Put me out of my misery please
November 15, 2012 7:34 PM   Subscribe

Tricky family situation, I don't know how to act or move forward and need some objective advice.

My sister-in-law is evil/insupportable/possibly really mentally ill. There are many situations over the last few years where she's behaved badly towards my parents or me. It generally comes down to criticizing my entire family constantly over their character, habits, values etc. To clarify, nobody imposes any of the values on her and the values have nothing to do with politics or religion or anything like that. In fact she once described my family's values as: wanting to be educated, advance in life, improve oneself and have financial stability, whereas she wants to [quote] sit naked on a deserted island, catch fish and burn money [unquote]. In the latest incident, I was having tea at her place and we had a disagreement over something really immaterial (whether a certain thing is called A or B); a silly conversation turned into her attacking me and telling me that I'm arrogant and a know-it-all. I didn't want this to get out of hand so I said that I really didn't want to argue and it would be better for me to leave. To which she said "Get the f*** out". She apologized immediately but I was very shaken over this, a heated argument ensued. I don't want to give more examples of her behavior but it's essentially random acts of aggressiveness towards my family, never-ending criticism and essentially creation of a hostile and uncomfortable atmosphere whenever we're together with plenty of eye-rolling, sighing and just general lack of politeness. Over the past few years I have gone from thinking that she's socially inapt to thinking that she's an evil person to thinking she might have a genuine mental issue that she's not treating.

After the latest episode, I was really shaken because it dawned on me that this person hates me, hates the way I speak, hates the way I behave, hates what I have to say. How else do you go from "I think A should really be called B" to "Get the f*** out of my apartment". For a few weeks I was extremely disturbed by this situation but in the end I concluded that sister-in-law or not, I need to cut this person off from my life. I feel that no matter how I behave or what I do, these episodes will continue happening and I don't want to be a part of this or have this toxicity infused in my life. As is, I spend too much time getting very upset about this. I am six months pregnant and I really don't need this negativity at this point or ever. I haven't really spoken to her in the past three months. A few times she knocked on my door (we're neighbors :)) and has randomly brought some food or juice or something and then just said bye to me after handing it off; the last time she did bring something I told her "no, thank you", which offended her because she complained to my brother that I'm not being nice to her. I am at a point where my feelings are so negative that I feel like I don't want her to bring me anything, I don't want her in my life, I don't want any interaction. I am not trying to be mean to her, I just feel that no contact is the best thing for me.

A few weeks ago my brother has announced that they are getting a divorce; they have two children and right now are still living together. The marriage has not been good for some time. Apparently things are very bad between them at the moment but my brother is not really talking much about this. He and I used to be very close but now not so much. A part of this may be that he's been in this horrible marriage and is stifling it inside and just doesn't want to share out of hurt, pride, sadness. A part of it is that after years of indoctrination on his wife's part in regards to how horrible we all are, he might have actually believed it. On my side, I've recently grown somewhat resentful towards him because I feel that he brought this person into our family and all of us suffered because of it (including my elderly parents). Whenever she's behaved in an ugly way, e.g. screaming at my mother or doing something to me, my brother has completely ignored it. I get that his loyalty is and should be with his wife but there were situations where him simply saying "I am sorry for her behavior" would have made things easier to bear.

Now, moving on to my real question: my daughter's 1st birthday is coming up. I would like it to be fun and light-hearted and positive and for these reasons I don't want to invite my sister-in-law. I don't want the usual awkward atmosphere now amplified by the fact that they're getting a divorce. I spoke to my brother about this explaining my rationale and asking if he could come with just his two small children. He said that it's either all of them or nobody and that he can't imagine that him and the kids come and she stays at home. I told him that since they are getting a divorce and taking into consideration the situation between her and I, it's not that much of a stretch and that I'd really want the birthday to be fun. He reiterated that even though they are getting a divorce, they are a package deal at this point. He's trying to make this divorce easy for everyone and I need to be supportive and be nice to the sister-in-law and not exclude her.

I'm at a loss what to do. I really don't want her at my daughter's birthday and I am not in a mind frame to be genuinely nice/kind towards her and I don't want to fake it. On the other hand I would really like my brother and his kids to come but they probably won't if she's not invited. And on top of this I feel that there's a fundamental unfairness in the way he's framing this, i.e. he was nowhere to be found when she's behaved badly towards me and never supported me or was interested in my feelings but he expects me to suck it up and have this person I can't stand at an occasion that is very important to me just to make his life and divorce easier because this is a very difficult time for him.

I really don't know what to do. Suck it up? Count on my brother coming next year? Other options? I'm upset about this and can't stop crying and feeling pity for myself (might be pregnancy hormones); all I know is that I don't want to feel this way, I've genuinely have had enough. Help. Any opinions, insights, advice, ways of rationalizing this will be appreciated. Thank you.

You can also PM me here: sisil1313@yahoo.com
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This is a one year old's birthday party. Your daughter does not care at all who attends, and will not remember anything about it shortly thereafter. You will. Don't have people there you don't like. It's not like a birthday is a major life event, it's something that happens regularly and is not a big deal, nobody will be hurt by your brother's absence, you may be hurt by this woman's presence. Just don't invite them. It's not a big deal.
posted by brainmouse at 7:43 PM on November 15, 2012 [12 favorites]

What about putting the responsibility to act appropriately back on the people it belongs? You communicate clear expectations of her behaviour to her, clear expectations to your brother on how he is to act if she is disruptive and let them decide if they want to act like adults or stay home. You should really rally your parents to be the heavies too - you have enough on your plate running a party, and if potty mouth goes off, you need someone with discretion to get them both out of there.

His idea of pretending everything is okay and bringing her to stressful family events when she has repeatedly shown a strong immature streak really does not sound like it will end well.
posted by saucysault at 7:46 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your child isn't old enough to know the difference. That you want to keep up family contact is all well and good but I think you would be best served not accepting your brother's all or nothing demand. It's your child's day, not a time to try your patience putting up with the quirks of a soon to be departed demi-relative. My favorite comment about child-rearing is: "To a child there is no such thing as quality time, there is only time." It's up to you to spend time with your child and in the process I am absolutely certain that you and she will find the day more joyously memorable than forging your way through a social milieu which truly has no upside for either of you. (Imagine what she will be yelling at her children before they arrive, for example.)

As to your brother the only thing notable about the relationship is that he is looking out for HIS best interests, not yours. Your time to support his development is not now. As much as it pains you, for your own well being leave him and his out of your life until things have settled down. What he is really saying it that he's thinking about divorce and he's not getting laid so he's cranky - you can just picture how she will behave because of it. Put your energy into your own child, that is, for the rest of your life, what will give you the most return.
posted by ptm at 7:49 PM on November 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

You don't have to invite anyone you don't want to be there. I think you're right to cut her out of your life. Your brother may or may not come around in time, at which time you can welcome him with open arms if you want. But if he doesn't, well, he doesn't sound that nice either.
posted by bleep at 7:49 PM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

You can set a boundary here, and your brother can make his own decision. Given your soon-to-be-ex SIL's history with you, setting a boundary of "She doesn't come" seems reasonable to me. If your brother isn't willing to come without her? Well, that's his choice. You're not responsible for that. You're responsible for you, and your family, and for setting a boundary that works for you.

Be kind to yourself. Don't invite her.

Also, I don't see any way that inviting her will achieve your brother's stated goal of "mak[ing] his life and divorce easier because this is a very difficult time for him." Yes, him leaving her home will create a scene. But she's going to create a scene if she comes -- based on past behavior, you know she will. The best you can hope for if she comes is a party full of waiting for the other shoe to drop. It sounds like he's walking on eggshells around her, and he's unable to set boundaries with her. His perspective may change quite a bit once he has some breathing room from the relationship.
posted by pie ninja at 7:52 PM on November 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

You're pregnant and she screams at you? Nope, she's not welcome.

Even if you weren't pregnant, she wouldn't be.

But I bet if you asked your obstetrician if an unpredictable, abusive person should be around you, s/he would say no, it's not good for the baby. Or you.

And there's your out.
posted by taff at 8:12 PM on November 15, 2012 [7 favorites]

he expects me to suck it up and have this person I can't stand at an occasion that is very important to me

No he doesn't. He said it's all of them or none of them, he didn't say YOU HAVE TO HAVE HER THERE OMG. Don't invite her. Tell him he is welcome with the kids, she is not welcome, and you respect whatever choices he's making and understand if he can't come. If you're right and she's really that crazy, then divorcing her is probably damn well hell-ish, and he is going to have to maintain a relationship with her until their kids are grown which means not burning bridges more than he has to. Suck it up, be happy that she will finally be out of your life when they divorce and wait for your brother to be at least separated from her before you start thinking he can do whatever he wants now.
posted by jacalata at 8:15 PM on November 15, 2012 [16 favorites]

Your sister-in-law sounds like my sister. I've literally had the same education/sit on a beach/arrogant know-it-all conversation. Apparently this kind of crazy isn't unique.

Here's the thing: she doesn't hate you. She's probably mentally ill and toxic, but she doesn't hate you because you're not real to her, in terms of being a real person with feelings who deserves respect. And soon she won't be real to you either.

But you know who is real to you? Your brother, who's been in an awful relationship and will be stuck dealing with her for the rest of his life. So he's asking you to help him keep it together one more time. In your shoes, I would sit down with them both and invite her, but make it clear that if she so much as looks at you the wrong way, she will be ejected. She'll probably make a scene and boycott anyway.

This is, by the way, what I do when I have to see my sister. She acts up, I leave, but for my parents' sake I make the effort.
posted by snickerdoodle at 8:20 PM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

1. Your baby won't be damaged if your brother's family doesn't come to her party. She won't even know or care.

2. Don't have your crazy SIL in your house again. Ugh.

3. Tell brother "you're invited, she's not, if that means you can't come then I'm sorry and I hope that in the future it'll be easier for you to make separate plans." And put yourself in his shoes - imagine telling this harpy, when she sees you getting ready to go out, that you're taking her children to a family party from which she is specifically disinvited. She might burn the house down. I wouldn't want to have that conversation either, would you? So just let it go this year - tell him you'll miss him, but stand your ground on having her there - and next year when, they're not a package deal, it'll be moot.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:33 PM on November 15, 2012 [12 favorites]

Don't invite your rude sister-in-law or non-rude brother. He's right - they're a package deal. You're right, you shouldn't have to have her around. When they're not a package deal, you can invite him.
posted by zippy at 11:45 PM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Your family comes first! Your brother can't avoid contact with his wife, but for the sake of your unborn child, you should not have further contact with her. You need to be as calm and happy as possible during your pregnancy. Though your one-year-old would probably pick up on the bad vibes of her aunt, she will not know the difference if you cancel the family party. Make it just you and your husband. Take pictures. Hope for a better party next year.
posted by Cranberry at 11:53 PM on November 15, 2012

Came in to second fingersandtoes, whose advice strikes me as completely sound.
posted by flabdablet at 1:58 AM on November 16, 2012

I'm sorry, but I'm going to go against the flow here and suggest inviting SIL as well as your brother and their kids. The problem is, even though they're getting a divorce, they still consider themselves a unit; specifically not inviting SIL will just upset Brother --- and he'd remember that, and it would probably cause you lasting conflict with him, even after the divorce is final. So: invite the whole family, but make sure your brother agrees to keep and eye on her and know to get her out of there if/when she starts acting up.

But AFTER the birthday party, it's a whole other story: cut off contact with this toxic woman, cut her out of your life entirely, while keeping the lines open with your brother and the kids. Let your brother know that it's not a personal reflection on him, nor do you want to lose your connection with him. If its at all possible, moving would be a great idea, simply to put physical distance between you; but I know that might not be doable.
posted by easily confused at 4:49 AM on November 16, 2012

If your brother says they are a package deal and you don't want her there.

Then he doesn't come. That's it.

Having just had a 1 year birthday for my daughter, It is not a party for the kid. Because she's 1.
posted by French Fry at 5:40 AM on November 16, 2012

Your SIL sounds awful, but I wonder whether you're not exacerbating the awfulness a bit by taking all this drama so personally.

The whole bit about how she hates! you! (Hates what you stand for! Hates every fiber of your being!)... based on the details you've given, this just sounds like an immature, insecure, kind of aggressive woman with poor impulse control who's working through a lot of issues with her own sense of self-worth. Venture into the outer eddies of her insecurity, say something that makes you sound smarter than her, and of course you come in for some unpleasant crazytalk. But at no point does it sound as though this was about you. Messed-up people are going to say messed-up things, you know?

By all means, avoid placing yourself in this woman's path over the upcoming months-- she sounds like a stressful person to be around. But I also don't think you're doing yourself any favors by dwelling so much on the injustice of it all, what was owed to you or your family, what your brother did wrong by taking his wife's side in the past, etc. Certainly it's not great to create little dramatic opportunities for your brother to redeem himself by choosing the family over her, which it kind of sounds like this birthday party might be. Because really, as everyone's said, the one-year-old doesn't care, baby birthdays are not a huge deal, why is it such a major source of DRAMAZ! if Uncle/CrazyAunt can't come to the party?

For your own sanity, I'd say consider treating this like a straight-up case of illness: Brother's wife has been sick for a while, they're breaking up, it's unfortunate, nobody could have known it'd turn out that way, and the best thing is for everyone to be cheerful and understanding if his participation in family stuff is limited while they're getting all that sorted. Of course his attention will be much occupied elsewhere during this time, but it's certainly not intended as an insult to you, and this is not the best time for you to attempt dramatic resuscitations of your relationship with him. Focus on yourself and your baby, have a happy life in the meantime, and trust that your brother will be back when everything else is on a more even keel.
posted by Bardolph at 6:46 AM on November 16, 2012 [6 favorites]

In general I'd say if/when you have to see her, just ignore her. Who cares what she thinks? She can say whatever she wants - it doesn't mean you & your family have to listen. It sounds like you're giving her all the power. Stop doing that.
posted by lyssabee at 7:21 AM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Married couples are properly invited as couples, but your brother is getting a divorce, so they're no longer a married couple.

Furthermore, this woman has a history of being abusive towards you and others in your family, and it's completely reasonable not to want her at a child's birthday party where she'll have an opportunity to abuse your family members again, especially, perhaps, a child. This is a no-brainer.

If your brother refuses to come to his niece's birthday party without his abusive ex-wife, that's his (and unfortunately his kids') loss.

I would just say "Well it's a real shame that we won't see you and little Petronella and little Cornelia this year, but I fully understand that the divorce is tough for you and you must do whatever you think is best. Perhaps next year!" and leave it at that.

As for how you feel, well, not having abusive people come over and visit you will probably make you feel better in the longer term. For this afternoon, I can't help you, except to say that fights like this are just horrible. And Toxicia almost certainly does not hate you personally, it's just because you're there.
posted by tel3path at 7:40 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

A few times she knocked on my door (we're neighbors :))

Are you going to be neighbors in the indefinite future? Or is she going to be moving away?

Originally I was going to write: she's about to be out of your life for the most part, so relax. But if she is still going to be around on an ongoing basis, you are going to have to be more active about having this relationship not be such an ongoing problem. It really does sound like she is mentally ill. (Although if she yelled at you to get the fuck out under the immediate stress of her marriage breaking up, it's a little less bizarre.) And you are on a basis she drops by with no notice? Honestly that sounds like a very uncomfortable system of interaction, much more problematic than a single birthday party.
posted by BibiRose at 8:53 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

You don't have to be friends with her, but you do need to be civil. From what you wrote here, you sound like 2 people whose personalities just clash and I can see how you think she's crazy because she doesn't give a hoot about money or status and how she could see you as uptight and snotty for attributing all this "misery" to her over a one year old child's birthday and speaking of her like some invasion into your perfect family. Really you should just take the high road and invite your whole brother's household to the party. If you can't stomach that, maybe you need to do a little sould searching and see if you aren't being too dramatic or dismissing of a person who is within the bounds of normal, but at teh opposite end of the spectrum from yourself.
posted by WeekendJen at 11:05 AM on November 16, 2012

For the sake of the kids, you should fake being nice. It's only a couple of hours and frankly, you probably won't have to deal with her for much longer.

This phrase from your post gave me pause:

He's trying to make this divorce easy for everyone and I need to be supportive and be nice to the sister-in-law and not exclude her.

Your brother is making a mistake. He needs to pull the plug and be done with it and a good place to start is by not having her to family parties.
posted by PsuDab93 at 6:10 AM on November 20, 2012

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