Sister-In-Law Trying to Control My Home and Family

Reader’s Question

My sister-in-law has been married for the last 7 years, although she is younger than me and my husband. I got married 2 years back. My problem is that my sister-in-law wants control over me and my home. She knows each and every detail of the members of the house, daily activities and so on, which even I do not know at times. She visits the house at least 3 to 4 times in a day. I am a working woman, so most of the day I am out. She accuses me of not doing house work and accuses me and my husband of not looking after our parents’ health, which is not true. She wants to have a final say in all things and decisions. My in-laws also somehow get carried away by her sweet talk. She wants total control over all of us. I do not have a peaceful life just because of her. Please help!

Psychologist’s Reply

You sister-in-law likely has personality problems. Individuals with her behavior are very intrusive, controlling, critical of others, and obnoxious — at the same time assuring those around them that they are trying to be helpful. Your SIL wants to be the focus of attention — at your expense. Here are some strategies:

  • It’s important that you and your husband work as a team. Both must decide on a strategy to back the SIL out of your home and personal life. When you start the process, you can expect the family to be somewhat resistive as they have tolerated the behavior and actually encouraged it by not setting firm personal boundaries.
  • If you have no extended family members in your home (caring for parents, etc.) — change your locks. It is inappropriate for her to visit your home 3-4 times a day without invitation. That behavior clearly tells us she is looking for something to pull attention to herself, later telling the family about your housework, dishes in the sink, etc. Your life is giving her something to talk about.
  • If she has unrestricted access to your house, perhaps by other family members living there, gradually make her visits uncomfortable. Leave the vacuum cleaner in full view with a note attached reading “Hi (her name): Would you mind sweeping the carpets while you’re here? We haven’t had time since we both work. Thanks”. In the current situation, her visits to your home are making you uncomfortable. That situation needs to be turned around. When she complains about it to the family, just laugh and suggest that you would appreciate her help. Remember that she doesn’t behave this way to help you — it’s to gain personal attention.
  • Your SIL doesn’t care if her behavior troubles you and your family. She behaves in this way because it benefits her. For this reason, you may need to be rude at times. Right now, she’s always on the offensive — visiting, complaining, criticizing, judging, and controlling. She can be backed off by placing her on the defensive, by 1) calling her each time she visits to ask politely why she visited, 2) suggesting that she help for each topic criticized, 3) asking why she’s isn’t providing proper care if that’s not happening, 4) suggesting that someone with such energy should get a job, 5) asking her to visit on a schedule to provide housecleaning or caretaking at your home, or 6) asking her questions about each comment she makes regarding your family. Remember: she wants attention and control on her terms, not yours. When you place her on the defensive, she will likely detach very quickly. People who make judgements about your home life actually don’t want to do the laundry.
  • Her husband may be of little help. He may be overwhelmed by her behaviors and be trying to avoid the same issues in his home. If you politely make her uncomfortable, she’s likely to move on, but only from your home and family.
  • You may want to read my introduction to personality disorders, as it discusses the basic characteristics of individuals with personality issues.

It’s helpful to remember that her behavior is designed to get something for her, not actually to judge or control your life. She really doesn’t care about your laundry. When such behavior stops being socially rewarding, it typically stops. Up to this point, no one in the family has confronted her behavior and set boundaries, which allows it to continue.

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