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Question

My husband chose his sister over our marriage and its heart breaking. I have been taking care of my husband for the past eight years and I’ve been the sole provider. I have taken care of all his needs and that of his family. I have provided a home for his son whom I love dearly with no issues. But now, he has his sister staying at our house. She’s a grown woman in her fifties. And she wants to live in our home which has caused severe amount of stress on the marriage.

She’s been here for months and we constantly argue. My husband is now yelling and punching walls, which is something he has never done. Anytime I broach the subject of her getting her own place, he loses his temper and starts to yell and get so angry at me. I’m about ready to ask them both to leave my home. I am at the brink of a nervous breakdown. I work as a hospice nurse, so I’m well versed in dealing with difficult behaviors. However, the strain is unconscionable.

She’s messy, rude, manipulative, and vindictive. She also uses the â€śsister card” to get him to do everything for her, even things she can do for herself. My husband and his sister came from a poverty-stricken background. She is a drug addict who currently smokes marijuana all day and is on disability, even though I’m certain she can work if she wanted to. When I mention her finding her own place, she talks to my husband and nothing changes. I feel she is not our responsibility. His responsibility is to me. The strain in unbearable. Please help.

Answer

The tension in your home comes through loud and clear in your difficult question. Everyone seems overwhelmed and agitated. I don’t know anything about your husband’s mental or physical health conditions, but regardless of his capacity, he’s contributing to a volatile and unstable situation. His own instability prevents you from working together to find a solution to this complex living arrangement. Ideally, you’d work with him to solve this, but this painful reality may require you to make some unilateral decisions in order to create personal peace.

It seems like you don’t have a problem taking care of your husband and his son. Is that the case? If so, then would having her leave your home resolve your family stress? Or, is her presence exposing the fractures in your family life? In my experience, stressors don’t create new dynamics as much as they reveal what’s already not working. For example, new parents soon discover unhealthy communication patterns when the wear-and-tear of a new infant pulls them apart instead of together. Your sister-in-law might be a very difficult houseguest for any family, but it seems that the bigger problem if your husband’s unwillingness to choose you over his sister. My guess is that this was happening in other areas of your marriage long before his sister showed up.

This is the dynamic I recommend you address with your husband. If he becomes violent and unsafe when you try to discuss this with him, then it’s time to stop talking and the focus shifts to protecting yourself. Even though it would be ideal to have the violent and difficult people leave the home, be prepared to encounter resistance when you ask her to leave. If there is resistance, it will come from her, him, or both. Your peace and safety are more important than your location, so make sure you aren’t settling for familiarity at the expense of your health.

You clearly can take care of yourself (and others), so don’t let your worry about the future stop you from moving forward to create peace. Your mental and physical health can only take so much. Since you can’t make either of them see your perspective or care about your peace, you have to determine how critical this situation is. You’re in a tough environment, but you’re not powerless. The options aren’t ideal and certainly don’t line up with how you imagined life would turn out for you, but you don’t have to stay here.

Setting boundaries with your husband and his sister isn’t the worst thing that can happen. The worst thing is that you continue to live in harmful and unsafe conditions that steady erode away your mental and physical health. Even if you decide that staying for a while and enduring these conditions is the best option, then you’ll feel peace knowing that you’re doing the best thing. However, if you can’t feel peace, then don’t stop searching for the solution that brings the peace and safety you need.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples, pornography/sexual addiction, betrayal trauma, and infidelity. He is the founder of LifeStar of St. George, Utah (www.lifestarstgeorge.com) and Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com). Geoff is the co-author of â€śLove You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity” and creates online relationship courses available on his website www.geoffsteurer.com. He hosts the Illuminate Podcast and has created the Loving Marriage educational vlog on YouTube with his wife. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

You can connect with him at:
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCc05gV4t9A0B8-TDT1EfWhQ?view_as=subscriber
Website: www.geoffsteurer.com 
Twitter: @geoffsteurer
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