Ask Allison: My sister-in-law’s snide comments hurt me—should my husband say something?

Allison Keating answers your questions about life and relationships

Question: I’m having trouble with my sister-in-law. I don’t say that about many people, but she is an evil person who intentionally causes a lot of suffering to me and many members of her family. She makes snide remarks and passive-aggressive remarks when I’m around her, which luckily only happens a few times a year.

I shed many tears over these hurtful comments but she is unaware. I’m a reserved person and avoid confrontation, so I don’t react, but afterwards I get very upset.

My husband hasn’t intervened yet, but I’m wondering if he should after another disturbing comment I made recently. We know this will have a knock-on effect in the family as they involve others and will likely become defensive and play the victim. We also know that she will never change. Do we best confront the issue, or let it go and try not to meet her in the future?

Allison replies: I’m sorry to hear you were hurt by your sister-in-law’s comments. I can hear the pain caused. I can also hear that she is unaware of the tears, that she has not seen anything and knows nothing about the problem. Let’s start cautiously here, because conflict avoidance will keep you stuck in this cycle.

Can you go back to a time when you stood up for yourself or witnessed this happen to someone else and remember what happened? What negative conflict experiences have you made or experienced that led to this belief that it is easier or safer not to express how you are feeling right now? Unpacking may take some time, so proceed at your own pace and think with caution and compassion for yourself.

Conflict avoidance is often born out of necessity while still having a protective function. But the pattern cat can be a defense mechanism that has overstepped its greeting. Give yourself permission to safely express how you are feeling.

Witnessing the anger of others or when they lash out when confronted can be a destructive life lesson. That means it’s safer not to say anything as the person won’t change and or worse, they may crush you verbally or physically. If you look into your past, can you see if you witnessed or experienced this? Does your sister-in-law act like everyone else?

I’m sure what has been said is enough to make you feel deeply upset, but raising awareness when certain people or situations may feel triggering can be helpful and transformative for you. Our body remembers even if we don’t do it at the moment. When similar feelings arise, which can feel threatening to our nervous system, it’s good practice to ask why you’re so upset, to ask gently, and with support you may never have experienced.

There are so many possible factors here – only you can decide which one works best for your life and the people in it. First, you need to figure out what upsets and hurts you and why. How about letting her know how it made you feel? If you know that it will fall on deaf ears or worse, cause a lot of trouble in the family, ask yourself why and is it worth it then?

In terms of creating healthy boundaries, you should find out if you want a relationship with her or think you can. Look at her intent – do you think her intent is to hurt you? Is it like that for everyone? That doesn’t make it acceptable, but it can take away your personal sting. Is it possible that she is unaware of how her behavior and comments are affecting those around her? I know this may seem incredible, but personal insights don’t come naturally.

When you find answers to these questions, you can determine your next step. We need the powerful combination of reflection followed by practical tools. What do you want? What do you think is possible? Get support from your husband and talk to him about it without putting him in the middle.

We don’t need a middleman here, you need to process the pain for yourself, see if this present pain has some old unattended wounds, and see it as a real opportunity for you to learn that it’s safe for you to treat people teaching is acceptable and unacceptable behavior. And if they don’t agree with that, then you can choose to reduce the time and energy you put into the relationship.

It’s great not to be black and white and all or nothing in life and in relationships as people can surprise you – and not – what I mean by that if she’s consistently bad then her behavior will tell you who she is , and creates a measured expectation of what you can and can’t change.

Scripts are a helpful way to practice what to say and how to say something important in difficult conversations.

Tolerating some discomfort is fine up to the line you’ve drawn about what’s okay with you and what’s not. Knowing your boundary line is very important, and letting others know about it is also imperative.

If you decide to talk or write a letter, you can tell her what comments upset you and why – that’s the part you need to figure out – if you’re going to build and repair this relationship, you need to let her know that if she addresses you in such a way that you will not continue the conversation. Or if you decide this relationship isn’t for you, that’s your choice. Much luck.

Allison regrets that she cannot correspond. If you have a question you would like raised in this column, send an email Ask Allison: My sister-in-law’s snide comments hurt me—should my husband say something?

Fry Electronics Team

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