My New Sister-In-Law is Tearing Our Family Apart

Reader’s Question

I am a 24-year-old female and have two brothers, both in their 30s and 4 years apart. They don’t talk to each other, and both seem unable to recognize the tremendous jealousy and animosity that’s been between them for some time. Ever since the younger brother married his wife, there’s been even more animosity brought into our family’s life. The wife is manipulative, controlling, and very self-absorbed. She doesn’t seem to have the ability to admit any faults or mistakes, and if you ever confront her on something she finds a way to twist your words around to make you look bad.

I used to be a lot closer to the younger of my brothers, but he has begun to judge me harshly because I am currently unemployed (got laid off) and live at home. He has basically cut all contact and rarely comes around our family anymore. Ever since he married his wife, he has changed — and not for the better. I think his wife was jealous of my relationship with him because I would hear her say things like I was obsessed with him and that it wasn’t right for us to be so close. I think she has influenced my brother a lot in regards to what is right in relationships with family members. I believe she felt threatened by the relationship I had with my brother and did her best to ruin it by making things up about me to put distance between us. I have discussed my concerns with my brother, but he doesn’t acknowledge the problem.

I will admit we didn’t grow up with a healthy emotional, mental or spiritual environment as kids, but I think there is a time in one’s life where you have to stop blaming people and take responsibility for your own actions. My parents did the best they knew how to with the knowledge they had growing up. My parents are good people, but they also have faults and are human beings who need to learn for the better.

My question is this:

I will become an aunt to my brother’s child this August, and I don’t know what to do. I always feel like I am being judged and being accused of something when I am in the presence of my brother and his wife. I do not feel welcome in their home, and the atmosphere there is certainly not loving. My brother seems to want to cut all ties with the majority of his family. He seems to judge everyone based upon what they do and not for the people they are. I think he now has a completely wrong perception of me. What am I supposed to do? I personally just would rather not come around anymore as that would be best for me. But it just breaks my heart. In a way I can understand it because my brother has issues and a lot of emotional baggage as well as wounds from his childhood, but I still wonder if he hasn’t become blinded because of his wife. It is sad when people come into your life and break apart your family. My brother has told me that things probably won’t ever change back to the way they were before. I feel like my brother is lost to me now, and I wonder if you think there is any hope of getting him back.

Psychologist’s Reply

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You have provided abundant information suggesting that there were plenty of emotional “issues” lurking around and causing pain for your family members long before the arrival of your brother’s wife. And while you claim that she has single-handedly “blinded” your brother to the true causes of problems, you appear in marked denial of many things and seem to project upon this woman a lot of the animosity and jealousy that you might have.

Most interestingly, you complain that your brother now judges people in his family based on their actions as opposed to their purported intentions or family fidelity. That would be a mark of increased emotional health for your brother instead of the travesty you seem to suggest it is.

You have had many years to forge and nurture a relationship with your brother. You should know each other quite intimately by now. It’s almost impossible to imagine that any woman just entering the family would have the incredible power to rip apart a relationship that was on solid footing in the first place.

The likelihood is that a significant change has occurred within your family “system” now that your brother has a life companion who was not part of the dysfunctional apparatus that created the psychological “baggage” you alluded to. As a result, the “system” isn’t working like it used to, and that is probably not all bad.

My best suggestion: Ease-up on the finger-pointing and vilification of your sister-in-law. Growth cannot occur without change, and change is often painful. What matters most is how you respond to it. If you want a continued or even better relationship with your brother and eventually with your niece or nephew, concentrate on how you handle your end of each interaction. If your brother really does now make judgments based on actions, in time you’re likely to have a better relationship with him, although it might be entirely different in character from what you have always known.

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