Mumsnet has not checked the qualifications of anyone posting here. If you need help urgently, please see our domestic violence webguide and/or relationships webguide, which can point you to expert advice and support.
Toxic SIL but I feel sorry for her too(82 Posts)
DH and I got married three years ago. We are considerably younger than BIL and SIL, who have been married 17 years and have two DC. MIL is the matriarch. FIL is dead.
When DH and I first started dating he was very preoccupied and upset by the fact that BIL was having an affair and trying to leave SIL for an OW who he worked with. MIL and DH think family should always come first and, rightly or wrongly, read the riot act to BIL and told him that he needed to confess everything to SIL, get his head straight and get rid of the OW.
BIL capitulated to their view, got rid of the OW and confessed all to SIL who, to everyone's shock, instantly "forgave him," (after going to his work and telling BIL's boss and getting him and the OW sacked.) This was all while DH and I were first dating, and after her revenge, SIL was very keen to quickly sweep it all under the carpet. She made DH promise not to tell me anything that had happened because she "didn't want hedgebets to see the family in a bad light going forward."
DH told her that he hadn't told me, even though he had, and asked me to swear I'd never mention it to her, so I swore not to. He was very upset during the whole ordeal and often needed to offload on me about it, so I don't blame him for breaking his family's privacy - and now we are married, it is fine that I know about it anyway. MIL also doesn't know that I know.
Fast forward to now and SIL is becoming extremely controlling of everyone in the family. According to DH she was very controlling before, and BIL listed this as one of the reasons why he just could not be with her anymore. I'll try and give a few examples of what she does:
- she needs to know where we all are at any given time. If I give her the information, she becomes very judgemental (DH and I went on holiday last month and only told MIL. When SIL found out, she texted immediately and demanded to know where we were and how long we were there. When I told her, she implied that DH and I were extravagant, lazy and afraid of work, eg: "where does the money come from for you two to go gallivanting off all the time? I suppose you are both just beach bums and so you don't really care about saving for your futures. Fair enough, you both have that kind of personality. I could never do that. BIL and I are only happy if we have money in the bank. Let's hope my DC take after BIL and I and not you two :-)") If I don't tell her where I am, I get several sarcastic texts "oh don't worry about me, I don't matter, I'm only your sister...too busy to talk to me, eh? Too much fun to reply?" and she will go direct to BIL, MIL or DH and bitch about me for being secretive and holding things back. In the holiday example, she went to MIL and told her that DH and I would probably go bankrupt from so much extravagant spending, which really worried MIL (who is now in her 70s) In the same vein, she will come to me and bitch about DH, BIL or MIL when they don't give her what she wants - so it is not just directed at me.
- I am currently her 'favourite' because I reply to her texts and do what she wants, so she bitches to me mostly about the rest of the family. We are due to go on a big family holiday in September, and she has given me a shopping list of things she wants me to get for her that she cannot get in the city she lives in. This would be fine if I didn't feel like such a minion already. She has made several schedules for the holiday in advance and tried to tie us all in to those plans by sending out a family email with the schedule (swimming at 9am, run at 10am, lunch at 12 noon etc) and asking us to commit to it months in advance. She uses her DCs as an excuse for this regimented attitude and says that they need regularity and we all need to contribute to that by agreeing to and obeying the schedule. MIL often refuses to do this and she and SIL have huge rows as a result. SIL threatens her that she is isolating herself from her DGC by rejecting the schedule and if MIL doesn't get up at 7am to have breakfast with the DC, she will not see them all at all. So MIL eventually tows the line.
- She puts down my relationship with DH and constantly compares it unfavourably to her relationship with BIL. She implies that they have more trust, more love, more attraction. Sometimes she sends me lessons over text or email about what I have to do "to keep my husband." Like she is some kind of wizened relationship guru. She tells me stories about DH as she knew him before he met me: "He never went out with women who were like you - oh no. Such a different type. Taller, thinner, more "career oriented."" While she patronises me about this I am burning inside, because she doesn't know I know that things are not and haven't been rosy for her and BIL, but for DH's sake I keep my mouth shut. She often comments in public on how insecurely I behave and how I shouldn't be so insecure. DH always defends me and shoots me apologetic looks, but it is obvious he is also afraid of her as he lives in fear of me finally exploding and telling her I know everything. She comments on my body - if I've put on weight or not. She's also a bit inappropriate. She noted that my boobs were bigger than hers and wondered aloud whether maybe DH and BIL liked big boobs, because MIL's boobs are big too. She then, in front of all of us and her DCs debated whether she should get a boob job or not to "please her husband." Then decides against it and says "BIL should love me as I am," then shoots him a poisonous look. This is most damaging, of course, to her DCs, who are constantly aware of the atmosphere between them.
- I am now pregnant with my first DC and she is trying to tighten her grip on me. She asks me over text how I'm feeling, what I'm doing. And you've guessed it -- everything I am feeling and doing is completely WRONG. She has been especially controlling with me about this holiday schedule. She seems to want me, more than anyone, to be in the right place at the right time as she dictates. It doesn't take a genius psychologist to figure out that one of her prime modes of control is via the DCs. She has defined herself within our family group as a mother and uses the DCs like chess pieces to get everyone to do what she wants. Now that I am pregnant, I am threatening her role. So she is determined to have me under the thumb.
DH and I have got to the point where we wish they had just divorced. BIL is a shadow of the man he was. I am really torn with my opinion of her, because I entered my friendship with her completely on her side. I can see and understand the insecure part of her which needs to lash out at us. But it is like she is punishing us all for BIL's betrayal.
What, if anything, would you do about this?
I don't understand why you have so much to do with her. Why are you going on holiday with them? It doesn't make sense.
You need to distance yourself from her completely. If she asks you how you are, don't reply. If you absolutely have to then just be as bland and neutral as possible.
Do you let her bitch about the rest of the family to you? You need to tell her to stop.
ThatWasNice the family are very close and always have been, even before I came on the scene. We are all in contact with each other every day.
The reason I am so involved is because neither BIL, DH or MIL will stand up to her. And it is hard to be the only one in the family standing up to someone - because you end up isolating yourself.
In answer to why we go on holiday with them - we go on holiday with them, their DCs and MIL. DH loves his family, I think that's nice. They are all - with the exception of SIL - nice to me too.
They have a big family home in Italy which we go to every summer. If we didn't go we would be missing out on returning to where DH grew up.
To start with I would refuse point blank to go on the family holiday, it sounds like a punishment from Dante's Divine Comedy. I would insist my dh back me up, and I would also insist he or both of you together tackle her about her behaviour and tell her in no uncertain terms to stop trying to run your lives.
Why on earth is everyone including your MIL and dh dancing to her tune? What can she possibly do to you if you all tell her to back off ?
I couldn't and wouldn't live like this, let alone subject a child to it, it sounds suffocating. I don't think it is all down to Bil's betrayal, it seems like she was controlling before his affair, but you're right you are all suffering and being punished for it and it needs to stop.
Please do something before your baby is born otherwise she will just have one more person to control and she will make your life even more unbearable.
You are far too much in each other's pockets. I wouldn't be going on the hol if I were you.
Your DH needs to tell her that you know and have no secrets from each other. She only has all this "power" because you all give it to her.
Now you're pregnant things are only going to get worse, if you don't want to be controlled and hounded you need to nip it in the bud now
Why do you feel sorry for her? She sounds like a controlling bully to me and I'm really not sure why you speak to her every day and get so involved if she is always undermining you
It's never easy when it's a close family member but you really don't have to put up with this and neither does your DH
I would start to stand up to her now before your baby arrives otherwise you will be on here in a few months asking for advice on stopping your interfering SIL for taking over with your PFB.
I'd use the holiday as a good place to start, when she asks about the holiday schedule tell her simply that that won't work for you and DH, you are looking forward to a relaxing break together before PFB arrives. You will also be too tired/hot/pregnant to be running around after her DC schedules but you will catch up for dinner etc...
Personally I would let her know that you are aware of what happened with BIL - let her know that you and your DH have no secrets from each other, this is why she thinks she is in control as they all know something you don't as she has told your DH not to say anything.
You and your soon to born child are your dh's family and should be his number one priority.
If no-one is going to stand up to your sil nothing will change and you will either have to learn to live with the status quo or leave.
Can't you and dh go to the holiday home just the two of you? Honestly I would rather stick pins in my eyes than endure that for the sake of missing out on returning to where your dh grew up.
I am very close to my family, likewise my dh is close to his and we are both close to each other's but no way in a million years would either of us put up with what you have described.
Emigrate. Seriously. Or just tell her to fuck off. I wouldn't put up with that nonsense in a million years, she sounds unhinged.
I totally agree that I need to stand up to her - it's become ridiculous now. I just feel a bit sorry for her. She is obviously not okay about this affair and doesn't seem to have the self awareness to see how she is reacting. Instead she blames and punishes everyone else around her, even her DCs, for what BIL did. And then there is the question of why BIL had an affair. Obviously the coward's way out, but I now find myself not blaming him for wanting a woman who was a bit more easygoing
The reason everyone dances to her tube is because we are all very attacked to the DCs. Me less so as I've only known them a few years, but DH was around all the time as they grew up (he used to live with BIL and SIL when he was a student) and they are MIL's main pleasure in life, since FIL died. But SIL uses them like pawns. The consequences for anyone not doing as she says is removal of the kids completely.
* correction: the reason everyone dances to her tune is because we're all very attached to the DCs
So she uses her children as pawns, how awful but unfortunately because everyone jumps when she does this they are perpetuating this behaviour. Someone needs to call her bluff and point out that her children will suffer just as much if not more if she deprives them of their uncle and grandmother, and what kind of mother would do that to her children?
I dread to think what she has in store for your child as unless you do something your child will become just another pawn and casualty of her power games.
She's barking. How worrying that everyone is so afraid of her.
How old are her dcs?
Meanwhile, if someone sent me a text whilst I was on holiday saying all the things she has said, my response would be "how we live our lives is totally none of your business. If you have nothing positive to say then please do not bother me"
It all sounds totally suffocating and unhealthy being in constant contact with each other.
You can love your family with talking to them or seeing them all the time. And you certainly don't need to tell them anything about your own comings and goings.thats because its nobody's business but your own.
I would feel utterly stalked and spied upon.
She is going to really undermine you and try to make you doubt yourself as a parent of a little baby.
Becoming a parent is marvellous but sometimes you can feel wobbly and insecure. That is not to say you need someone else to make decisions for you. It means you are still finding your own way. And that is right.
Your sil will see this as another opportunity to control. If you allow her then you may as well let her bring up your child.
I think you need to not let any of them bitch to you about the others. You're part of the bitching if you do that.
You really need to detach a lot.
SILs behaviour is not I think solely about her H's betrayal because she bashes the whole wider family with her behaviour. Controlling behaviour as well is also abusive; you do realise this don't you?. This all has its roots many years back as well with MIL being the matriarch. I wonder what FIL was like in terms of personality when he was alive. Any ideas?.
I can see that you're a reasonable person and just wanted to be nice but unfortunately your SIL is not nice, has never been nice and will never be at all decent to you or anyone else. Such people do not change. You cannot also adopt the "normal" rules of familial relations when dealing with such unreasonable people; the rule book goes out the window. Telling her to stop and or be decent will be about as effective as spitting in the ocean.
Your H's family of origin is deeply dysfunctional and unhealthy; everyone is very enmeshed with each other. Your BIL married this women at great cost to himself and his family now; this is not how emotionally healthy people behave at all. SIL could well be a narcissist in terms of personality; its basically all about them and what they want. Nothing and no-one else matters. Does she get into a right old rage as well on occasion; a rage sometimes like you have never seen before in anyone else?.
Your DH and yourself need to completely detach and withdraw from all of this lot because all they are doing now is dragging you down with them. You also need to start building boundaries with these people as they are set far, far too low currently. For a start you can and should refuse to go on the family holiday/route march and you can stop replying to her incessant text messages. Also you can block her number from your phone and e-mail accounts. All this may seem drastic but its actually necessary.
I think your life will get far worse once baby is here because your SIL will try and undermine any child rearing you do as well. She will either overvalue or undervalue the relationship with your child, your precious resource. Both are very damaging to your child. You cannot and actually must never expose your child ever to your SIL even for a moment and for that matter MIL as she seems unable to keep her mouth closed as well. Your MIL told SIL (perhaps almost as soon as a hour, day or two later) that you had gone on holiday.
Most of my responses to all that would be to not respond at all and when asked say 'my mother told me if I can't say anything nice, not to say anything at all. So I didn't'.
Stop pandering to her ego for goodness sake! The kids thing only works as you all leap to appease her. What would seriously happen if you all stopped responding? She would have to tone it down as it is the attention she seeks.
You need to use the baby on the way to detach now. 'Im not agreeing a schedule on my holiday, but you can do all those things and we might join you for one or two'. Etc etc etc.
She sounds like a nightmare, but I think it goes beyond her husband having an affair. Although she's obviously still punishing her DP.
I'd just push back all the time. Don't engage.
Re the holiday "schedule" if its via email can you be a bit braver (as its not fact to face) and say it won't work for you, it's not what you want to do, do you all need a schedule etc etc
Is it just DH and his brother no other family? Does she have any family on her side.
Politely refuse and mildly mock the tantrums.
I would invent a crisis in your family so you couldn't go on the holiday this year, however if you don't want to do that, send a reply to the group message to all saying something like "gosh SIL, I have no idea what I want to do each day on holiday this far in advance, especially as I won't know how I'll be feeling given the pregnancy. I think it's best you arrange a schedule that suits you and the children, if we want to join in with you on any given day we will do, otherwise we'll just do our own thing."
Next time she texts and asks you where you are either ignore it, or message back "has something happened? Why do you need to know?" Followed by (as she's bitching about you anyway) "no offence, but I'm not one of your children who has to check in with you. Where I am is none of your business."
The lists of stuff "sorry, bit busy, I'm sure you could just order them on-line."
Basically, don't give her any control, she can only control you if you let her. Don't discuss details.
It also could be that everyone has been so worried about her feelings as her DH had affair, they've stopped her realising other peoples feelig could be hurt too, if you also get upset/offended, you might get treated better. Instead, you suck it up and never tell her you are angry at her for being so rude.
She's this controlling because you all ALLOW it. If she throws a fit then let her. If she threatens to keep the kids away then let her. She will only go as far for a very short time.
You're an adult, stop pandering to her. If you don't want to do something don't do it. When you behave like a doormat people will treat you like one.
On holiday, just don't follow her schedule, what's the worst that she can do. Seriously the way to deal with someone like this is to NOT allow them to control you.
My first response was to ask why on earth you have so much to do with her as she is clearly quite toxic. Having seen how intertwined the family are (I understand something of what this is like) then you need to stop 'enabling' her to behave like this.
So when she criticises you or your life choices by text, reply with something like "SIL, do you realise how rude that sounds?" Also ignore her when she's commenting negatively on the pregnancy and if she demands a response say something like "not really sure what you want me to say to that. Clearly I've going wrong again so I thought it best to leave it there". She may not realise the tone of her messages, but if she does mean it then you need to make very clear the boundaries of what are acceptable for comment.
Assuming the DCs aren't toddlers I don't really get the 'schedule' issue on holiday, and it does just sound like her wanting to call the shots. You could call her out on the threat to withdraw contact with kids next time someone doesn't comply with "really? You'd do that to a 70 year old woman because she wants to lie in on her holiday?" or "that really doesn't seem very fair on the DCs?" She will HATE you for it, I have no doubt, but you don't seem that keen to be friends and it may shift the dynamic if one person is calling her out.
FWIW I think the affair secret is a bit of a red herring. It sounds like this was her personality before it happened?
Knowing what it's like to have an in-law who thinks everything we do with our DC is wrong, you do need to redefine the relationship before the baby comes. It could really spoil your early days with you baby.
I agree that the affair is a bit of a red herring and that it's a bit pointless trying to work out why she is like she is. It's interesting family gossip but it doesn't change her behaviour.
You have to work out if you want to do something about it or not. It's up to the rest of the family what they want to put up with and either you sit back and accept that or you have to take action yourself. There is no point taking her on, I imagine the only effective thing to do would be to stop seeing her and to stop corresponding with her.
This very much sounds like my DHs Spanish family where family means everything but they all seem to dislike each other. It's like theres a huge co-dependency thing going on They have all these big get together and appear to have lots of 'happy family' moments but mostly can't stand each other. Luckily we just dip in and out when we want and by doing get on fine with everyone and avoid the drama.
What about your family and friends?
I hope you or your DH don't work with them
Whatever you do don't forget that your SIL WILL NOT CHANGE. Ever.
Well to me it's glaringly obvious what her problem is, she is jealous as hell of you.
She wants the perfect relationship with an adoring husband, the perfect much-loved children, disposable income to be able to have holidays with her DH/family, basically everything that you already have. And now you will have a child as well.
She HAS to put you and everyone else down and try to control them because it's the only way she knows how to feel good about herself. It's she who is insecure, lonely and has no self esteem so she tries to hide this with her controlling, bullying behaviour. You can't be better than her if she can make you do what she wants, right? You can't take her "place" in the family if she is in control. She nearly lost the family altogether when her DH had hs affair, she must be terrified that it could happen again. If he'd chosen the OW she would be out, with her only recourse to use her kids as weapons. Now that you are due to have a baby even her monopoly on the next generation of the family will be lessened.
You sound like you have kind of "got" this, as you already feel sorry for her. PP are right, you need to detach and just stop letting her have this amount of control. It sounds like you are already down the route of trying to be her friend but her insecurities are so huge she can't accept this.
Your pregnancy is the perfect excuse to start the detatchment process, you don't have to go full nc just stop replying quite so often, stop responding to her goading.
You sound like you have a wonderful life OP, this woman's mental problems are really not your issue. Se needs help, but not from you, and she may not accept it until she hits rock bottom and the whole family can't bear her any more. Maybe not even then, that could be your fault for turning them against her.
You can't win by trying to appease her so stop trying. Polite smiles, head-on-one-side and "really" to her rants in person, text replies of "busy, talk later", being too tired/pregnant to do such-and-such a thing etc.
I have a very difficult parent and the only way that I have managed to get the relationship under contol is to:
In the beginning, challenge him directly. Once when he threatened to get very angry/punish me over something, I directly challenged him on exactly what he thought he was going to do, given that I was in my thirties and married. The silence on the line was golden!
See him on my own terms and move about/stay independently.
Communicate less often, but try to keep things easy/non contentious when I do.
Any difficult behaviour on his part results in lower levels of contact from me.
The arrival of your baby is a good moment to change the status quo - I think it will change anyway, so dig your heels in for some reactions from SIL.
If you dont do something about this mad woman, the moments with your PFB will be ruined and your baby a pawn, imagine it:
"But Hedge, PFB will miss out on playing with his/her cousins, you dont want PFB or cousins to miss out do you, it'd be such a shame"
Seriously.....kick her up the arse and walk away, It gets depressing having someone so in your life you arent sure if its even your life.
Join the discussion
Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.Register now
Already registered with Mumsnet? Log in to leave your comment or alternatively, sign in with Facebook or Google.
Please login first.