the door is not an option, but I also have tried the giving an inch approach and then she asks for 2 miles. I don’t know what her ideal relationship is, but I think she just wants to be wanted. I don’t get the impression that she particularly likes me or wants to be close, as much as she knows I don’t like her and she can’t have that. We’re not the type of people that would be friends if we met under different circumstances.

    3. Have you tried being straight forward with your boundaries? You don’t hsve to be cruel but just saying “I don’t want your help, but your perpetual offers are a bother. If I ever need anything I’ll make sure to ask” or “now that you are hear you can stay, just this time. But there are logistical reasons for who is invited and who isn’t. Next time contact me to ask a head of time before coming over uninvited”.

      1. Nope, but you’ve hit the nail on the head in terms of why I share some blame. I have a big fear of confrontation and it’s hard to overcome. My SIL is also very sensitive and is likely to have a feelings bomb over more direct boundaries. It’s a bad combination. I know I need to suck it up and just let her react however she’s going to react, but it’s hard.

        1. If it helps at all, direct boundaries are a kindness to the crosser, too. Totally get that it’s hard, though.

        2. Ironic that someone who’s so insensitive to others’ feelings is so sensitive to having her own feelings hurt. Especially when it’s her own outrageous behavior bringing it on. Might this “sensitivity” be a manipulation tactic?

        3. I don’t think you are to blame. The scripts I suggested (and really any boundry you decide to set) can be delivered in two tones. The disappointed kindergarten teacher speaking to a naughty 5 year old. Or in a very cheerful “thank you so much” tone.

          The cheerful tone really helps take the sting out of things. And if she has a big reaction to you setting a boundary, you get to have a big reaction to her not respecting your boundary.

          1. +1 for cheerful tone. I’ve learned to use a gracious “thank you so much” tone, paired with literally saying “the kindest/most helpful thing you can do is [thing you’re not doing]”, especially for people who are doing something stress-inducing in the name of being helpful. It validates their desire to be helpful while also making it clear what *you* need, versus what they think you should need.

            And by “learned” I mean from absorbing guidelines of ways to handle people form CA & commentators 🙂

        4. You are NOT to blame.
          It’s not a fault to not like confrontation and it’s not your fault you haven’t broken the social contract that requires us to be “nice” to someone who is offering something “good.” Or to want to avoid a feelings bomb.
          It’s not your fault that you’re being manipulated by your SIL’s manipulative behavior* into not going off on her.

          *even if it’s not intentional on her part (probably isn’t) she’s taking advantage of your self-doubts to make you feel complicit in her boundary stomping.

    4. My polite attempts to place boundaries don’t sink in (i.e. not asking for help, refusing help, — Keep it up, picture yourself as teflon, Smile a plain smile & let what is coming at you slide off. “I’m ok, Thank you.” “I’ve got it, Thank you.” If I’m working on something I can’t stop to give someone a job, I need to just do this thing.

      she crosses a boundary she doesn’t understand (comes early to parties to help when she’s not asked to, — With future planning, you might just need to give her some jobs. Take out the garbage? If the task is bad, maybe you won’t keep getting the offers … or else it just gets done.

      making up weird nicknames for me, — “Ooo, No thank you. I prefer … X.” Sometimes the Magic Words make it happen. Thank you makes it something that is already done, it’s handled.

      unwanted hugs, – Step back, stick your hand out for a shake, smile your largest & make eye contact. Redirect what you don’t want & give what you can. Sometimes a slight bow/ tilt your head, like “The Kindly Brontosaurus” (google/on Slate)

      —- He is a fabled beast with secret superpowers, blinking his doe-like eyes at the honorable gate agent, docilely chewing whatever brand of foliage is for sale at Hudson News as the agent travels, in his own time and on his own terms, toward the correct and rational decision to do whatever the Kindly Brontosaurus wants him to. ….

      “The body language of the Kindly Brontosaurus is respectful and nonthreatening,” she says. “There’s a humility, so you allow the other person to feel empowered. —-

      seeks reassurance from me (1-2 times a year she asks me if I like her…). — Say, “Awww, you’re fine” In your most cheerful tone! “You’re ok” “You’re all good” … Smile, maybe a bump on the shoulder. But keep moving out of the conversation. Like a hit & run, you give the neutral assurance & keep it moving. Suddenly this must go in the garbage, I need some water.

      Say things like, Everything is fine, Everything is great. Use a cheerful, but a little sad tone. Do the Brontosaurus. You’re sad to hear thinks so little of herself, right, this is all her feeling lost. Anger will make it worse. Sadness, kindness & neutral redirecting.

    5. Nah, refusing help is clear. You’ve said no and she’s not having it. That’s not you failing to set a boundary that’s her failing to respect it. When I feel chased this way I want to break out the garlic and the holy water. It makes me want to scream to feel so much focus and then the person doesn’t want to accept which makes it worse. The horror of that being family. But really maybe at some point unless she’s awful since she is stuck with you too, you might throw her a bone? I don’t know if that’s bad but sometimes appeasing forgives fears of co aren’t rejection when they too are forced by family connection to see you, might be the kindest thing? Again not sure if this would help. But standing on a ledge when there is nothing keeping you there except you’re just not that into her seems a bit unkind. Again… disregard if she’s awful, no one should have to endure awful!

      1. She is pretty awful, and I’m not the only one that has issues with her… that said, do you have any bones you suggest I throw?

        I’m not interested in one-on-one time, but I have on occasion thought of some ways to let her help that work for me. I open to more suggestions.

        I think as suggested above, I can work on a kinder tone of voice, while still enforcing a boundary.

        I have regretted not being more forthcoming when she’s asked if I like her, but the circumstances haven’t ever felt like a good time for the discussion (i.e. she’s high, or we’re in a group of people, or I’m driving/stressed about driving)

        1. My advice is a) find three safe topics of conversation (a show you both like, a hobby she has) and b) let Greeting Cards do a lot of work for you.

          Yep, they cost like, seven whole dollars now, but sending her birthday cards, holiday cards is an easy way to say “I value you!” while also maintaining distance.

          And beyond that, disengage! You know how she’s gonna behave, so work on how much you let it bug you. Is she your spouse’s sibling? Let your spouse handle more of her bullshit. Is she the wife of one of your siblings? Let your sibling handle more of her bullshit.

        2. That last paragraph: oh, my goodness. She demands that you tell her you adore her when (a) she’s high, (b) you’re in a group of people (!!!), or (c) you’re already stressed, from driving or whatever. Do you not see that (b) and (c), at least, are deliberate stratagems on her part?

          When she’s high, brokenrecord “You’re high, and I don’t like to talk to people when they’re high.” When she’s cornering you in front of witnesses, say “Good Lord, this is hardly an appropriate subject of conversation under these circumstances! Why on Earth would you choose to start something like this NOW of all times?!” And when you are driving, say “As you know, I don’t do chit-chat when I’m driving.”

          1. Oh I definitely think she knows I’m uncomfortable and less likely to make a scene in these circumstances. But I wish I had made a bit of a scene. Instead I’m pretty sure I just awkward laughed and told her not to worry about our relationship… ‘we’re fine’

    6. One option for people coming early to parties is to get everything prepared well in advance, so you can leave and go for a nice relaxing walk/whatever, and come back to your house at a reasonable time (say a couple of minutes before the advertised arrival time). If she takes it upon herself to arrive early, well, she’ll have to wait.

  13. Dear LW,

    What I’m hearing is that Bill and Sally love each other and Bill’s family, especially his older brother, doesn’t like Sally. Not surprisingly, Sally is cool towards the family that dislikes her.

    I suspect that you tell yourself a story about how two sisters-in-law become like actual sisters and… I don’t know, maybe everyone is loving and kind. But Sally probably tells herself a different story, perhaps one in which you are the agent of her beloved’s horrible brother Frankie.

    So maybe just accept that. You and Sally will be polite to each other. Maybe someday you’ll be closer, maybe you won’t.

    Good luck.

  14. I really, really wanted to get on with my husband’s sister and had to come to terms with the fact that my husband’s sister has no desire to ever get on with other women, especially women she sees as invading her family, beyond surface level politeness to my face (and much trash talk behind my back—mental illness plays into this). Sometimes it just is what it is, and you have to accept that all the good will in the world can’t make people be friends with you if they don’t want it.

    1. Note: This isn’t to blame Sally! At all. I think Sally is right and wise to guard herself against a family who doesn’t like her. Just pointing to my own personal experience here to show that sometimes these things are simply outside of your control. You can’t make people like Sally and you can’t make Sally be your best friend.

      1. At the risk of sounding a touch weird, I’m saving this comment for perspective in my own life.

        Things aren’t working out with my partner’s younger sister. He did warn me that she’s odd and definitely awkward around new people, so I’ve tried to be patient. She often says or does rude/hostile things to me which I’ve always brushed off, assuming she didn’t mean it and didn’t intend to be malicious. She recently did something so nakedly hostile that it made me revisit that assumption (thereby throwing lots of our prior interactions in quite a sinister light). My partner was perturbed, but did comment to me that he’s long been bothered by how rude she often is to me. When he confronted her about, she claimed that she neither likes nor dislikes me, that what she did was totally normal and acceptable, and was generally evasive. Which… yeah. Regardless of her intentions, it’s not that far off her normal behaviour.

        It’s frustrating, because it’s quite obvious that she’s a deeply unhappy person and that lashing out at me (she has apparently been weird to partner’s past girlfriends) is just one way this shows. Her family all of course love her, but I don’t think any of them likes her very much. She frequently lashes out at partner and their mother. Even if we don’t ever become friends, I’d rather just see her happy.

        Obviously my course is clear. 1) Maintain a polite distance. 2) Reserve any venting about her for people who aren’t my partner. 3) Accept it’s not my problem and there’s nothing I can do about it, and that’s fine.

        I’m having some trouble with step 3. I don’t have a sister myself, but I have some excellent lady friends whom I see as good as any sister. They’re back in my country of origin. And during the course of writing this comment, it has just occurred to me that maybe moving to my partner’s country of origin on a different continent where I don’t know anyone might be a factor in why I’m so miffed things aren’t working out with partner’s sister.

        So thank you for your insight, and thank you to the best comments section on the internet.

  15. CA, I loved this bit:

    Sometimes the kindest gift you can give someone is space and a clean slate to try again another day.

    1. I second this – this is absolutely perfect. This would be the most perfect present of all times in so many cases. ❤

  16. I gotta wonder how much time LW spends with her in-laws. Some families seem to think adult children should still spend significant time with their family of origin (FOO) and that can be great if that FOO does suck. I can’t really tell is LW feels compelled for some reason or another to spend lots of time with Frankie’s FOO and wants an ally or something. And some of the FOO’s behavior sucks but some of it seems OK (not directly tearing down any of their son’s partners). So I feel like there is something else going on there but I can’t really tell.

    But I totally agree with the Captain that she needs to direct her emotional investments elsewhere. And if she isn’t enjoying time with her in-laws, it may be worthwhile to start spending less time with them.

    1. I too wondered whether there was something else going on with Frankie’s family (and possibly with LW’s unmentioned side of the family). Is LW’s interest in Sally not just that she would like a closer relationship with someone who sounds like a nice person, but actually part of a bigger question of family dynamics? LW talks about wanting to be “allies” with Sally. Which makes me wonder, what is the situation that she feels she needs an ally against?

      In any case, regardless of that question, Sally is clearly not a candidate for bosom friends, so the best way to maintain a relationship with her probably is to behave in a friendly way in a low key manner, drop the attempts to get closer, and reduce the amount of energy that you (and Sally!) are spending on a dynamic that is a bit difficult for reasons that aren’t ultimately to do with either of you.

  17. I can pretty much guarantee you, LW, that Sally has put a lot less time and energy into thinking about this situation than you have. That’s a hard thing to confront, because you want her to care about you, but it’s also a little bit freeing, because she probably doesn’t remember or care about any of the awkwardnesses you brought up. If you are polite and kind there’s no reason she won’t be, too.

    1. Dunno, I think she might be putting thought/effort into avoiding people she intuits dislike her. But certainly, her avoidance seems more likely to be of them & much less of you. You just feel a bit of the fallout.

      One thing to do might be to call Bill rather than Sally sometimes (don’t assume that the woman is the social arranger )- even if he checks with her it would mean he was aware of you trying to arrange a family event for his brothers birthday. And maybe he could turn up to it without Sally? (It’s a short term fix, but at least something).

      I agree with the others though that possibly by listening to Bills complaints about her you’re inadvertantly feeding them by letting him rehearse his dislike. Maybe ask him if he actually wants to like her? If he doesn’t there’s nothing you can do except WOW. But if he does, then suggest he try to retrain himself by saying one or two or five nice things about her for every unkind one.

      You & Sally may never be close – sadly I’m not with my SIL – (I think) we think each other are good people worthy of good things – but in person we just communicate differently. It’s sad but that’s how it is. But that belief is predicated on us (I think) basically never saying anything bad about the other & shutting down any conversation in which someone else attempts to do so. The minor griping that is possible/ easy among natural friends would be fraught with danger between people who aren’t natural friends. The stakes are too high to risk it. (In my opinion anyway – so that’s how I live)

      Good luck

  18. I just want to 2nd the Captain’s advice to reset your expectations. My ex’s sister and I did not get along, to put it extremely mildly. (She once got into a screaming fight with my ex after she’d been snarky to me all day. He said, “Look, we have a guest here, could we at least wait until she’s gone to do this?” and her response was, “I’m not like this when people I LIKE are around, I don’t give a sh*t about her.”)

    What I realized I could do was just…not escalate things. Not respond. Fights would have stressed his parents out, so I was polite. I asked about her life, I was pleasant, I made absolutely not attempt to reach beyond pleasant small talk. Once I let go of the relationship I thought we should have and wanted, I was free to just chill out about it. And the fact that my ex and his sister didn’t get along wasn’t my issue to solve, either. I wanted them to get along, it’d be great if they did. But they don’t and never will and that’s not my problem. All I could do was manage my relationship with her.

    It was such a relief. By not expecting anything from her (including expecting her to act like a reasonable human being), there was suddenly nothing she did where I had some ideal behavioural standard I was holding her to or imagining a relationship for her and my ex. It’s freeing.

  19. I’m the Sally in this situation, but I’m okay with it? Your Sally probably is, too.

    I’m not close with my in-laws. My husband’s sister and I have nothing in common, and my dislike for the traditional “woman doesn’t work” lifestyle that they prefer sort of leaves me on the permanent outs. I’m okay with this, because I judge their lifestyle, too and sometimes feel smug about being a lady busting stereotypes. (I’m still feeling a little salty about how Booth’s grandmother kept repeating over and over how great it was that SIL had a baby, so she could fulfill her God-given role as a mother, said while giving me death glares. This is the same woman who was mortally offended that I didn’t change my name.)

    1. I’m with you, Temperance. My husband’s family all seem to think men are inherently superior and women should be happy to cook, clean, and generally wait on their men. They really don’t “get” me, a female engineer who expects to be treated as an equal. My motto is “I didn’t get an engineering degree so I could be Martha freakin’ Stewart”.

    2. I have absolutely nothing in common with my sister-in-law. She considers her entire purpose in life to be a mother and I’m … not like that. I’d be OK with that though if she wasn’t an anti-vaxxer who emotionally abuses one kid and openly favours the other. So yeah, I judge her and because of that (and a WHOLE pile of other choices she’s made with her life) we are not friends. Fortunately, we don’t live that close to each other so we acknowledge each other at Christmas and the kids’ birthdays, but that’s it.

      It was extremely liberating the day I stopped caring. I highly recommend it!

    3. so she could fulfill her God-given role as a mother, said while giving me death glares.


      *Irish Exit* Where I just suddenly reappear in the garage with the men.

  20. My husband’s younger brother married a woman that I did not click with at all for the first … 5 years, probably. We were quite sure that she actively disliked us. But as time has gone by, she’s become a lot friendlier and now I think she’s just really slow to warm up to people. She was always polite but distant, but now she’s actually friendly. So maybe the relationship just needs some time to develop naturally on its own

  21. It could be worthwhile to think about why it’s so important to you that everyone get along with Sally. What’s the harm in the rest of the family being distant-but-polite? Ask yourself that question, and see what specific answers you can come up with. What are you afraid will happen if they don’t get along?

    You don’t mention your family, so I’m not sure if this is a thing where they’re different from what’s been modeled for you or it’s just not how imagined things should be. An underrated point of friction in marriage is encountering families that operate differently from your own, and learning how to be at peace with that. I know one reason my BIL had a rough first couple of years is because the culture of his family and my family are just different, even though we have the same ethnic/religious/income backgrounds. We were a sleep in and lounge around in pajamas family; he came from a wake up early and do home improvement projects for fun family. He called his father “sir” and always used respectful terms with him; I call my dad “dude” and razz him as I please. Neither of us are doing family *wrong,* but when your family of origin is your only frame of reference it can feel jarring to assimilate into something so different.

    So I wonder if this is a case where LW’s family accepts partners and in-laws as genuine siblings, and all the siblings spend tons of time together and are like very close friends, while LW’s in-laws are a little more distant. That could explain why this feels “wrong” in some way.

    Anyway. Just rambling. I know it’s been a little hard for my husband’s family because I have a very different personality and outlook on things than they do. I like them all fine, but I’m not all that interested in being another daughter/sister to them. It’s not personal; they’re just not the kind of people I’d be especially close to in my personal time. They spent a few years making overtures to be closer, but we’ve all settled into our current “friendly but not close” dynamic. It works great for me, so I hope none of them are secretly stressing about it like LW is. LW, if it helps, trust that Sally is happy with the current relationship and would make steps to change things if she were unhappy with it. Free yourself of the need to read her mind on this.

    1. I came to say a similar thing. I wonder if you just have a different concept of family than Frankie (& Bill & their parents) or Sally. Perhaps in your own family of origin it’s a sign of Something is Horribly Wrong if you aren’t super close, whereas in theirs it’s just usual and expected. If this is true, from their point of view you’re very concerned about a non-problem, and they’re likely a bit puzzled about that.

    2. I have three long-time SILs. We are all very different people. Nonetheless, two of them I like and respect very much and I also feel a real…kinship with them. Because we are so different, building that kinship took some time, but it’s there, it’s real, and it’s wonderful.

      The other SIL is much more difficult. OK, so she’s a loon. But even before she became so overtly loony (her looniness has expanded exponentially over the past 10-15 years), I never felt for her the closeness and kinship I feel for the other two, and I never will. I don’t think I would have even if she hadn’t become a loon. It just wasn’t to be.

      That’s just the way it is with families. It could be that in time, you and Sally develop a feeling of kinship. It could be that you don’t. Only time will tell. So quit being so invested in fixing things that you can’t fix. Concentrate on being polite and respectful, and disengage from as much drama as you can (and honestly, none of this sounds very dramatic). If you and Sally ever do develop a closer, yep-we’re-*definitely*-family relationship, it will be because those feelings developed naturally.

  22. There is no rule that just because you are becoming family that you must also become friends. You just don’t click. But it sounds like you’re mostly cordial which is all you really need to be in order to make family gatherings and other such interactions pleasant. It’s OK to be OK with that!

  23. I think relationships between people are a lot like plants. Some do well with a lot of watering and repotting and attention straight away, and some do better when left to their own devices. Just because your relationship with your SIL isn’t flourishing like you want it to doesn’t mean it needs you to drown it with water and rip the roots up trying to improve the soil. You’ll just overwhelm it. You’re far more likely to enjoy the connection when you let it do its thing, rather than fussing over it. It might grow, it might not, but it’s not something you need to worry about, it’s fine as it is.

    Metaphors. Similes.

  24. LW, I get it, I think. In my FOO, on each parent’s side, the model for relationships among women is very “Steel Magnolias”-ish, where women are friends and allies and provide strength to each other when life gets tough. I tried, admittedly not very hard, to lay the groundwork for this kind of connection with my SiL. It didn’t happen. She’s got her own big, interconnected family and her own “Steel Magnolias” posse (more accurately, “Iron Rhododendrons” or something, because all her sibs are brothers).

    It might help to keep in mind that we wouldn’t necessarily choose our family members as friends, and often what serves as the foundation for an interfamilial relationship is similar personal traits, shared memories, shared traditions and histories, etc. In my case, if I’m honest with myself, I would not choose my SiL as a friend, notwithstanding her innumerable good qualities. You click with people who end up being your friends, and she and I have never clicked.

    It might also help to keep in the front of your thoughts that in any type of personal relationship, the other person has agency and may not to cotton to you no matter what you do. That doesn’t mean that anyone’s done anything wrong. It’s just how things are.

  25. If everyone in the world was able to properly and constructively channel all their energy into causes that change the world for the better, we would all live in paradise.

    LW, what would you be able to accomplish if you took alllllll that work you are trying to do here, and did it somewhere else instead?

    For that matter, what about the rest of us? Her problem is pretty darn close to universal. May we all focus our energy on that which will benefit us and the world.

  26. One of the most freeing things I’ve learned is that not everyone will like you and that’s okay. Sometimes we will never know why we don’t click with everyone.

  27. LW, the Captain and other commenters have pointed out that you’re taking on a lot of responsibility for Sally’s feelings and her relationship with the rest of your family, but I wanted to add that the incidents where you say the awkwardness was “your fault” don’t seem like they were your fault at all to me! You tried to help Sally with a professional connection and your friend was extremely rude. You confided in Sally about a relationship issue and your husband didn’t like how Sally responded to that. In both cases you seem to be blaming yourself for how people you care about (your husband, your friend) responded towards Sally, but just because you care about them doesn’t mean their bad behavior is your fault. They’re all adults, and I’m sure Sally recognizes that too.

    1. I would argue that Sally may well be at fault for some of it too. Being disgusted by someone failing to make a restaurant reservation? Intervening bluntly in the relationship of a brother in law who dislikes you? The overall snooty undertone in Sally’s behaviour? It’s possible that Frankie and the parents’ dislike of Sally is justified; I note that they have known Sally long before the LW as known any of them. It could be that Sally’s coldness is the reaction to the dislike, but it could be the other way around, or it could be two things working simultaneously to create a civil-but-distant family dynamic.

      1. Yeah the word disgust jumped out at me too. But I think LW forgives Sally because she’s embarrassed by her husband’s behaviour.

        I would like to gift the LW the ‘eyebrows of polite surprise ‘. It’s a God send to teachers but would work for her too. Well mannered people employ the eyebrows whenever they see unforgivable rudeness right in front of them; like someone making a contemptuous face over a simple mistake, or someone being uncivil to the SiL. The beauty of the eyebrows is they are invisible to the innocent, but work a charm on consciences which know they are not Behaving Right.

  28. If both you and your parents have told him, repeatedly, that you think he should get over his issues with Sally, he knows what you think.

    I can think of a few possibilities here: maybe he agrees but doesn’t know how to get over it. Maybe he resents the implication that other people get to make that sort of decision for him. Maybe he has some reason for disliking her that none of you know about, or he dislikes her because of something that is important to him, and he doesn’t understand why his own wife and parents think it’s trivial.

    None of those possibilities is something that will be changed by you telling him, again, to “get over it.” If the reason is something that he thinks is important and you think shouldn’t matter, repeatedly telling him that he’s wrong to feel that way isn’t likely to help. If it’s any of the other reasons, you’re just adding the friction of “my in-laws and I are arguing with my husband because we don’t think he should dislike Sally” to the fact that his brother married someone he dislikes.

    At this point, he may be thinking “I already didn’t like her, and now she’s coming between me and my parents, and LW is taking their side instead of mine.”

    It’s okay not to like all your in-laws. “Have fun with your brother, I’ll stay home with a book” isn’t a problem; “you made me sit through another dinner with your obnoxious brother” would be. In-laws are a roll of the dice. It’s pretty common to get serious about a partner before meeting their siblings. I didn’t choose my partners because I expected to like their siblings, and my siblings didn’t pick their partners based on whether they were, or were likely to be, good friends with me.

  29. This family actually sounds kind of awful. It seems as if they’ve been ganging up on Sally for years.

    1. Even if they have been ganging up on Sally, LW needs to back off because it’s not her problem and definitely not her responsibility to solve. Getting as overinvolved as she’s been will most likely end with everyone resenting her.

  30. Oh, LW… I just have to ask, why do you admire Sally? Sure, she may have the house and career you admire, but the way you describe her behavior, it sounds like she really looks down her nose at you. What’s to admire (or even like) there?

    Trying to influence your husband’s relationship with her… please stop. It’s really none of your business and it’s probably frustrating him. Keep it up long enough and you may damage the relationship between the two of you. Story time: you could describe my husband’s and my personalities as dog and cat respectively. He’s more extroverted and wants everyone to like him, and will chat up anyone and everyone. I’m the cat, very picky about who I like and want to spend time with, don’t care if people I dislike don’t like me, and need plenty of alone time. So—he has some friends and family members I just cannot stand to be around for long (if at all). When he’s tried to force these people on me (and believe me, FORCED is exactly how it felt), it just bugged the hell out of me, and frankly made me even more resistant to being around them. This is something we used to fight about, but now for the most part we’re happy for him to go off and do things with people I don’t want to spend time with while I get to have the house to myself for awhile. I do occasionally have to grit my teeth and visit with his relatives, whose political and religious views are diametrically opposed to ours—but I insist on staying in a hotel, not their homes.

    So… if you want to keep torturing yourself trying to befriend Sally, that’s your prerogative, but think carefully about dragging your husband into it.

  31. I think I’m a bit like you, LW, so maybe if I’m lucky, this will help.

    When I get bummed out because someone does not want to be my friend, I just think of cats.

    You are trying really hard to pet a cat that just does not want to be pet.

    If you leave it alone, maybe it will eventually want to come hang out with you. Probably it won’t. It definitely won’t come back to that person who keeps petting it against it’s will.

    Go find a more outgoing cat, or a dog, or a rat, but definitely just stop trying to pet that cat.

  32. Oh…my…god. I am worn out just reading all the drama/emotion. Seriously I think I need to lie down for a while. LW, let this go. You and Sally aren’t and aren’t likely to become BFFs. To be honest if someone was so …I can’t even think of a word here…up in my business, wanting to be close, inserting themselves into my life like this I would deliberately put as much distance between them and me.

    This family is not and is not going to be the happy Brady Bunch type family you envision. Sally is Sally. Frankie and Frankie and Bill’s parents don’t like her. Short of walking on water that probably won’t ever change. Sally doesn’t want/feel close to you and that’s not only not likely to change, it’s perfectly ok even if you don’t like it. I don’t mean to sound harsh there but you wanting her to be your “new sister” does not obligate her to do that for you, and that’s ok, she has rights to her own feelings.

    Just STOP all of this right now. Stop trying to be close to someone who doesn’t want to be so wrapped up in your life or have you in hers. Stop trying to manage/ease/fix your husband’s relationships with his family. They are his FOO, it is up to him the relationships he has with them including with his brother’s wife.

    1. I think it’s worth noting particularly that this is not an awful family and so LW CAN let it go! Yes, there are tensions, relationships aren’t the way that LW would like things to be, but as tensions with in-laws go this is really very small beans. LW doesn’t even know that her in-laws dislike Sally, she just worries that these people she otherwise thinks are kind might dislike her completetly secretly on the grounds of a single conversation about her blunt manners. But expressing – once – a negative opinion about someone doesn’t mean you hate them and are going to cause a family rift! Far from it! In fact, a bit of mild venting can be very valuable in enabling relationships between a bunch of disparate people to run smoothly through acknowledging that there are some things that annoy you.

      Ironically, though LW sees herself as wanting to make peace her efforts are at least as likely to make things worse by trying to get people into close proximity. Why invite Sally for Frankie’s birthday? Birthday boy doesn’t even like her, so being expected to spend his birthday with her in the name of family harmony is hardly likely to make him fonder of her. Let Bill and Frankie take care of their own relationship, and let Bill, not the LW be responsible for supporting his wife if she feels hurt. But it doesn’t really sound as if she does. She just doesn’t want to spend her holidays with her in-laws or to involve a woman who isn’t her intimate friend in her wedding planning.

    2. “To be honest if someone was so …I can’t even think of a word here…up in my business, wanting to be close, inserting themselves into my life like this I would deliberately put as much distance between them and me.”

      The word is probably “intrusive” but “pushy” and “overbearing” come to mind, too.

  33. It sounds like you just really, really want to be Sally’s friend, because she is so cool. All the family drama surrounding it sounds a bit like a red herring, or maybe the fact that you’re considering her to be part of the extended family simply makes the friendshiplessness even harder to accept. And I think many people have been in that position – In addition to Captain’s scripts, maybe allow yourself some time to grieve for the relationship that will probably never be. It’s normal to be sad and confused about this.

  34. I have five SIL’s in various combinations.
    One I text, call, and chat with regularly. We host each other’s families and get together one-on-one.
    One I am friendly with, but we communicate slightly less frequently.
    One I see at family events. We have a great deal of fun there, but rarely get in touch directly unless it’s about planning such an event.
    One I see at some events. We’re pleasant, but it’s rather stiff because the other relationships are Fraught With Tension.
    One I haven’t seen in ten years and don’t expect to, because the other relationships are Estranged. We occasionally send a “congratulations to your partner/child/self on Major Life Accomplishment” message.

    When I was new and cultivating these connections, the best and easiest thing was, “wanna go get coffee?” Small one-on-one outings have been a good thing in 4/5 of those situations. No Feelingscoffee. Just easy, normal coffee.

  35. I wonder if the ‘not letting LW/spouse buy them dinner’ thing was more about money than closeness, in that Sally knows she’s more financially successful than y’all, and felt uncomfortable taking your money. Plus, Sally has a bit of a hard row to hoe here; her BIL doesn’t like her (and I’m sure she knows it); her future parents-IL don’t like her either (ditto). Even if LW was the bee’s knees, Sally might hesitate in trying for a closer relationship, because she knows that LW’s ultimate loyalty is likely to be to her husband, and she doesn’t want to put her in an awkward situation.

  36. LW, if you weren’t even tangentially connected to Sally by means of being the partner of her potential brother-in-law, would you be seeking out someone like her as a friend? I get the feeling you’re suffering from the “because faaaamily” version of the geek social fallacies, where you seem to have the idea that because you and Sally are going to be part of the same family-by-marriage, you have to be much closer friends than you normally would be (because, seriously, it sounds like you have very little in common; it also sounds as though Frankie and Bill don’t have much in common, despite being siblings). So, a re-appraisal question for you: if you had the kind of close, friendly relationship you want with Sally, what would it be built on?

    (If you’re saying “shared alliance against parents-in-law”, this is an indication you have a different problem you need to work on).

  37. OMG. This struck such a chord with me. For years I had a very difficult relationship with my brother’s partner Vikki. My brother and I had always been extremely close and I could not make sense of his having chosen someone I just did not connect with. She had weird boundary issues and there were many incidents between us and Vikki and my erstwhile partner had a huge blowout and my relationship with my brother became very strained and I felt desperately sad because he had basically always been my best friend.

    Anyway. I stopped trying so damn hard. I continued to be pleasant but in a more distant kind of way. I still showed up at family events and called on birthdays and sent gifts when their baby was born. Vikki and I have gotten older as people do, and in the intervening years have each lived through some hard and humbling shit and have each spent time in therapy. Our rough edges have worn down a lot and we’ve found things to laugh about and like about each other. We actually have a quite nice relationship now where we text back and forth maybe twice a month and say supportive things to one another. She and my brother and their kids even came to stay at my place for two nights recently and we had a great time, something I’d have never thought possible 5 years ago.

    The Captain’s advice is great. Don’t try too hard. Be your lovely pleasant self. Don’t micromanage others. Let time do its thing.

  38. LW, your need to “make everything OK between everyone” may actually end up achieving the opposite. From your letter, it seems like Sally has done stuff (e.g., potentially sabotaging Frankie’s b’day plans) that he has a legitimate reason to be pissed about. You telling him “you need to get over it” is likely to strain your relationship with him too. If I were in his shoes and my partner said that to me I would be angry at partner, for not respecting my feelings or giving me the support I need.

    1. Yes, so much this!
      LW, remember that in the end it’s better for your own marriage to be on Frankie’s ‘Team you’. If you keep telling him he is wrong to be upset about something/his feelings are wrong, you will end up showing him you are not on his ‘Team you’ but on Sally’s ‘Team you’ (even though she does not seem to want you there in the first place). This can come back and bite you in the future.

      I also would be upset with my partner if they kept telling me that my dislike for someone is wrong and I should never be angry with this person, even. If I had an actual, legitimate reason to dislike this person (an not it just being irrational) and yet my partner would insist I do not, I would consider this a yellow flag and subtle gasligting.

    2. THIS. I got the impression LW cares far more about Sally’s feelings than her own husband’s. All this “defending the other person” she’s been doing = having Sally’s back and not his. In his shoes, I’d be pretty ticked off at LW. And all this micromanaging of family relationships she’s trying to do sounds very codependent.

    3. Yes, this is what I came here to say! Stop prioritizing your (non) relationship with Sally over your relationship with your husband. If you and Sally had been close prior to your relationship with Frankie, I could understand your stake in trying to get him to get along, but that does not seem to be the case here. You have told him to “get over it” over some maybe legitimate concerns your husband has of her, and you invited her into your relationship by sharing details of your relationship with her–someone who you’ve said you aren’t especially close to. As someone who has been married for a fairly long time, please take my advice to NOT to include ANY family in issues between you and your husband. If you need to talk someone, choose one of your friends, preferably someone who does not have emotional ties or loyalties to you husband. Your husband’s reaction probably would have occurred regardless of how “blunt” her advice was or was not. I could see how he would have been upset by you sharing any issues with her at all. Her advice does not belong in your marriage and if you continue to invite it in, you will only cause further friction between all parties.

      Next, I’m confused to whether or not there really is an issue between Sally and your parents in law at all? You say you are concerned that an us vs them situation may occur in the future, but it isn’t really clear that that is happening now. There was the issue with the text, but you also point out that they are kind to her and have told Frankie to get over his issues with her. If a situation like that were to arise in the future, it would not be yours to manage–it would be between your in laws and Sally.

      Lastly, lots of people have suggested that maybe you just sort of step away from your relationship with Sally, but I’m going to suggest something slightly different. The ways you have tried to be close to her have been pretty big gestures–like offering to help plan her wedding, trying to pay for everyone’s dinner, offering to plan and pay for a vacation for everyone, etc. If I were on the receiving of any of these requests, I would not feel comfortable accepting any of them. When it comes to events, I am a control freak and do not like to accept help. I want to do it myself. A holiday with family sharing the same cabin (particularly if there are frictions between some/all the family members) sounds… potentially taxing, at best. I would feel extremely uncomfortable accepting payment for dinner from someone who I know is trying so hard to save money. So I guess what I am saying is that these actions at least do not seem all that unreasonable on the part of your SIL. If you want to be close to her, what does she like to do? Do you have common interests? Can you plan some low stakes get togethers with her? Grab coffee or lunch, or a manicure, or a walk or bike ride, or see a movie? Everyone shares closeness differently, and while a lot of people love to give and receive help for weddings, family get togethers, birthdays, many do not. Perhaps set your sights smaller and just work on getting to know Sally as a person and let your relationship blossom (or not) naturally.

      So to sum up, my advice is this: first and foremost prioritize your relationship with your husband above these other peripheral relationships. Let go of trying to manage everyone else’s feelings towards Sally, and lastly, let go a bit. Plan smaller outings with her and see if you guys become closer this way. If not, it is disappointing, but OK. Make some other friends that can fulfill that closeness you long for with Sally. Good luck!!

  39. LW, I love the Captains advice!
    I don’t have siblings nor a spouse so my ability to give advice is limited here, but I did notice something in you letter that struct a chord. It was about how you try to make your husband like Sally.

    Please, be very careful with this! I, from my own experience, know this can end blowing up in your face. Sometimes, when you don’t really like a Person, and someone else keeps bugging you about how this person is actually great and you are wrong about them, it makes you dislike the Person even more. Like… a lot more. People can be stubborn and reverse psychology is a thing.

    I have a cousin I really dislike. She never really did anything wrong but my grandmother loved her and my whole childhood I had to listen about how great she is (and how I should look up to her ’cause she’s so much better at Everything). It did not make me like her more, it made me resent her.
    My mother likes this cousin and keeps convincing me I should like her because she is nice, pretty, kind, funny, amazing, wonderful, so awesome, farts glitter.
    Let me tell you LW… I like the cousin even LESS now. And it made me resent my mother a little bit. I understand your need to stand on Sallies side and protect her from unfair criticism. This is very kind of you! But please try to be aware of the boundary between ‘pointing out unfair, mean criticism’ and trying to make other people like her/convincing them they are so very wrong about not liking her. It will not do Sally any favors.

  40. LW, I honestly don’t get the sense that you really even *like* Sally. And that’s okay! You sound like very different people who are in very different places in life, with different gifts and talents and personalities and opportunities and challenges. So, it’s normal and natural and perfectly okay if you two don’t mesh perfectly. I honestly do get the sense that you are overanalyzing the living daylights out of everything that each of you does or says or that you think she thinks – or that you thinks she thinks that you think. Speaking as the queen of overthinking here, I can say that this is not helping either of you. Please just stop. Each of us has individual relationships with other family members, and with their spouses/SOs – or not. You can admire someone’s skills and good qualities without wanting to be close with them. You aren’t marrying her; your BIL is (and by the way, do you really even like HIM? it’s worth thinking about). All you need to do is to be yourself, and be polite and open. That’s it. Everything else is gravy.

    You need to work on being more comfortable with yourself and stop worrying about Sally’s every last eyeroll, IMO, and I say this with love, as a fellow overthinker. Simple, but not easy! You don’t need to evangelise with your husband. In fact, by “defending” her, and trying to convert your husband, you are letting her into your own marriage in a way that isn’t helpful. Simply letting it be is good enough – and I wonder if your husband would be as grumpy about her if she weren’t such a topic of conversation, almost a *project* between you two.

  41. Hi LW
    In addition to all the good points already made about your expectations about what you think is supposed to be a happy family and the amount of pressure you put on yourself with respect to it, I would like to add another observation.
    You seem to admire a lot your sister in law. In fact, it looks like maybe you would like to be more like her (discount what I’m saying if I’m wrong of course). Actually when you say she seems to be judgemental about your low-paying job and relative conditions in life, are you sure you are not the one judging yourself? (Maybe she does also of course, but it isn’t really the point.) So of course, if you see her as some kind of model, you take her defense with respect to other family members.
    Personally, I know it has happened to me quite a few times to have people in my life which awakens in me this aspiration to be like them. Your description of your SIL really records me about these situations. Usually, I never get to have a very meaningful or close relationship with them, although I long for it, because my feelings about them is actually a lot more about me than about who they really are. I don’t really see them for themselves, without very strong personal feelings which aren’t actually really about them, but about what they occur to symbolize for me, so a real connection isn’t possible. I haven’t a lot of advice about this situation, but it can help to recognize that this is what is happening (if it’s your case of course).

    1. Actually, thinking more through it, I do have some advice, which is to identify which elements of your SIL personnality and life appeal to you and how you would identify your level of satisfaction with respect to these elements in your own life.
      For example, going back to the professional aspect, it seems that the comparison with your SIL makes you regretful not to have more social status thanks to a high-level job. But, it is the moment to remember why you chose your job. Maybe the mission appeals to you. Maybe you could not do long studies although you would have liked to because you needed to take care of your health or because the cost of studies is laughingly high in US. Maybe you have a blue collar job which is socially devalued. Maybe it’s also worth wondering if the fact that our society derives social status from the professional position is actually in line with your values. What do you do in your job that appeals to you? In what sense does it contribute to society?

      Thinking about it after I read your letter, I noticed that there is a formula for the people I felt “in self-deprecative awe” about: beauty AND self-confidence AND (academic success/ brilliance OR activism OR being a dance interpret). It actually makes a lot of sense, as the two first elements generally makes for a charismatic person and the third elements reflects some of my deeper aspirations in life.

      I should note that it’s not like that every person satisfying these criterion will inspire these sentiments, one of my best friends is attractive, a successful academic and a good dancer and we share a deep emotional intimacy, and she thinks I’m as cool as I think she is. My other best friend is a fundamentally interesting and good person in another way.

      All in all, at least your letter gave me a lot to think about, so thank you about that!

      1. I like what you’re saying. Identify your level of satisfaction with respect to these elements in your own life.

  42. Hi LW!

    It’s really clear from your letter that you care about your family, and you want the people around you to feel loved and supported. You also seem willing to examine your own behavior and your own role in any potential conflicts. If everybody could approach conflict or awkwardness with these strengths… well, CA would probably have a lot fewer letters to answer!

    A lot of people are focusing on your desire to be closer to your sister-in-law, and encouraging you to devote less emotional energy to this relationship. I agree, but that’s not the part of your letter that resonated with me. I read your letter and focused on how you want to make sure you’re doing the right thing. Sure, maybe Sally doesn’t want to be close and that’s fine, but you’re concerned that it’s because of something you did, or something you should have apologized for, or whatever.

    I think it’s a pretty healthy impulse: “hmmm, family member seems put off by me, let me check in with myself and see if there’s anything I could tweak or change to make things easier or more pleasant for everyone.” That’s called being considerate! But it can reach a point where it’s no longer helpful, which is why we’re telling you to “care less” (excellent advice, often easier said than done, as most everyone here knows!)

    I guess what I’m trying to say is… you seem pretty awesome! You checked in with yourself to see if there were any necessary changes to your behavior (doesn’t really seem like there are), you try to stand up for Sally when the rest of the family gets weird (a noble impulse, maybe switch to a “change the topic” strategy instead?), and you’re bouncing your ideas off others to get a reality check (SO helpful when it comes to dealing with family!). I truly wish you the best, and hope you have plenty of sufficiently pleasant–if not emotionally intimate–interactions with your in-laws!


  43. LW, this is a bit of a derail, but I would like to address this part of your letter:

    “in one case, a lawyer friend offered to refer her to a colleague re: her legal issue, unfortunately this somehow turned into my friend grilling her for an hour over the issue (when I was not there to stop her doing it!), and I was mortified (I had just wanted her to pass the contact details to Sally, as I had asked Sally beforehand if she wanted more information, and I don’t know how it turned out like it did!)”

    Now, I have no idea what happened here, but as a former lawyer, it sounded ominously familiar, because it happened to me more than once. A friend/aquaintance/person I know socially asks some advice (even something simple, like whether they need to get a lawyer or what kind). To answer, I ask a few questions. Now, lay people have little idea about what is legally significant and what not; they tend to focus on their own side of the story and dismiss anything that they feel reflects negatively on them or their case as insignificant, irrelevant, nobody’s bussiness, etc. So they feel attacked by the questions and think I have been rude to them. Worse still if I tell them that, in my opinion, they are in the wrong or that they have no case. Maybe your friend was rude to Sally. But maybe Sally overreacted badly to some light questioning about her legal issue. And, frankly, she doesn’t sound like the kind of person who would submit to an hour-long rude questioning byt an aquantiance for no reason when she has no problem being distant and cool to her in-laws.

    All this to the point that, in your effort to be fair to Sally, you seem to interpret everything to her favor. Many of what you say actually casts her in a bad light: being contemptous towards you because you failed to make reservations that turned out to be unneccesary (I mean, you were right in that case! There was no need for reservations and you didn’t fail at anything other than some bizzare idea of a perfect hostess), interfering in your releationship with your husband, when she clearly doesn’t have a close relationship with you (I mean, unless you husband was actually mistreating you, she had no bussiness talking to him about your confidences), that whole weirdness with her declining your invitation for your husband’s birthday and then going and making a booking herself.

    Other things might be genuine efforts not to burden you financially, but I have learned that it’s a bad idea to be overgenerous to less affluent friends; everyone has their pride. And I would note that some of the things you mention as your sincere efforts to build a connection are boundary-crossing: planning your wedding is not a friendship-building activity, it’s something you do with people you are already friends with.

    1. OT rant: Now, lay people have little idea about what is legally significant and what not; they tend to focus on their own side of the story and dismiss anything that they feel reflects negatively on them or their case as insignificant, irrelevant, nobody’s bussiness, etc. So they feel attacked by the questions and think I have been rude to them. Worse still if I tell them that, in my opinion, they are in the wrong or that they have no case.
      OMG, THIS.

    2. Re: lawyer bit – so much this. As a lawyer, I often know the questions I need to ask to help figure out if the situation is something I (or anyone) can help with. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve needed to say to a prospective client, “just hold that train of thought, I need to ask (insert relevant question here)…” Not sure why OP should be mortified that a different person asked potentially relevant questions. (Although I do also recognize this is my profession and others may have discomfort with questions and may react differently)

    3. Yeah, lawyers are perfectly capable of shutting down a grilling if they want to. She probably just let your friend go on because she didn’t mind. Lots of lawyers are basically law-nerds that are very happy to go on about something if it’s interesting.

  44. I love the advice given. My favorite nuggets are:

    “Maybe Bill is the one driving the decisions around when and how to include members of his family – don’t fall into the trap of assuming that she’s because she’s a woman it’s her job to manage everyone’s calendar and emotions.”
    YES! My husband doesn’t enjoy spending time with his parents and brother for reasons too long to list here. We don’t hang out with them based on his choice. I am blamed, without fail, every time as the reason they don’t see each other. Why? Because I’m the wife and therefore the keeper of the calendar and the resident bitch daughter in law. (insert heavy eye roll here)

    and this:

    “3) to help Frankie understand that Bill has chosen Sally, and Frankie needs to get over the issues he has with Sally (I have outright said this, as have his PARENTS, repeatedly, but it is not sinking in!)

    Stop. Stop telling him this. Stop trying to make him understand. Sally’s been around for a long time, it sounds like, and there is history here that isn’t your history. Frankie doesn’t “have to” do anything, so get yourself out of the middle of this drama. You can’t fix it, so, what can you do to stop feeding it?”

    LW…a quick story- when my husband and I first starting dating he told me that he hated his mom. I love my mom so it was bizarre to me that anyone could hate their mom. I made it my mission to get him to get over it. It worked…for about a week. For one week in the very early stages of our nearly 20 year relationship my husband and his mom got along. Then she did something heinous as usual and they stopped getting along. But this time it was different. This time I was in the middle of their relationship and I ended up getting blamed. My husband was reasonable – he was angry I interfered, but loved me and asked me to understand that he had reasons for his feelings and to respect them. His mother was not as kind. I was, and have been ever since, the woman who destroyed her relationship with her son forever and ever amen. I should have kept my nose out of business that was not mine. I should have respected that everyone is entitled to their feelings, no matter how wrong they might look to those of us on the outside. I should have realized that it wasn’t my job to fix them.

    Listen to the Captain…her advice is 100% spot on!

  45. Maybe somebody has already said this (I don’t have bandwidth to read all the comments today), but just in case:

    This reminds me a bit of things in my own extended family.

    My Dad had 2 siblings and 2 parents when I was growing up. They lived in another city. We saw them once or twice a year. Dad was mostly disinterested in that, but the visits were ‘traditional’ so he went along. My mother did all the work of arranging, planning, hosting, cooking, cleaning up before and after, yadda yadda. As a child, I liked my uncle-by-marriage okay but could have done without the rest of them.

    My Mom had 1 sibling and 4 adult nieces during that time. They also lived in distant cities, but two of the nieces were in our house quarterly or more often, and we visited them in their homes at least a couple of time a year, usually more. My dad liked some of their husbands but was otherwise cordial-but-disengaged. I liked some (and some of their kids, who were my age) and disliked others.

    Fast forward a few decades. My husband’s sister is someone I met on a handful of occasions during the 30 years we were married; I saw his parents more often, but we were never close. One the other hand, my husband embraced my mother and brothers as if they were his longlost blood kin and we saw them quite often.

    It is what it is.

  46. Er, you guys ARE friends. You text, you stay at their house, you talk about difficult things you’re each going through. That’s quite a few steps above nodding to each other at large parties! Be content with what your relationship is and stop trying to force it into some some idealised bff-sisterhood-intimacy cookiecutter.

  47. Hi LW,

    Sally doesn’t have to want to be your friend, and Frankie doesn’t have to like Sally. Sometimes “peace in the family” means people who don’t particularly get along giving one another plenty of space. Try defining your relationship with Sally as “someone I see infrequently and am polite to,” rather than “a potential friend and ally,” and this will all probably be far less stressful for you.

  48. Captain covered it: stop behaving as if sally is your own personal project. Tgat isn’t going to bring you closer. No one wants to be a project. Sounds like you have maybe gotten a little too involved in her business (lawyer thing for example) and maybe she’d like space. Try when you interact not to see every interaction as ‘what to do about sally’ but just chill. Relax. Just fake behave as if things are chill, don’t attach a lot of importance to every little thing and don’t invade her space emotionally or physically. Allow her the space to connect or not. Bc if you try to keep forcing the issue most folks will run far far away. I understand the sentiment behind wanting things to be cool but this is your monkeys your problem. You are not ok with things. Fix you. Leave sally to worry about sally. And I’m sorry bc I obsess too, I envy people who make boundaries and acceptance look easy.

  49. I agree completely with the Captain’s advice. Allowing the fact that there’s not much/nothing to be done to sink in might work wonders for your perspective on the situation. Do you have sisters, LW? Whether or not this is the case, you may also have some preconceived notions of how sisters/sisters-in-law are supposed to interact. This could very well be coloring your perception of your relationship with Sally.

    Speaking from my own experience as someone who only has brothers, I never formulated an idea of how sisters are supposed to be. Now that my brothers and I are all married, I have three sisters-in-law. They’re all lovely human beings, but I do find it difficult to connect with each of them, all for completely different reasons. Take your pick: We’re all at completely different life stages. “Gal pal”/sister-like relationships have never come easily to me. I find it frustrating that now that there are more women in my family, there are more gendered expectations by which I am likely being measured, while all my SILs seem to have never had problems with femininity and gender roles in their lives. I’m not a kid person. Religion, culture, politics, dietary needs, etc. The list goes on, and you get the idea.

    Tl;dr: Evaluating your expectations for sister(-in-law-)hood might also help.

  50. I would add to the Cap’s script when telling Frankie you don’t want to hear his complaints about Sally, because you don’t want Frankie to think you’re “taking her side.” Explain yourself a little, so he understands it’s about your feelings, not hers.

    “I hear you babe, and I know you don’t really like her, but I really don’t want to hear it” needs a because so it doesn’t come across as dismissive of his feelings.

    — when I’m with you, I want it to be about us, not her.
    — you’re infinitely important to me and she’s not, but I don’t want to feel like I have to dislike someone because you do.
    — I know you don’t like her so complaining is just negativity that I can’t do anything about and it brings me down too.
    — it makes me feel weird when I’m around her because I’ve *heard* these negative feelings, so I feel two-faced since I don’t feel that way.
    — I get that you feel that way and you could be right about her, I just don’t react to her that way and I don’t know what I’m supposed to do about it.
    — you don’t have to like her and you don’t need my justification of your dislike. No one has to like everyone.

  51. Rereading, I was greatly struck by this:
    I often stand up for Sally in discussions where she is not present, as Frankie can be critical of her. I ask: “How would you feel if Bill said these things about me?”; “I can empathise with her, I have similar worries” etc.

    LW, I wonder if some of your eagerness to get the family to totally accept Sally is because you’re worried about their acceptance of you? If the parents have been equally kind to you and Sally, but then your husband hints his parents agree with him, maybe you’re worried about what they “really” think of you?
    I know it would concern me.

    I think for me a lot would depend on why Frankie dislikes her. Does he have reason to believe she’s not a good person, or she just rub him the wrong way? Is there cause for his dislike, or just a personality conflict?
    So far the only thing you’ve said she’s done that was really rotten was the cabin on Frankie’s birthday, and if that was the only thing, that could have just been a stupid fuck-up on her part, not a deliberate sabotage. But he’s known her twice as long as he’s known you, so maybe there’s more that you don’t know about?

    In any event, you should ask Frankie to agree to stop talking about her because she doesn’t deserve this much space in your marriage.

  52. I sit in a Sally-type spot in an in-law relationship, too. My husband has a cousin, Asshat. Asshat is married to a woman who we could call Fallulah. Fallulah is fine, I suppose, and I don’t know her terribly well. She’s done a couple things that rubbed me the wrong way, though admittedly, this is over the course of about 13 years. Fallulah is always nice to me when we see one another, and if she weren’t married to Asshat, I might like to have coffee with her. But, everything about it is awkward, so when I see her I keep conversations light and superficial, and I don’t get especially close. There’s no reason to be rude (really, there never is), but I’m also not jumping out of my chair to be besties with her. Sometimes that’s just how it goes. I suggest adjusting your expectations to meet her where she is in the relationship, because it seems like a lot of emotional energy being spent where it won’t be returned.

  53. LW, there’s one elephant in the room here that you don’t talk about in the letter, and that’s the relationship between Bill and Frankie. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like Frankie’s using Sally as a replacement target for his negative feelings towards his own brother. In particular, it sounds like he’s envious of Bill’s better financial situation, and his comeback is “yeah, but his fiancée is horrible.”

    If that’s true, that’s a really unpleasant situation for you, and you’re right to feel uncomfortable, because what he is doing is both weaponising and pedestalising you. You’ve been cast as the kinder, more caring, more loving wife. And as the saying goes, the problem with pedestals is that they really hurt when you fall off them.

    I don’t think you can fix things between yourself and Sally. Frankie and Bill need to fix things between themselves, and they need to stop redirecting feelings onto the women in each others’ lives. Otherwise, you two are always going to suffer the fallout.

    All you can do is to refuse to engage, and refuse to be an object of comparison, either favourably or unfavourably.

  54. My husband used to have a co-worker he wasn’t fond of and I made the mistake of asking why. After all, my husband’s co-worker was always polite to me. My husband answered my question by pointing out some of the nasty things she said about me when I wasn’t around.

    Now, I keep my mouth shut. If my husband wants to tell me about an annoying co-worker, I let him. But I don’t give advice unless the advice is asked for and I don’t pry. If you don’t want your husband to complain about Sally to you, that is a legitimate issue you can bring up to your husband. But you can not expect him to change his feelings towards her. And if you push, you may end up hearing some things about Sally that you do not want to hear.

    So, it is in your best interests not to interfere in your husband’s relationship with Sally. While he maybe complaining to you about her, it is possible that he hasn’t told you the whole truth not about Sally because it might hurt your feelings.

    And please don’t blame yourself for the lawyer incident. It is a lawyer’s job to ask questions that their clients do not want to answer because opposing counsel may ask the same questions. So it is not your fault if the lawyer asked Sally uncomfortable questions.

  55. I have found that there is a difference between getting on with my in laws and fitting in with them. I’d been socialised to make family occasions perfect (my family of origin is really dysfunctional) and so when I met my in laws, I immediately began to solve the impossible puzzle of being like them – in order to please them. This caused me a lot of heartache, turns out my in laws are not at all that keen on each other and don’t have a lot of common ground. I was expending a lot of energy on a family life my in laws hadn’t cared about before I arrived.

    My golden rules are:

    * Never speak badly of another family member in their absence. You can listen to venting and make sympathetic noises but when it comes to those conversations about what is wrong with Sally, be neutral and generously assume whatever offence she is has been accused of, she didn’t mean it/was having a bad day etc etc. If you can’t say anything nice because the in laws want you to agree, don’t say anything at all. Go make a coffee, change the subject, secretly pretend you are in an immersive theatre show and these are actors.

    * Don’t be the messenger. If Frankie has a problem with the hotel arrangements, gosh, he needs to take that up with his brother! Your mother in law wants to know what you plan to do for Christmas? Gosh, Frankie will know best, he will give her a call! Families that stew over grudges for years love to dump their conflicts on a ‘fixed who will walk right into those tense moments to deliver bad news.

    Avoid being caught in the middle by insisting that It’s better if the in laws talk to each other vs come to you. I am a feminist but if my mother in law has a prying question then I tell her that my hub is the boss and he is the best person to ask. (He is, because he knows how to deal with my mother in laws bullshit better than me.)

    * If you begin to feel that sense of panic/shame/anger rise up, take a break from the family interaction. Go scream into a pillow, get a drink, go for a walk, anything to give yourself a pause between the situation and your reaction. The Drama Triangle is a fantastic model for understanding how these families work, and the best way to avoid drama is to step away and do nothing. It will feel horribly counter productive but trust me, if in doubt; do nothing. I have lost count of the epic Awful Things My In Laws Did that felt like they merited an immediate response but now feel totally meh when I think back to them.

    My hub is a master of the art of doing nothing in the face of family drama, which seemed so WEIRD to me, given how many rich and varied faaamily conversations we could have been having to reunite everyone. Five years later, I can see that in a family like his, the art of doing nothing is a radical way to love people. It gives his family a chance to cool off and walk back their rude behaviour. No one is ever going to address issues and apologise but the tantrums do blow over. My mother in law and sister in law have called a truce, my mother in law no longer drops by unannounced and Christmas doesn’t make me want to scream.

    Good luck. Save your energy for you and your own life.

  56. You already had a lot of great advice from the Captain, so I’ll just comment on the birthday and holiday thing. It sounds great that you want to arrange a nice celebration for your husband, it’s so kind of you. But there is something to arranging your own birthday parties as an adult. You/Husband can invite the people you want to come directly, without someone else trying to surprise you and things getting lost in the web of family communication. Especially since your SIL doesn’t seem to be as invested in arranging things as you are. Maybe you can surprise your husband with celebrations for just the two of you, or with friends or your family? It doesn’t need to be the big day for you to have a fun party!

    I also read some advice at a wedding blog once, that I’ve found useful in my life, maybe you, or some of the readers, will find it useful too. It’s said that invitations (to weddings, and other things of course) are only invitations, not military orders, and after issuing the invitations, it’s really up to the guests if they want to come or not. As the host or hostess, you did your part and then it’s up to the guests how they want to answer. The invitation is a kindness to the prospective guest, and however the guests want to answer: congratulations, thanks for the invitation, or participating in the party, is also a kindness to you. I find it very freeing to stop worrying about the guests and just be proud that I did the right thing, and let the guests do whatever they think is the right thing. Sometimes it results in a small intimate party with one or two guests, sometimes there is a big celebration, and both types of parties can be a lot of fun.

    Good luck with family, celebrations and finding the right “worry level” in the future! Keep on the good work!

  57. Joining the chorus here to tell you to please, please stop trying to micromanage everyone’s emotions. It sounds exhausting and it’s absolutely counterproductive. It could be that Sally has an abrasive personality, she could be introverted and need more space than the rest of the family (I can definitely identify with her when it comes to people trying to push a “closeness” I don’t want to reciprocate), she could just have a different communication/attachment style. Whatever the situation, do not feelingsdump on her about the relationship you wish you had or apologize about things she probably doesn’t even remember – It’s 100% going to create tension and awkwardness between you.

    And your partner has no obligation to like his sister-in-law. If he’s being rude or openly hostile to her, by all means, tell him to reign it in, but as long as he’s polite, he doesn’t need his partner badgering him about his own family. Being told that “you don’t do family right” is not pleasant, and people can’t control their own likes or dislikes anyway. Plenty of family members are just polite to each other and that’s all right, nobody is forced to be super-chummy with everybody else.

  58. Also, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that, since she’s the “interloper” and not the birth relative, she’s the one driving all of this. Bill is part of it, whether he is active in it or just goes along without intervening. Birth relatives often get off the hook for things for conflicts to which they are contributing because it’s easier to blame the awful *itch who stole your brother-in-law than it is to admit to yourself that the brother-in-law himself might not want to spend time with y’all.

    As it is, you sound a little desperate and lap-doggish. It’s time to take a deep breath, back away from this, and see where the chips fall.

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