How to deal with sister on vacation?
July 30, 2012 7:47 AM   Subscribe

How to get along with pushy sister while on vacation?

My sister has a strong personality. She is loud, pushy, and obnoxious.

Examples: at the moment, we're staying at a vacation house. There is a list of instructions. Since the instructions are absurdly detailed, my sister took insult to them. They specified no smoking near the house or forfeiture of the security deposit. Since she thought the instructions were ridiculous, she immediately ran outside and started smoking on the porch.

Whenever we play a game, she declares that she is going to win. If she loses, she becomes sullen and difficult. It's impossible to play for pleasure, because she has to win.

She is fishing, but she refuses to buy a fishing a license.

Her voice is very loud. She shouts all the time when she is talking.

She is frequently short and snappy. She seems to become impatient easily and will be rude if something is taking too long. Like, the other day, we were trying to do something as a family and my mother was taking a bit to get ready. She said, "I'll be outside when you all get your acts together," in a pretty snide voice. I know that doesn't sound huge, but she says this kind of stuff all the time and I find it kind of exhausting. This is probably the biggest problem for me.

These are a few examples I can think of at the moment. But, in general, I find her really unpleasant to be around and hard to talk to. It's gotten to the point where I am afraid to speak around her or take up for myself because I don't want to deal with any battles or insults.

It's making our vacation stressful for me. I expressed all of this to my mother, and she said I should try talking to my sister. This seems impossible, as I think she won't listen and if she does, she will become emotional and start crying (as she has done in the past). She takes everything very personally. My mother suggested I focus on the positive, as well, but I find the negative so overwhelming I can't quite get a handle on it.

I do need to survive this vacation for another week. Any tips for dealing with this sort of insistent personality peacefully? Confrontation is not really an option, as this is a temporary situation and doesn't have a ton of bearing on real life.

A couple of things that may be of interest:

- We are not close. We see each other maybe once a year. We talk a couple of times year on the phone.
- She is older than me by about eight years. I'm in my early 30's.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
As it's short term, I'd just try to reduce exposure as much as possible - can you do things on your own at least some of the time? Or activities where you don't need to directly interact with her - e.g. you could both be in the same space, reading, but you don't have to chat.

For things like the game playing, I'd just decline to play. If she wants to know why you can say you just don't think it will be much fun. If she pushes, you can mention that her competitiveness makes it hard for you to enjoy the game.

For things that only affect her - fishing for instance - then just ignore it.

tl;dr - set some boundaries and don't take the bait if you think she's trying to annoy you.
posted by crocomancer at 7:57 AM on July 30, 2012 [6 favorites]

Walk away, literally. Go out for walks, go shopping on your own, don't try to do "family" things but do one-on-one things with your mother and let your sister do the same. Don't announce this change, just do it yourself. Don't try to get your mother involved anymore. One, you are adults, and two, she's made it clear she doesn't want to referee.

Also, don't worry about the fishing license and other things that don't affect you. Your sister sounds very unhappy. Try to bear in mind that her abrasiveness is about her, not about you. Hard to do in close quarters but if you feel compassion for her, her insults & barbs won't sting so much.
posted by headnsouth at 7:58 AM on July 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

Immediate term: don't do "family things" together. Go out yourself. Get drinks at the local bar. Go shopping. Hang out at the beach/lake and make your own friends. Do not even give a damn about smoking on the porch, fishing licenses, or games-- because this does not in any way affect you.

Long term: stop taking family vacations where you are cooped up for weeks at a time with people you don't even particularly like. If you want to see your mom on vacation, head up to the vacation house for a weekend, say hi, and go home or head out on your own vacation.
posted by deanc at 8:02 AM on July 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

Someone once said to me, wisely, that your family knows how to push your buttons because they are the people who came out of the factory where those buttons were first installed.

One of my brothers and I get into bad patterns with each other where we - by default - say exactly the thing that will push each other over the edge. Over time, we've acknowledged that it makes us less interested in being in each other's presence, and that we feel badly about this. We try to work on it, with varying degrees of success.

There are probably ways you could work with your sister to have some conversations about the way you feel around each other. She may have issues with your style as well, and you would need to be open to hearing that. You can, if you choose, frame a conversation about this from a place of wanting to improve your relationship and not from a place of criticism. It might be a breakthrough for you and lead to nicer family vacations and things going forward.

In my experience, just trying to ignore it or stay away from it doesn't work if you do in fact spend time together as a family. As people said above, this is your choice - either don't spend time together, or see if it's possible to do some work on the relationship if you are going to be spending time with each other. You might be surprised by what's possible.
posted by judith at 8:04 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Respond directly to things that affect you with an assertive statement of what you want: "Anne, I'm not going to play a game with you if that's your attitude." or "Anne, can you please lower your voice?" or "Anne, please smoke further away. I don't want cigarette smoke in my clothes and hair."

Stick up for yourself if she's being rude to you: "Anne, I don't like the way you're speaking to me." If she continues to be rude, walk away and find something else to do.

When she does something that doesn't affect you, such as fishing without a license, ignore it. If she tries to get a reaction from you, stay neutral with an almost-bored, "OK" or "Mmmhmm."
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:22 AM on July 30, 2012

this is a temporary situation and doesn't have a ton of bearing on real life.


Focus on the fact that you're stuck with her for one tiny week. It's not your childhood all over again where you're stuck with her for years. Take time off from the family whenever you want or need. Go read, shop, visit a spa, do whatever you want. Give yourself permission to spend X hours per day away from her.

Next year, only go on the family trip for a weekend.
posted by 26.2 at 8:29 AM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

My sister isn't quite as bad as you (she does tend to at least respect rules), but she also can be pretty pushy and I am not a super fan of traveling with her.

I have decided that the best method, in these situations where I know that she will only be around temporarily, is to just go with the flow. If she's doing something you don't like, let it go. If she is talking too loud, just live with it. If she gets snappy with you all, just let her snap and don't respond. If she runs outside impatiently just let her sit outside waiting for you instead of inside.

It's hard not to respond sometimes--judith has it right, family really knows how to press your buttons--but you'll find that things go a lot more smoothly if you just let things go her way. You can choose to go off on your own sometimes, which can also help.
posted by that girl at 8:37 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Family dynamics, always a good time. I love my family, but my sister is grumpy and bossy. We love each other, talk frequently and enjoy exchanging stories about how exasperated we are with our parents.

You have to develop strategies for dealing with your sisters. My Sissy is very finicky about food, and her mood is reflected by her blood sugar levels. I think she was a cat in a former life. When she comes to stay with us, she must have toast and butter in the morning, with tea. Dr. Pepper to drink and ice cream (Ben and Jerry's Phish Food) to nom on in the evening. Also she likes candy. So I stock up on stuff she likes, and if she starts looking and acting like she's hungry, I feed her.

Although I'm the oldest, Sissy bosses me around and tells me where to get off. Typically she's tiling my backsplash or painting a room, or installing a cabinet for me, so I STFU and let her, because that's her gig. She always jokes later on about how nasty she can be, and I don't take it personally.

Ignore what doesn't apply to you. So she fishes without a license. That's for her to hash out with the Game Warden, not your problem.

When she acts like an infant during game time, treat her like one in a very jokey manner. "Okay, I guess we're playing Candy Land then. Really Patrice? Really? What are you five? Just deal the damn cards." Tone is everything with this.

If she storms off in a huff because you don't have your "act together", simply respond, "Okay, we'll be there when we're ready." Her attitude is on her.

When she's bellowing when describing that thing that happened to her at the Seven-Eleven, just say, "Sweetie, I know you're excited, but you don't have to yell." Smile and nod.

If you did want to broach the subject, you could sit down, perhaps when you're mellow and not uber-annoyed and say, "Sissy, I wish I could enjoy family time with you, but I find that your attitude makes this very stressful for me. I like to follow rules, and when you deliberately do the opposite of what's been asked, it makes me tense. I know that you like to joke around, but sometimes you come across annoyed or it sounds rude. I don't like it when people are rude to me, even people that I love. I know you're enthusiastic when you're discussing topics of interest and your voice rises. I find that when your decibels go up, that I have a hard time concentrating on what you're saying because you're saying it so loudly."

I'd rather just deflect things as they arise rather than having a big, ole, sit-down about it. One reason we're so frustrated is that we're holding in all of our snark. Let 'er rip. Even if she does get upset and cry, that's her, not you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:44 AM on July 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

If nothing else, refuse to pay your share of the security deposit next time, if it's going to be forfeited due to her smoking. (If applicable.)
posted by Melismata at 8:55 AM on July 30, 2012

She sounds like a nightmare, but it also sounds like a lot of the stuff she's doing isn't directed at, or doesn't affect, you personally. Like the smoking thing. It's petty and childish to intentionally smoke somewhere just because she's told not to (seriously, she's 38? If she wasn't smoking in front of your mother I would have sworn she was 15). But it doesn't actually hurt you. Same with the fishing without a license.

I understand the impulse to want to protect the rest of the world from your sister's bad behavior. You probably feel like she's an emissary of your family, and you're somehow responsible for her behavior. But you're not. And you will be less stressed out if you remind yourself that things she does that don't directly harm you are not your problem.

Also, since she sounds very unpleasant, and it doesn't seem like you like her very much, maybe decide not to care when she cries? I mean, I know that empathy is hard-wired in, and it's generally a good thing. But it sounds like she's exploiting that, so maybe it will help to see her crying for the manipulative behavior that it is. That one is easier said than done, I know.
posted by Ragged Richard at 9:19 AM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Are there any situations in which you are able to enjoy her? One-on-one time? If so, I'd suggest avoiding the trying situations as much as you can (tons of good advice above on that) and engineering some good sister time-- a walk together, staying up late after everyone else has gone to bed, whatever.

I also am annoyed by my sister (for different reasons), but have found a way to appreciate her more by emphasizing the positive interactions and avoiding the negative.
posted by idest at 9:54 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

talking to my sister ... seems impossible, as ... she will become emotional and start crying

You might try figuring out why your sister is so self-destructive. (Why do you consider it 'impossible' to be with her while she's crying?)

Don't open the conversation by criticizing her (appalling) behavior. As you've noticed, she has plenty of defenses that will make that pointless. Do experiment to see what conversational lines might give you some insight into her misery.

You can treat this intellectual and emotional puzzle as a challenge, designed to take your mind off her infuriating behavior and turn it into something more rewarding for you.
posted by feral_goldfish at 11:15 AM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Someone once said to me, wisely, that your family knows how to push your buttons because they are the people who came out of the factory where those buttons were first installed.

I think it was "Of course family knows how to push your buttons, they installed them."
posted by space_cookie at 6:49 PM on July 30, 2012

She sounds extraordinarily unhappy so have sympathy there. But, yes, minimise the time you must spend together and let her impulsive/self-destructive behaviour go - it's hers to deal with. If she wants to deliberately do these things, as long as it doesn't affect you, let her, it's her responsibility to deal with the consequences.
posted by heyjude at 10:10 PM on July 30, 2012

Take her mountain climbing. Tell her she's not allowed to do it without a rope.
posted by flabdablet at 10:29 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

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