Two women who look upset with each other

The Key to Keeping the Peace With Your Sister-in-Law

Sisters-in-law may feel like a blessing or curse. Here’s how to deal with the latter.

By Kelly Bryant

In a perfect world, you married into a family where everyone gets along blissfully and all parties have the happy feels all of the time. But since it’s not a perfect world, and no one gets along all of the time -- not even your own clan -- there are bound to be misunderstandings or hurt feelings on occasion. You may find this is particularly prevalent with your sisters-in-law.

Being thrown into an instant relationship with other women whom you haven’t chosen as your friends through mutual interests or common experiences like school or work can be just plain difficult. Their personality traits may not mesh well with yours, and your husband will likely ask you to suck it up to keep the peace, which makes the situation even more infuriating. Can’t he see how difficult she is?

“Sister-in-law issues, like any in-law issues, are hard to navigate,” says Carrie Krawiec, a marriage and family therapist at Birmingham Maple Clinic in Troy, Michigan. “Her family may see the same stuff you do and may either have already accepted her behavior, protect her, or long deny that any of these unpleasant traits even exist. You may feel alone, attacked, or like an outsider every time these unpleasant or unfriendly qualities come out.”

Krawiec points out that, if you’re dealing with your spouse’s biological sister, before he became yours, he was something to her.

“If older, he may have been a source of admiration or competition or the yard stick by which no person could measure up,” she says. “If younger, he may have been the pesky source of annoyance or the baby she first cherished, protected, or felt her role was to teach and educate. Consider the way she is treating you as merely an extension of how she first saw him.”

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It’s important to remember this woman doesn’t have to be your best friend or the sister neither of you ever had, explains Krawiec. Sure, it may be a bummer that the two of you can’t be closer, but if the relationship doesn’t click, it just doesn’t click. Trying to force a bond will only put pressure on each of you and likely result in some awkward, if not hostile, moments.

So what do you do if your sister-in-law drives you nuts? Here’s a breakdown of how to deal with four common types of sisters-in-law.

The One-Upper - No matter what you do, she insists she can do it better.

“In this scenario she likely feels more insecure than you do,” says Krawiec. “One upping is about perceived competition. If you are not in competition with her, who really cares if she is competing with you?”


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The Know-It-All - This is the woman who will tell you how to better raise your kids and offer all kinds of other unsolicited advice.

“This is a boundary,” she explains. “I would teach her how you want feedback from her (you can say ‘could you just put this in an email or text,’ where you can just delete it) or you can tell her that you learn better from encouragement, not criticism, and can she focus on what is going well. She likely needs to feel like an expert and feel heard. Show her you are listening, and maybe even seek her advice for certain issues that she is actually an expert on. If her need to be an expert or be heard is met, then you probably won't be overwhelmed by this feedback all of the time.”

The Debbie Downer - This sister-in-law sees the glass as half empty all of the time.

“Mostly just ignore this behavior,” says Krawiec. “If you try to turn her head toward the positive, you may just get in a tug of war, and she will get more negative as you get more positive. Your attention is reinforcing, and if you get involved with this debate, you are just giving attention that may make her more likely to behave this way. Negatives are like stray cats: If you stop feeding them, they go away.”

The Narcissist - Maybe she's the baby of the family or the only girl, but either way, it's all about her all of the time.

“A great resource for dealing with narcissists is … The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists by Eleanor Payson,” says Krawiec, who says the book is a breath of fresh air for anyone who finds themselves stuck in a one-sided relationship, whether that be with sisters-in-law, significant others or friends. It teaches you to cope while bolstering your self-esteem.

How do you keep the peace in your family?

Kelly Bryant is a freelance writer and pop culture junkie. She resides in Los Angeles with her husband and their two sons. Follow her on Twitter @MsKellyBryant.

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I have been married 25yrs. I have 2 sister in laws. The oldest one does not live close, but when she is around we never get along. No matter what i say or how I say it she takes affiance to it. How do I deal with her?

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