help me navigate the different options about meeting my SIL
December 7, 2017 1:35 PM   Subscribe

Hi! Here's the sequel to a question I asked two months ago about my abusive sister in law.

We are planning a family meeting for an important milestone for one of our parents. At first the idea was to spend a day together (my brother, sister, our parents and me). My brother wants his wife (my sister in law) to come, which makes sense, since it is a family gathering. Thing is, with regard to her behavior towards me I'm not sure I can / want to see her. My stomach hurts thinking about this.

Can I say anything, and if yes, to whom? Asking my sister in law not to shout at me didn't work well the last time I tried. Or do I just say I can't come? Or come and act as if nothing happened? (Which is what my family wants).

I know this gathering isn't about me but I am not sure I am able to come just like that and be cheerful with everybody.

Thank you in advance for your advice, I need to find a way to find peace and be assertive at the same time
posted by Ifite to Human Relations (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This is the same SIL who made nasty comments about your disability? Unless she has sincerely apologized, you should beg off and explain why you're doing so. If your family is disappointed, it should be at her, not you.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 1:43 PM on December 7, 2017 [9 favorites]

Yes, it is the same SIL
posted by Ifite at 1:44 PM on December 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think you should avoid your SIL, and if this means avoiding family gatherings then so be it. What she said/did was really screwed up and caused you incredible distress. Either your family can have your back on this, which means that SIL needs to apologize or at least make back channel promises to clean up her act, or you should feel comfortable in withdrawing. The least that your family should do for you is not make nice when someone insults you over a disability. Pretending that your SIL's behavior was not wrong and your feelings/anxiety over potentially being insulted again don't matter - that's also really screwed up.

It's like going on strike - you can feel good about going on strike from your family if they are not meeting your basic needs for respect.

I think if you wrote to noted internet advice columnist Captain Awkward, she would say that it is tempting to believe that you can finesse a solution where no one is upset, but actually there is only a solution where you are hurt/insulted and your family pretends nothing is happening versus a solution where you protect yourself and your family is upset.

I would skip this event and tell people why if asked. Or have your partner tell them - he can stand up for you on this issue.
posted by Frowner at 1:51 PM on December 7, 2017 [12 favorites]

It sounds like you want to go to celebrate your parents’ milestone, so what if you go but have an escape plan for if your SIL starts behaving badly? That is, you make sure the day is planned so that if she starts yelling at you (or otherwise causing a problem), you can just walk away and leave rather than needing to wait for a ride or anything like that. You can tell your parents and brother in advance that this is the plan - that you want to go, that you will be polite (not warm, but coolly/distantly polite) to the SIL, but if she acts badly, you’re out. If she acts badly and you leave, it’s her fault, not yours.

It would be totally understandable if you prefer not to go and to celebrate with your parents separately from your brother and SIL - my answer above is just for if you want to go.
posted by insectosaurus at 1:52 PM on December 7, 2017 [16 favorites]

I think your brother should leave his horrible wife at home for this event.

I think you should ask him to, and explain why if he's conveniently forgotten. Slurs about your disability, really???

If he won't, take your parents out for a nice dinner or whatever, and skip the other thing. They -- all of these people -- need to learn that tolerating and excusing this horrible missing-stair woman's behavior means that whole-family events are not realistic.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:29 PM on December 7, 2017 [11 favorites]

Your brother changed the idea of the gathering to include his wife. I think it's fair to change it further so that both you and your brother get different times to spend with your parents as they celebrate. Ask for breakfast and an outing or time at your place then lunch, with them going from there to your brother. (It's also fair to say, no, I'm not okay with the change of adding SIL and I won't come if you insist upon it.)
posted by Margalo Epps at 2:34 PM on December 7, 2017 [6 favorites]

From what you have told us, she is abusive and unwilling to change. She threatened her husband with divorce because he didn't want her to abuse you. That is not a rational response to the situation.

There are times in our lives when we need to take a stand for our own well-being and positive mental health. She crossed a line and is unwilling to acknowledge that she did so, to apologize or make an effort to be kind. Protect yourself.

In my humble, outsider's opinion, the correct response to this situation is "I'm not going." There is no reason to make excuses beyond that or to lie about your reason. If you're asked why, there's nothing wrong with saying that she's abusive to you, you made an effort to reach out which was rejected and you refuse to be a punching bag for her or anyone else.

Either your family will work to smooth things over or they won't, but it is not your responsibility to repair your relationship with her. It's hers. She was the aggressor. She insulted you. She hurt you. That's not something you can fix. Only she can do that. If she isn't going to try, then by going you will be opening yourself up to further abuse.
posted by zarq at 2:35 PM on December 7, 2017 [6 favorites]

Why should you be the one to miss out? They're your family, your brother, your parents! I'd have a chat to your mother and father about this beforehand to present a united front. Then the next time this horrible person insults you, your parents stand up and tell her that they'd like her to leave now and they won't tolerate this abuse of you in their home.

The idea that everyone just sits back and shakes their head like there's nothing they can do, while the onus is on you to flee like a leper in unconscionable. Your family are either with you or against you and they need to choose sides.
posted by Jubey at 2:37 PM on December 7, 2017 [28 favorites]

If your parents insist on seeing your brother and SIL together, what's wrong with you and your partner celebrating separately with them? Take them to lunch or dinner with just the four of you.

The only person who is going to take care of your needs in this situation is you. If you go along with it and allow them to pretend there is no issue, all you do is set yourself up for pain and raise their expectations that you'll do the same next time.
posted by rpfields at 3:27 PM on December 7, 2017 [4 favorites]

What about hiring an assertive social worker to be your SIL's "caregiver"? She can intervene if the SIL is inappropriate and maybe having to have a "kinder" will tone down the SIL's behaviour. In addition to your SIL's behaviour though, everyone else is also very problematic in asking you to be a victim to her abuse in order to keep the peace. Good for you in standing up for yourself!
posted by saucysault at 3:48 PM on December 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

Pardon me, these are YOUR parents, not hers.

You put on your big girl panties, you go, and if she behaves like an asshat, you calmly repeat "that isn't appropriate, you need to stop" over and over. Like a mantra. Which it is.

You actually practice this, unapologetically, before you go.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:11 PM on December 7, 2017 [7 favorites]

So it really seems like you're afraid of being perceived as a not-nice person. But clearly your SIL isn't afraid of that, is she? It is okay to be not-nice in this situation because you are the wronged party here. You did nothing wrong. Let me say that again: you did nothing wrong. Often women are socialized to be nice at all costs. But guess what? That's patriarchal bullshit and it's hurting you right now.

It is okay for you to tell your brother that you do not want his wife to come. It is okay for you to add the condition of "But if she does come, if she makes one nasty comment to/about me, she has to apologize immediately or you both leave." It is okay for you to tell your family that SIL is toxic and them ignoring that fact isn't going to make her stop or make the situation go away. You can dislike your SIL but still love your brother. It's not a zero sum game.

You might want to look into finding a therapist who deals with assertiveness training/boundary setting. You need to feel like your feelings and opinions matter and are valid and it doesn't seem like you do right now.
posted by cooker girl at 6:50 AM on December 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

If you could control whether she comes or not I assume she would already not be coming. I agree if that’s a possibility, do it.

If not, I would bring your own car and plan a /nice/ plan for if you have to leave. (A movie is ideal as you’ll have your cell off, but timing might not could plan to go home or go buy a book or get a manicure or whatever.)

That’s actually the only true way for you to assert your boundary, because you can’t control her, your brother, or your parents. If they don’t have your back, your options are limited, but powerful. You just leave. This is better than trying to get abusive people to leave.

This will throw a shock down and then future plans will probably not get so messsed up (but if they do, rinse and repeat.)

I have done this and it is hard, but so valuable. You get up, say you’re going now (pre-plan the logistics, like have cash if you would contribute to the bill although really they can pay), and leave. It’s very powerful. Then don’t discuss it after. If anyone says you ruined something well no you didn’t, your SIL did. If anyone wants to know why you did that you say “we all know why and I’m not going over it.”
posted by warriorqueen at 11:14 AM on December 8, 2017 [10 favorites]

+1 to warriorqueen. Go, and have an immediate escape route planned. If SIL starts to be abusive, get up and walk out immediately. Hug your parents goodbye and congratulations, then walk out the door. Leave your family holding the bag of your abusive SIL's tantrum; they won't put her in check, so they get to deal with the consequences. You aren't making drama, you aren't forcing anyone to do anything, you are just allowing them to deal with the consequences of their inaction rather than being a punching bag to absorb SIL's abusive behavior. Then go do something nice for yourself.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 12:38 PM on December 8, 2017 [5 favorites]

Hi, thank you for your answers. Like you suggested I told my family (bro, mom, dad) that considering SIL's behavior towards me I wasn't comfortable to come, unless I have a promise that I won't be yelled at. My mom promised me she wouldn't let my SIL say anything about my being deaf (but she said nothing about being yelled at, because she doesn't know what to do in those cases...). She also told me that the fact my brother asks to bring his wife means that she's changed her mindset.

I feel the subject is avoided rather than taken with both hands.

@cooker girl, I have worked pretty intensively with a therapist about assertiveness, and I can be pretty assertive... outside of my family. Being assertive within my family is a whole another level ;) Thank you for helping me realize that.
posted by Ifite at 3:40 AM on December 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Family is always the highest difficulty setting :) Make a plan and do your best even if it's not perfect. I think any resistance you put up in the face of your SIL's strange and offensive behaviour will be valuable, no matter how small or awkward it feels in the moment. If she does her usual thing and you leave, you'll be practicing good habits for yourself as well as providing an example to your brother and parents for how they should be dealing with her.

And who knows, maybe your mother is right! I'd be surprised, but stranger things have happened and it'd be a shame to miss out on being with your parents for this milestone.
posted by harriet vane at 6:10 AM on December 11, 2017

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