• Other Friendship Advice

Do I have to be friends with a difficult sister-in-law?

Published: August 21, 2011 | Last Updated: April 2, 2016 By | Reply Continue Reading

Relationships with sister-in-laws can be complicated — especially for women, who tend to be the “connectors” or glue that holds families together. 


Hi Irene,

I relocated to my husband’s home country in the spring. Aside from adjusting to life as an expat, my husband and I have been dealing with some issues with by sister-in-law. Before I married, she and I had a good relationship. I was aware of some of her issues but did not truly see them until I moved here.

It started when I discovered she “borrowed” some of my clothing without asking. I was livid, to say the least. Due to the language barrier, my husband confronted her. She apologized and later I found out she was angry! She started ranting about how we were using her bed and, her closet, that this was her house — very child-like responses. And she is a 35-year-old mother!

She does not live there, has not contributed a dime, or helped around the house. (She did take care of my mother-in-law for a while but she could no longer handle it and that is one of the reasons we came down here to relieve her.) She was mad because she was caught. We didn’t speak for a couple of weeks. After that, I decided to keep her at a distance, but we were cordial.

Recently, she stole $2000 from my mother-in-law. My husband settled the issue with the bank and cut up the credit card she used to run up bills. She got mad at my husband and started saying she was entitled to the house and the shop, where we will be running our business. Then she brought my name into it, saying I was going to take over all of the properties to which she is entitled.

She has major entitlement issues and bullies people to get her way. But it is not working with my husband and I. Since this last encounter, we have not heard a word from her. To be honest, I am relieved she has disappeared. While I don’t want to be enemies, I am not going to be a doormat. I don’t want to be friends with people like her. I would not put up with it from anyone else, so why should I make any exceptions? My husband wants
to have a relationship with her because they are blood, but she has done some horrible things to him. I am to the point I want to cut her off, but it’s
difficult because she is an in-law.

Any ideas how to maintain civility without it affecting my marriage? It’s hard to get rid of toxic in-laws.




Dear Brittany,

Rightly or wrongly, it sounds like your sister-in-law may feel like you and your husband moved in on her territory and that she deserves to be “compensated” for the caregiving she did before you arrived.

You don’t have to have a warm, intimate friendship with your sister-in-law if she is someone you don’t like or trust. But I would suggest you try to maintain a civil relationship with her for the sake of your husband, mother-in-law, and the rest of the family. It’s natural to feel like you want to protect your husband but fortunately he is able to see past his sister’s shortcomings, and is willing to call her on her ethical lapses. He has to be as disappointed in her as you are.

Since you are your husband have already taken a firm stand, I wouldn’t be surprised if your sister-in-law reacts by backing off from her relationship with you both for a while. Hopefully after tempers have calmed down, your husband will be able to talk to his sister again about any decisions that need to be made regarding your mother-in-law’s care going forward, and you will all be comfortable being together on family occasions.

Picking up and moving to another country is always very stressful. Making some positive connections with people in your new community may buffer some of the disappointment you are feeling about being unable to be close to your sister-in-law.

Hope this helps!

Best, Irene

Other posts on The Friendship Blog about dealing with in-laws:

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