New Sister-in-Law Shuts the Door on a Relationship

Reader’s Question

My brother and his new wife have been living alone in my house for over a year. They have been paying rent which amounts to a third of the cost of my mortgage. I felt it was a way I could help them out while they are finishing law school. I have been asking them to start looking for another place to live since April, because I really need to sell the house. They were married at the end of June and while they were on their honeymoon I wanted to show the house to a prospective buyer.

When I opened the house I couldn’t believe what I saw. Bags of garbage, dirty dishes, toilets not flushed, dog pee pads on the carpet in the master used and left, leaves piled up around the entire house, the hot tub was green…and it went on. I felt disrespected and frustrated that they were not there to clean it up. I cleaned up the Kitchen, Laundry and Living room then started on the outside clean up. After spending 3 days out there working on the house I sat down and wrote them a note.

It was angry in tone admittedly. I listed my expectations for the duration of the time they stay at my house and asked them to find another place in 30 days. I felt I needed to establish boundaries thinking maybe they just didn’t understand what it takes to take care of a house.

Since then my new sister-in-law has called me and cussed me out without allowing me to respond. She responded to me with a letter stating that they were not going to do anything on the list. Then just this week after I finally spoke to my brother and thought we came to an understanding about the situation, she called me and left me a message calling me an Egomaniac and stating that she would never forgive me. Forgive me? What did I do but clean up her mess?

It is disturbing to me to have anyone not like me, specially family, but she has shut the door to me and has stated that she will not be attending any family functions where I might be. I am trying to ignore it hoping time will heal the wound but I am having a hard time not thinking about it every day.

Psychologist’s Reply

Well, you’ve got some temporary trouble here…but your brother has some long-term trouble! My first impression is that your brother has probably married a “personality disorder” (see my introduction to personality disorders). Individuals with a personality disorder:

  • take no responsibility for their behavior,
  • have a tremendous sense of entitlement,
  • punish, control, and abuse others,
  • are completely self-centered and narcissistic,
  • con, manipulate, and intimidate those around them, and
  • manipulate situations to where they are the center of attention, the victim, or the princess.

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They have no respect or consideration for those around them, or as you noticed, the property of others. They are not moved by overtures of help and support. You’re likely to find her a “queen of drama”.

What you are now seeing is the beginning of a campaign and strategy. She has set up a situation she knows will cause you to react. She now has a reason not to attend family functions — which is actually a reason to isolate your brother from the rest of the family. She is now telling your brother that you are spreading rumors about them (not just her) and that she is uncomfortable around any member of your family — even if you are absent. Her goal will be to isolate your brother from family support. This incident will also serve as a reason to move away from the area. Eventually she will have near-total control over your brother’s life, at which point the family may not see him for long periods at a time. Additional examples of how this dysfunctional game is played are available in our discussion area linked from my article on Love and Stockholm Syndrome here on this website. The article lists strategies to maintain communication with your brother.

Your new sister-in-law will need to be angry at and “hurt” by you to keep her strategy going. It will actually have nothing to do with you. You have challenged her control over your brother and their lifestyle and for that reason, she needs to control your influence. She will probably never be on friendly terms as that would allow you to offer your opinions to your brother. She will be keeping you at a social and emotional distance.

Keep in mind, it’s not that she will never forgive you. You did nothing wrong. It’s that she will never stop using this incident as evidence that you are a bad person and your brother should not communicate with you. In truth, she actually doesn’t care about you (or many people) from a person-to-person standpoint. She only cares about what incidents are available to use for manipulation to obtain her goals. As I said, while your distress with the incident is temporary, I’m afraid your brother’s distress is just starting. He will be pitted against his family from this point.

You have done what healthy people must do with personality disorders and those who abuse our support and help. You have tried to set boundaries and responded as though the sister-in-law might have a “normal” method of interacting with others. The condition of the house tells us that she does not view things in a normal manner — having a high tolerance for substandard living conditions. You’ll need to protect yourself and continue to enforce boundaries. She will now feel justified in leaving the house in a deteriorated state and will probably keep the last month’s rent. Personality disorders totally justify their abuse and use of others. Be cautious in dealing with her. Anything you say can and will be held against you.

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