Relationship Connection: My husband’s sister expects him to take care of her

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Question

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 my sister,” so he needs to take care of her.

Answer

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.

It’s important for your husband to be fiercely loyal to you first. Then you can decide together how to best include other people into your marriage. Your husband’s kind heart and willingness to help out his sister is certainly one of his strengths. However, he 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 or 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 and persuasion on your part, as he appears to feel a strong internal conflict about her needs. 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.

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:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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3 Comments

  • DRT July 25, 2018 at 7:11 am

    Meh, this sounds way to much like the article asking about kicking out a grown kid’s spouse.

  • ladybugavenger July 25, 2018 at 9:29 am

    Seams so trivial.

  • Diana July 26, 2018 at 2:08 pm

    Does she have a driver’s license? If her husband is a provider, then she should have a car and drove herself home. It’s better to talk to her husband and let him know about her behavior. And sweetie, your husband needs to stand up for himself and tell his sister that she’s a grown woman and he’s too old to make excuses for her. As for your sister-in-law, if she’s disrespectful in your house, tell her that this is your house and she’s a guest. If she doesn’t like it, then there’s a front door for her. Best of Luck!

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