Relationship Connection: Can I unite my extended family? I don’t trust 2 of the women.

Stock image, St. George News

Question

In my husband’s family, the three oldest boys are very close in age. Back when the brothers were in high school, there was a teenage girl their mother befriended. She took on the role of the teenage girl’s mother, helping her with all types of personal errands and other needs. She got tired of this and her solution was to set her up with one of her boys so they could run her around town.

The girl tried dating the different brothers, but none seemed interested. However, she just kept at it. Then my husband’s mother passed away. This girl took advantage of the vulnerable state one of my husband’s brothers and began romantically pursuing him. The dad was also engaged merely months after his wife’s passing.

I entered the family some time later and married my husband.

Life for these two men (the brother and the father) became immediately more difficult. The new stepmother was very manipulative. She swept in after the death of my husband’s mother and set conditions on his dad; specifically, he could not talk about his deceased wife and every picture and memory of her was removed from the house.

The sister-in-law I described earlier is abusive to my husband’s brother. She kicks him out for not doing enough around the house, throws furniture and cell phones and confiscates his electronics when she wants more attention. She flirts with the other two brothers and reminds me that she’s been in the family longer than me.

I’ve directly asked her to stop her inappropriate advances toward my husband, but she ignores me. She feels entitled to be familiar with my husband because she’s been in the family so long.

It’s such a messed up scenario. We live several states away because my husband can’t be close to them.

My dilemma is this: We are supposedly all going on a girls retreat to work on blending the families, but I honestly want nothing to do with her or my stepmother-in-law. How do I handle this without having panic attacks? Help!

Answer

I can see how nervous you must be to step into these relational rapids and lose your emotional footing. It’s clear that your husband’s family members have been through some difficult losses over the years that forever changed the waters of their relationships.

Even though they have all struggled to maintain healthy relationships with their spouses, it doesn’t mean you have to jump right in and swim in their chaos. It’s okay to proceed carefully as you decide how much interaction you want to have with them.

A girls retreat isn’t the only way you can build family unity. I understand that, on the surface, it seems like a great way to get the ladies together to build more unity but the lack of unity between the women in this family doesn’t appear to be the biggest problem. There are compromised marriages that need serious attention. You described a sister-in-law who shamelessly flirts with your own husband despite your protests. It’s difficult for me to see how getting the ladies together is going to resolve these deeper concerns.

You have to honestly assess whether you have the personal emotional and physical resources to be involved in a trip with these ladies. It may simply be too much for you at this time. You’re an adult who gets to decide how you spend your time and energy. Even though you long for peace in this family, you don’t have to go along silently and put in your time with them. Remember, there are other ways you can influence this family to create unity.

Even though you can’t change these women, you can ask them to consider how their behavior affects your ability to be close to them. They appear to recognize the need for unity between family members. This is similar to your goal. Yes, they are starting in a different place than you, but you can join with them in their acknowledgement that there is disharmony.

Instead of mustering up your strength to quietly endure a week with these women, I encourage you to begin speaking with them about why you’re unsure about going on a trip like this. You can bring up the aggressiveness you’ve experienced with them. You can talk about the refusal to respect each other’s marriages. You can let them know that there is unfinished business with other relationships in the family that make it hard to want to spend alone time with them.

They will likely struggle with your input. They may accuse you of complicating things or picking a fight. Remember that you have the right to add your input and influence to the conversation about this trip. You seek family harmony and can expect them to hear your ideas and concerns.

In his book, “The Divine Center,” Stephen R. Covey taught that love isn’t only “permissiveness, softness, (and) ‘nice-guyness.’” True love “involves standards, expectations, requirements, and disciplines.” He teaches that, combined with kindness, patience and affirmation of their worth, we essentially are telling the other person that we “will neither give up on (her) nor give in to (her).” It’s okay to have loving expectations of these ladies in your family.

You can always decide not to attend the gathering. However, you can still work to influence the family culture as you speak up and let them know why you’re cautious to attend. You can let them know individually why it’s difficult for you to even want to spend time with them at all. They are making choices for how to interact with family members and you have the same ability to choose how you’ll respond as well.

Ultimately, you don’t have to let their chaos drag you into a trip you’re not ready for. They have the priority of getting the women together to fix the problem with unity. You have a different take on how to build closeness in the family. Just because they set this up doesn’t mean you have to automatically go along with it. Your voice matters.

One trip isn’t going to fix the family unity problems, but it can provide an opportunity to build on their recognition and motivation to do something about the obvious patterns.

Your influence matters in this family. It’s a long-term conversation and effort, so pace yourself so you can stay centered and nonreactive. You may or may not attend this trip, but your anxiety will go down as you calmly and compassionately describe what you need in order to feel connected to these other family members.

Stay connected!

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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9 Comments

  • Hataalii August 23, 2017 at 8:43 am

    You said; We live several states away because my husband can’t be close to them.
    I believe that right there is the answer. If even your husband can’t be close to them, then there’s no reason you should be.
    Your first responsibility is to your husband, as his first responsibility is to you. It seems very odd to me, that given the history here and given your husband’s feelings, that you should even consider trying to get close to them, let alone going on a “girl’s retreat” with them.
    I wouldn’t be surprised if they are setting you up to have a nasty “accident” of some kind!
    Girl, listen to your gut feeling here! Your most logical solution to this is to sever all ties with your husband’s disfunctional and possibly even dangerous family!

    • comments August 23, 2017 at 3:03 pm

      +1

    • comments August 24, 2017 at 4:15 pm

      “I wouldn’t be surprised if they are setting you up to have a nasty “accident” of some kind!”

      I got that these women are probably conniving, scheming, opportunistic types, but you think they’re gonna cook up a murder plot? I’d say u been reading too many paperback novels. lol

  • youcandoit August 23, 2017 at 10:34 am

    Oh wow!!!!! I thought the same as I was reading how nasty those controlling hagathas are. They seem jealous of you. Be thankful you are not like them, and be happy with your husband. If that don’t work, somehow record their nasty behavior and play it back to them.

  • NickDanger August 23, 2017 at 10:55 am

    The Hard Truth: There’s no possible solution to this problem. All the participants are women. Unless a man steps in and takes on a role of leadership in these relationships, they will never be resolved.

    The entire female modus operandi is to gain as much control over her man as possible via feminine charm, which is essentially just a manifestation of her “present” orientation as opposed to the man’s “future” orientation. Men find this irresistible; it “completes” them if the other chemical factors are in place.

    Unfortunately, feminine charm doesn’t work on other females. This story will not end well.

    • Proud Rebel August 23, 2017 at 12:58 pm

      Of course this can end well. This lady needs to read Hatiallies (or however you spell it,) response, and heed it.

  • semantics? August 23, 2017 at 2:52 pm

    I am sorry for the situation you find yourself in. You don’t have to participate where healthy boundaries are not heeded. You can only fix something if and when all want to fix the problem.

    I am concerned that culturally we are called upon to forgive and hope for the best. Rather we can and should forgive. Yet, if there is no reason to believe that change has or will occur then we must be be careful and aware. Sometimes that means we choose not to participate and own that choice as being healthy rather than participate and regret having done so.

  • comments August 23, 2017 at 3:02 pm

    “I’ve directly asked her to stop her inappropriate advances toward my husband, but she ignores me. She feels entitled to be familiar with my husband because she’s been in the family so long.”

    This is an easy one. Just stay away. Stay far far away. You’re already in separate states, so not difficult to do.

  • mctrialsguy August 24, 2017 at 12:32 pm

    Read the first response from Haataalii, keep your relationship well with your husband and kick that family to the curb. If your husbands brother’s can’t control their lives, step back and out. As for your father-in-law, he needs to work out his issues with his new wife if he expects his children to respect him and to come back around someday. Best to you!

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