Crossing the Line

Dear Thriveworks,

My father-in-law came back from a trip overseas and gave me a sweater as a gift. My sister-in-law pounced on the sweater and said it was a sweater that she had purchased online. My husband got upset and my father-in-law as well. Still, I gave the sweater to her but inside I could not believe the audacity of a 40 year old woman, let alone family. With family she crosses the line.

I will give up my seat for her when she comes over my house. But when I do go over to her house, she doesn’t do the same. I’m in an awkward place watching her and her father eating, it is so disheartening. I am now being cold with her. My father-in-law got me a new sweater. But my sister-in-law’s behavior is so tacky. Help…

Very Put Out

Dear VPO,

It’s almost a cliché how difficult it can be to get along with one’s in-laws. That said, this situation is one that I often see — not just with families, but with relationships in general. It seems, when there is an instance wherein you and your sister-in-law disagree on what is true or fair, you capitulate to her, only to then become angry and resentful afterward. You do this because you think it’s going to reduce conflict — but it doesn’t. The conflict is still there, it’s just internalized — and you become the victim or loser in any and all conflicts.

Next time your sister-in-law tries to steal one of your sweaters, insisting that it’s hers, try this: Instead of giving it to her, tell her that you disagree and believe that it’s yours (and calmly explain why). There will certainly be an external conflict, but you won’t be the victim.

Similarly, next time your sister-in-law comes to your home for dinner, don’t give up your seat at the table for her unless you feel at peace about it. She has shown that she will not give up her seat for you (when you visit her home), so you will need to decide if you are willing to be more hospitable to her than she is to you.

If you can’t be at peace with the imbalance in hospitality, don’t give up your seat.


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