Family Matters: Friend or foe?

You can choose your friends, but not your family; here is how to make the best of your "in-law" situation.

A kissing couple (photo credit: REUTERS)
A kissing couple
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Ayelet writes with the following question: “I have an amazing younger sister and we were always very close. About a year ago she got married to a guy she hardly knew and is six years her elder. Ever since they got together it feels like the sister I once knew and loved is gone. Instead I got a brother in law who thinks he’s always right, doesn’t respect my feelings and thoughts, and mostly generates an unpleasant atmosphere whenever he’s around. My sister refuses to acknowledge these things and she often sides with him, even when it’s obvious that he’s in the wrong. Lately the situation has become unbearable and I spend most of our time together arguing with her. I love my sister to bits and hate to think we might never go back to being close again. Is there anything I can do to fix things between us?”
The famous saying, “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family,” comes to mind. At some point, your siblings are going to make a choice that will bring some new family members into your life. You may be very fortunate and receive a new “brother” or “sister”, but they might also choose someone you won’t like one bit.
There are a few different ways people react in such a situation.
Denying the situation
There are those who will say that the fact that their sibling has added another person totheir life doesn’t matter. They will say that they can still keep the communication going, ignoring that they think the sibling has made a tremendous mistake in picking a life partner. They will invite the sister to one-on-one get-togethers, buy gifts for the kids and do their best avoiding her partner at family gatherings.
Being in denial as to the existence of a new family member is only really possible if you rarely get to meet your sibling. Even so, ignoring such an important part of her life might not go so unnoticed. Reducing the frequency with which you meet them as a family might work as a better option in this case, if you feel you really can’t accept him as part your life.
Make her see the light
Another option is to have an open conversation with your sister about her partner. You can let her know exactly what you think of her new partner, or a slightly gentler version of that. This could serve as a great outlet for your bad feelings. Bear in mind, though, that you’re probably not going to convince her to see her partner through your eyes. She probably won’t appreciate some of the things you have to say about him. This might result, therefore, in the premature death of your relationship with her.

Befriend your foe
It’s much nicer to be surrounded by friends than by foes. Make a conscious decision to do all you can to befriend your sister’s partner. You can try finding out what you have in common with him and have that as the basis for your conversations with him. For example, you might both be very interested in cooking. Try asking for his advice in cooking or discuss your latest honey cake with him. Plan for some quality time with him, if possible based on something you have in common or something you both define as “fun.” For example, if you might both have a similar taste in music, invite him to a concert. Focusing on what you have in common may generate some positive feelings in you towards him. This will allow you to maintain a warm and loving relationship with your sister and her entire family.
This is not a magic solution and your brother-in-law might not want play along. In that case, you’ll at least know you did your best to resolve things. There might be some comfort in knowing that.
Shimrit Nothman has a Masters degree in Conflict Resolution and believes that like charity, conflict resolution begins at home. If you have any questions for Shimrit, please use the comments section below or email her at [email protected].
This column is brought to you as general information only and should not be a replacement for professional advice.