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My sister-in-law discounts other people’s opinions, especially mine, and lauds her opinions as the final word on any subject whether she has any background or information on it. She also demands that the rest of the family do what she wants or raises an emotional ruckus. Then later launches a diatribe, “You wouldn’t even do — that I asked you.” This has been ongoing all the 40-plus years I have been married.
Here is one brief example: Although my husband and I had plans to attend a performance, she still demanded that my husband pick her up at the airport and drive her 40 miles to her home. He already made the same trip earlier in the week. Although she has two grown children in the area with cars (not to mention the availability of public transportation), she only wants my husband to drive her. She is financially well off and has a husband who travels a lot so her flights are free. My husband says, “She is his sister”, so he needs to take care of her.
I don’t know why your husband has such a strong split loyalty between you and his sister, but this issue is actually less about his sister and more about your marriage. I encourage you to focus your efforts on communicating clearly with your husband, as directing your efforts toward your sister-in-law won’t likely produce any changes.
President Gordon B. Hinckley taught the importance of loyalty as a foundation of strong marriages when he said, “When you are married, be fiercely loyal one to another. Selfishness is the great destroyer of happy family life. If you will make your first concern the comfort, the well-being, and the happiness of your companion, sublimating any personal concern to that loftier goal, you will be happy, and your marriage will go on throughout eternity”.[i]
Your husband’s kind heart and willingness to help out his sister is certainly one of his strengths. However, as Elder Dallin H. Oaks warned, “Satan can also attack us where we think we are strong—in the very areas where we are proud of our strengths.”[ii] Your husband may have a blind spot where he feels good about his willingness to help his sister and others at the expense of his marriage.
Another possibility is that your husband simply feels trapped by his sister’s demands and doesn’t know how to set appropriate limits with her. He may have grown up in a family system where the unspoken expectation was that everyone organizes around the demands of others. He may have other beliefs of experiences that make it difficult for him to balance his needs with the needs of others. He may simply have the best intentions in the world, but no clarity around what is most important.
Regardless of the reasons, it’s important for you to not stay silent about your need for his loyalty to your marriage. Even if you both decide that it’s best for him to help out his sister, the key is that you’re unified in your decision. She needs to know that her needs go through the marriage. If her needs are at odds with what’s best for the marriage, then her needs take a back seat.
Continue to advocate for your husband’s loyalty. You don’t need to be demanding or rude as you express this need. It will likely take tremendous patience, long-suffering, and persuasion on your part, as he appears to feel a strong internal conflict about her needs.[iii] Have these conversations during times when your sister-in-law isn’t making demands. Commend him for his good heart and willingness to help her while asking him why he feels such a strong pull to put her needs first. Let him know you’re not trying to keep him from being there for his sister, but, rather, you want to be included in the decision of how his actions affect you and the marriage. Frame this as a desire to work with him, not separately. Hopefully he can stay open to your desire to have unity and loyalty in your marriage.
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, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.geoffsteurer.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
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[i] Brigham Young University commencement exercises, Provo, Utah, 27 Apr. 1995.
[iii] D&C 121:41
animal loverJuly 22, 2018
I felt some empathy with this woman as I have something similar going on.My husband's sister has an undiagnosed mental illness,2 of her 3 children have little to do with her,all her family find her extremely difficult to deal with.My husband has always been close to his sister and she didn't like it when we got married or looked after 2 of her children as they were being neglected.She has told me she hates me,walks across the road when she sees me and many other things.But she is my sister in law and is mentally ill,what would the Saviour do?He is the person she phones when she needs something even though she has other family members.At times I find it extremely hard.My husband puts me first and has told her that I'm more important to him than she is.It's true that if he didn't go out of his way to spend time with her then she would have no one and I understand that.It's a very difficult situation and we try our best.
AliJuly 21, 2018
My mother-in-law was so much like this. She thought my husband could do no wrong and she thought my husband should be the one to help her and not anyone else. Her problem was a control issue. To say it is the wife’s problem is rediculous. If she has a husband, two grown children close and could afford public transportation or even better yet just take your own car to the airport and then it is there when you need a ride home. Her kids probably won’t come and pick her up because they are tired or he meddling and demanding ways. Somehow, the husband needs to get control of sister or they could have many more years of her trying to control them and if it is because he wants to get away from his wife she has bigger problems than she thinks she does. I’d check out if he is using his sister for an excuse to get away. I just don’t think we know all of the story and neither does the wife.