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Is DH right? Is my sister toxic? (Long sorry)

(68 Posts)
FishfingersAreOK Sat 18-May-13 22:25:18

Have namechanged for this. And am going to post 2 OPs here - 1 the basics and 2 some background so I don't get accused of dripfeeding - so sorry if it is long.

My Dsis is 2 years older than me. She has just split up with a lovely guy she had been seeing for just over a year. She was going to finish it as he was unable to commit to taking the relationship to the next level, he did not show her enough love, affection, sex. As it turns out, before she had the opportunity to finish things, he finished with her - he was honest and said he just couldn't feel or give enough to move it forward. So, as of last weekend, and due to choices she has made in her life, paths taken, things which happened she is now 44, childless and single. Despite the fact she was planning on finishing it, she is understandably hurting and upset. She is feeling incredibly broody and her life aim (marriage, children) is looking increasingly unlikely.

As soon as I heard last weekend (I was on my way out to a farm with the DC and my best friend and her DC) I said to come and join us - to bounce on the trampolines, feed the animals etc and have hugs and distraction. I (and my friend) were sympathetic but not overly "woe is life/poor you." Though there were certainly hugs/tea etc. We had a chat over the phone during the week. I offered some sympathy but also tried to be jolly with her.

She then called me last night just as I was serving tea up to DD and her playdate. I answered the phone and said I couldn't talk and I would try to call her back later. However, playdate went home later than planned and by time I had got DCs to bed, chatted with DH and collapsed on the sofa I forgot. I am bad. I forgot. I realised when I went to bed and sent her a message to apologise.

As soon as I had a chance this morning I called her. I knew instantly from her tone that the call was not going to be a good one. I instantly said sorry for not having called her back. She was sounding very miserable and mopey. I tried to sound bright and breezy and invited her over. She went all teary and said she couldn't her flat was a tip, she needed to do her ironing, her washing up, fix a light. I suggested she leaved it, or used some of (not inconsiderable) salary to just pay someone this time round to do her ironing, fix the light. She bit my head off saying it took so long to organise this stuff and her head was in a bad place and having her flat a tip was making her feel worse.

Argghhhhhh. To be honest it is her constant refrain that her flat is a tip. She always leaves piles of washing up and ironing to build up and then whines when she has to do it. I have lost count of the times I have gone to visit her and ended up washing up for her (everytime I go I think). FFS she is 44! She lives alone. No-one else is there to make the mess. No-one else is there to clear it up. If you hate living in a tip keep it tidy.

If she had asked me I would have gone over and helped her. BUT I was not going to offer. I have done that before and had it thrown back in my face (her sitting down being miserable with the "well you offered to come over so get on with it".

Oh god, sorry. Am waffling. So. She then started shouting at me for not telling her it was all going to be OK and she was going to feel better. That she had jobs to do. How was an invitation to mine going to help her. She needed sympathy and poor me comments - not offers to come over. I told her I had invited her so she could come for some love and sympathy and to take her mind of things. That I was sorry I had not given her what she wanted but there was no need for her to be rude.

She hung up one me, I tried to call back. She did not answer.

I went and spoke to DH about it. He told me to not let it bother me, that DSis would not have been happy until she had upset me/ had an argument. That regardless of what I had said DSis would not have been happy. And this pattern had been going on for as long as we had been together (13 years). He said I should try to disengage. My sister was only ever happy about/with me when I had problems. Her life was all about her, her, her. That he dreaded it if she ever called at the weekend because invariably that something about it would upset me.

Well wow. That was a bit of a heart-blow. He was BTW incredible gentle as he said this. He also, as the oldest of 8 very close brothers and sisters, knows about sibling relationships.

He reminded me of several examples - in the post below - no need to read if you don't want to...but some of this is for my clarity - and to show this is not one-off.

I am in tears writing this. She is my Sister. I thought she was my friend too. I thought she wanted me to be happy. I thought she was there for me.

But I am horribly scared DH is right. She is just self-absorbed. She is hugely jealous of my life (DH, DC). She had told me so. She has been jealous of me all our lives. I was more popular at school. I was better at exams. She says has has low self esteem as our mother loved me more that her. This is my fault? Oh god. Is DH right? It this a classic case of you cannot chose your family?

What do I do?

She is needy, demanding and clearly hurting at the moment.
But - she is like this 80% of the time - and it is always someone else's fault.
I do not think that anything I could do or say would be enough.
She is lovely to my DC. I cannot cut her out of my life. But I think I need to change stuff going forward. I cannot change her. I need to change me. How I react to her differently? Or is DH wrong.

So confused.

Sorry is so long.

soylentgreen Fri 07-Jun-13 13:34:14

Your DH may be partly right but he also said it because he knew it would make you feel better, which it has. He knows both of you too well.

buildingmycorestrength Sun 19-May-13 19:50:42

Well done, Fish. Please ignore the ignorant posters up thread.

I also have an overly dependent single sister who does not quite seem able to grow up. She is not quite as bluntly harsh as yours seems to be, and is instead kind of fawning, but still tricky.

I find there are good and bad patches in our relationship, depending on what else is going on for her. I cannot solve her problems, and really, she doesn't particularly want me to solve them. I have not cut her out of my life but I have to work hard to police the boundaries of our relationship as she is stifling otherwise.

I ask myself 'What would normal people do?' This is often a helpful guide if things start getting out of hand (which they do, even after quite a good patch).

I find it helpful to lend a sympathetic ear for about 10 minutes at a time, twice a week. If she starts really going on in a self-pitying way, I simply have to disengage by claiming a problem with the kids.

I then send occasional supportive texts and always make sure that I fully engage (as much as possible) with 'normal' topics of conversation and positive trends in her life. I keep visits short.

I don't ever criticise her or ask her about 'difficult' topics. I do what I can to keep things civil, pleasant, and adult. 'Normal.'

I also do not offer help anymore. I have done this repeatedly in the past, really going above and beyond for her, and it never ends well. I've learned my lesson now on that. I have my own, actual children to look after, so I focus on my responsibilities.

I also found it very enlightening to read 'Games people play' by Eric Berne. Short, accessible, funny and practical. Highly recommend.

Good luck. Come back for more support. smile.

parabelle Sun 19-May-13 17:55:47

Are we related. You could have described my sister. I've taken a step back to be honest. It's sad but a lot less stressful.

forgetmenots Sun 19-May-13 16:08:08

Very pleased to hear the chat went well OP.

garlicgrump Sun 19-May-13 15:40:58

I do like your recent updates, Fish. Well done smile Keep it up, both of you; it will be worth it!

Mintyy Sun 19-May-13 14:21:14

Sorry, I haven't read the whole thread (I usually do).

Next time she starts whining about the state of her flat just say "Look, you want things to change but things won't change while everything stays the same! So why not start with small changes ... something really simple like becoming a person who just gets on and cleans up after themself without moaning about it." and then "I'll speak to you when you're in a better mood, goodbye".

Lizzabadger Sun 19-May-13 14:12:16

It sounds like you had a really open and constructive conversation. I hope your relationship with each other continues to grow and improve.

Jux Sun 19-May-13 14:01:25

My brother was the Golden Child. However, I never blamed my brother for that - how could he help what the adults thought of him? We are actually very close and always have been.

My dh was the Golden Child, and his sister has always resented him for it. She messed up her life badly from the off really and has spent the last 30 years being an alcoholic, which is apparently her mum's fault. There is a massive amount of emotional blackmail going on in his family (and most of it comes my way now) and very little responsibility taken.

The best thing you can do is detach. It is sad that you don't have the close loving relationship you thought you did, and perhaps you never will. It is not too late for her to change - look at your parents - but she will have to learn that her choices are her's alone. Are your parents likely to help you in this? I mean, in slowly getting her to see that she chooses to behave how she does and respond with "Oh dear"? I don't know how helpful it would be for your mum to give her a bit of home truth (if you don't clean up your own mess no one else will/you're a grown woman so take some responsibility.... etc). I would love to do that with SIL, but it would lead to divorce.

FishfingersAreOK Sun 19-May-13 13:55:40

CheeseStrawsWars - those are fantastic and your whole post is exactly what I came on here for, Thank you, thank you!

And DSis just called back. We had a polite little skirt around the subject - how are you kind of chats and then we both apologised for yesterday. I apologised that I did not offer her the support she needed and she apologised that she had been incredibly ratty and a bit rude.

I have asked her what, if anything, I can do to support her.

She is feeling better today and has a manically busy social life over the next few weeks. She very cleverly booked a load of this is knowing she was likely to be single so would need to be occupied. SHe has asked that if she calls it is because she needs to hear the voice of someone who cares. I have explained that if I cannot talk it is not through lack of sympathy/wanting to support her but the demands of family. I have not told her this but I will I will try to be wayyy more "oh thejobs/tea/bedtime" can wait and will try and chat even if for a few minutes. She has also said that she would be happy just to have a brief chat with DD if I am up to my elbow in poo/tea/bed whatever.

I told her she was coping well and I was proud of her. I also told her she had an amazing social life and I was hugely jealous of her shoe collection (I am)

We told each other (this is very rare) that we loved each other.

I am not sure I need to/can totally disengage. I don't want to. But I think I need to
1) Offer to slot into her life more than expecting her to slot into mine
2) Also make sure there are limits to this. She is my sister but I do also have other priorities.
3)DH does have a point - but I have to learn to emotionally brush off my sisters hurtful comments or behaviour - although directed at me they are more about how she feels. I cannot change some of her behaviour. I can change how I react to it.

Thank you for all constructive help. This has undoubtedly helped me not kill a relationship with my sister,

For those who are glad I am not their sister? Likewise I am sure.

WinkyWinkola Sun 19-May-13 13:48:07

I think you sound like a great sister actually.

Ignore the harpies.

FishfingersAreOK Sun 19-May-13 13:37:36

Again, thank you for your input. Apart from the overly harsh and bitchy stuff up thread.

And for those who have focussed on the bloody trampolining! I was in my friends car, en route to a children's farm with my DC and her DC. Unless I stopped the whole day for all of us THE ONLY WAY I could have seen her was for her to join us. So I invited her to join us - especially as she admitted all she would do was mope and she needed to take her mind off it. She and I spent some time alone at the farm with me hugging her, her crying. But she enjoyed herself, we all bounced on the fucking trampoline and she said it had been perfect - the exact tonic she needed. So shut up about the fucking trampoline!!!

Maybe yesterday inviting her over was bad - but it had been the perfect tonic the week before and I am not a mind reader!!

But moving on.

I have actioned/will action some of this. Am totally taking on board that I do need to do some of the slotting into her life rather than just In fact came on to update that I have just called my sister. She did not answer, but have told DH that if she needs/wants I will go over to her town (not her flat) and we can hang out. Or see a film. Whatever she needs. (FWIW family commitments/lifts etc etc yesterday that was not an easy option).
Sis did not answer her phone but have left a message.

I accept that she is in a very miserable place and I can empathise with this. I have huge sympathy for her feelings. I am sure she feels her dreams are dashed. I am not sure that anything I can do or support I can give her will make much odds but at least I can try.

The smug/patronising harping on about me being married/having DC/being more popular etc etc this is not actually my view of "success" it is hers. It is something she constantly says to me - along the lines of "you cannot complain you have it all, marriage, children etc etc I want that. It is not fair". I constantly reassure her that herlife of evening classes, nights out, fantastic restaurants in London, worldwide travel is fantastically exciting and glamourous. That we have different lives but neither is better than the other.

My DH thinks I am mad to have called her. He thinks she will just attack me again to make it either my fault or to bring me down. I think that he may be right but she is hurting. And also I accept that I am doing this to support her. But also because it will make me feel better - I am not totally altruistic - this thread has made me realise I was not as supportive as I could have been and I don't like that. So part of this is selfishness on my part. So there is honesty for you.

Lizzabadger Sun 19-May-13 12:47:48

I think you need to cut your sister a little slack. She's clearly had a more difficult life than you and it may be difficult for you to understand quite what that's like. At the same I think you need some boundaries on what help you're prepared to give her and stick to them.

CheeseStrawWars Sun 19-May-13 12:20:37

Your sister sounds like she has been in a series of emotionally abusive relationships with these men.

Her self esteem is poor, and thus this more likely to throw her into these situations, desperation born of a fear she will never be good enough to be loved.

While this is not your fault, it sounds like you are reinforcing her low self-esteem, unintentionally.

It would be useful if you could start responding in a way which would challenge the perception she's a hopeless case.

Stock phrases:

"That sounds like it must be hard for you." (let her tell you how she feels, don't assume. Round up with "You're coping really well though, I'm so proud of you."

"You're worth more than that."

"What I love about you is the way you are so (warm/caring/independent/XXX). If he doesn't see and appreciate that, it's his loss."

Pay attention to the good things about her - she's learned how to get attention from you, but not in a positive way. Re-write that script.

If you can see situations like the 'unreliable married man invited to the wedding' scenario looming, which directly affect you, just say "sorry, that's not going to work for me" or "That's a nice idea, but with everything else taken into account I'll have to say no", or other stock phrase which heads off the impact on you.

Send her a bunch of flowers or something, to show you are thinking of her.

imaginethat Sun 19-May-13 12:13:57

I wouldn't say that you or your sister were toxic, but clearly the relationship is not good at the moment. And from your descriptions, has never been too great.

I actually think your sis is way too old to be making daily poor me phone calls, that is very draggy.

It also struck me that you were very clear that you were the preferred child, you got higher marks, you are more popular, you are married with children and in general everything your sister is not. I thought it was very likely that your sister was acutely aware if your sense of superiority and it would be understandable if she resented you.

I also thought that expecting her to bounce on trampolines with your dc and generally rub her nose in the domestic bliss she has not achieved, was a bizarre idea. I would have suggested meeting her for dinner or drink or similar, she needed sisterhood not an exhibition of all she does not have.

So i think you could both make improvements. You can't change her so change yourself. Give her a time when you can talk and listen. Make time to do stuff together as sisters.

If you are really serious about improving things, maybe check in for some counselling as it may help you reflect and make positive change.

forgetmenots Sun 19-May-13 11:50:32

My point in asking wasn't being that you can fix it. It might help though to see that it's likely not her fault either (obviously as an adult she is responsible for any actual wrongs she has done, as are you).

I don't have issues with my parents. My DH does, though. It doesn't sound like your upbringing really facilitated warm relationships (including that between you and your sister). Perhaps more acknowledgement of that, whether between the two of you or with your sister in counselling would help. I agree you can't fix her. But it sounds like you have issues of your own around being the golden child the more this thread develops, perhaps talking through with your DH is a start?

FishfingersAreOK Sun 19-May-13 11:41:39


FishfingersAreOK Sun 19-May-13 11:39:20

We both have issues with our parents.. Who doesn't. They have given us a loving, secure upbringing in material things (not loaded, but they made sacrifices for us). But they gave us a "toughening" up upbringing. We are both quite sensitive and parents approach was to tease and push us to be verbally strong in response. So not much praise, self-esteem building.

Yes DM was not great at showing she preferred me. DF tried to counteract it. DF typical '70s/80s father - not much emotion shown but he clearly loved us. But you could not extract a compliment/praise from my father even if you begged.

I found that difficult for a while. And then I realised I could I either mope on it it, worry about repeating history or change, and get on with life. So now I praise and complement people and family. If my sister looks nice I tell her. If she has done something lovely I tell her. If my dad has been wonderful with my DC I thank him and tell him he is a great grandfather. Slowly my parents are getting more relaxed and more likely to say nice things rather than teasy-half-hearted stuff.

So golden child yes - in a way. But this is tough too. Way, way tougher for my sister. But really what can I do about this now? I cannot change the past. I cannot change the relationship she and my mother have. Though fwiw I have frequently stepped in to mend bridges between them and often gently told my DM to stop moaning about Dsis.

I have also suggested to my sister (this was a few years ago) that if she still carries a lot of angst about being unfavoured that she had choices. 1)To dwell and talk about it which was clearly making her unhappy 2) to have it out with DM in order to enable her to move on and forget it or 3) to seek therapy to help her move on and forget about it. I offered to help her with any of these. I made it clear though (gently) that I was no longer going to be used as her punchbag for these issues. It was not my fault.

Oh heavens how many times am I using that phrase. Maybe this is the issue. I am just learning I cannot fix her life. Support yes. Fix no.

I think I may walk away from this thread. It will not fix her. I want to help her be happy. But I cannot.

badguider Sun 19-May-13 11:38:05

It sounds to me like she is needy, she needs more from you than you do from her, and she's in a bad place in life and has been before, in fact isn't often in a good place.

It's not really an equal relationship, but it's also not your responsibility to 'fix' her. Sometimes nothing you say will 'make stuff better' but that doesn't mean it's not good to be there for her... if you can, as much as you can, but don't feel a failure if you can't 'fix' her.

calypso2008 Sun 19-May-13 11:31:14

The OP has not had a pasting, she asked for opinions and she got them, judged on what she posted about her sister and the family dynamic.

Pannacotta2013 Sun 19-May-13 10:41:27

I'm really surprised about the pasting you've got here op! I do think calling someone at 3.30am following relationship problems is unreasonable, and that she is often attacking of you from what you've said, and expects you to make up her happiness with your own suffering (getting you to come and clean while she sits in the sofa! Spoiling your wedding!)

It is really distressing to start seeing a relationship in a new, more accurate, more disturbing way. But it gives you options, and your relationship can improve as a result. Yes your poor sister may have been less favoured; it's grim when everything always goes better for someone else repeatedly. But she behaves in ways that maintains her unhappiness unfortunately.

I would suggest taking a step back, temporarily, to think about how you'd like things to change. Yes she needs support, you can still give that. But talks in a coffee shop, or pub, away from your kids (may be very painful for her to see) but away from her home, where you seem to end up doing housework. I think you need to shift the nature of what cheers her up from being you suffering or her putting you down, to something more productive for you both - her talking about her feelings, her problem solving her difficulties, you pointing out her good qualities and opportunities, doing something fun together. And you putting down some limits 'please don't talk to me like that', 'I'm here to talk not wash up', 'I want you to be happy but not by putting me down' etc. if you google CCI assert yourself, there's a fantastic online self help thing.

forgetmenots Sun 19-May-13 10:13:40

Might it be that the real issue here then is between your sister and your parents? She likely has unresolved issues with them if they have openly favoured you. I can understand this must be frustrating for you because you didn't necessarily ask or want to be the Golden Child. She may though need your support in talking about them, rather than you and your DM supporting each other talking about her, iyswim. Even if that's totally normal and supportive, it could look to her like triangulation (have a google if you've not heard of this, could be relevant) and that you are again being favoured.

Do you think (honestly) she has been treated fairly by your parents? You mentioned she got a lot of support from your DM, and it does sound like practically you have very much been there for her, but it may be that he still feels you are all a unit and she is excluded?

FishfingersAreOK Sun 19-May-13 10:00:38

Yep, was the golden child. Spent most of my adult life apologising to her for it. Stopped apologising a few years back as didn't make her feel any happier, made me feel awful and not really sure what it achieved.

WinkyWinkola Sun 19-May-13 09:39:30

I think you could have made some one on one time for your sister. Tea and hugs without children around.

She does sound immature and needy though.

On your wedding day and morning after, did you tell her she was being out of order?

I think either you start being honest with her (without attacking her) or you cut your losses and fade from her view.

Were you the Golden Child by the way? That must be hard for her if so.

FishfingersAreOK Sun 19-May-13 08:53:01

Wow. Some interesting points. And I will take them on board. Very, useful to have different opinions though I feel some of them are really unnecessarily harsh and bitchy!

And to answer a few thought from people
1)bbq you are right, at this precise moment I do not like my sister very much. That does not mean I do not love her and want to support her. But after yesterday my "liking" level is low. It has happened before, it will happen again.
2) My mother and I talk about my sister. Yep. Wow. Amazing that. Family members discussing each other. Thhe description of the conversation was in response to another posters question and summarized. We did not bitch about her. My mother is allowed to vent though as she does find the phone calls draining sometmes. My mother has done huge amounts to support my sister over the years. As have I.
3) The reason I posted here was to get a wider perspective. Which i have got. It was not just to be smug or bitchy or horrid. FFS that maybe how some people use anonymous internet boards. I was emotionally hurting and wanted perspective before I built brick walls around my emotions re my sister. This thread has made me think some more. I know I cannot change her. I need to change my reaction to her. I needed and received viewpoints on that.
4)I invited her over becuase in the past that is what she has asked for in times of her hurting. And she has said before it is exactly what she needed. She loves my DCs is a wonderful aunt and can be fab company. So historically if you like I was not being insenstive to ask her over. If she had not been so viscious to me, or asked me I would have gone. But was not going to offer myself for the umpteenth time to be the one to go and clean her flat for her. Now, from the MN perspective maybe it was insensitive, but has never been an issue in the past.

I shall think on my own actions. I shall try to be less insenstive. I will offer support. But (and no I have not had therapy) her life choices, her happiness is down to her.

Snog Sun 19-May-13 06:55:38

Your sister isn't "toxic" but unhappy and I feel more sorry for her than for you although clearly this relationship is upsetting and tiring for you.
She looks to you for support and solace but you don't give her this even though you try to. Both of you are sound quite wrapped up in your own lives and lacking understanding or empathy for the life of the other one.

I think you need to work out an effective way to support and console your sister. Your ideas so far are insensitive ( you can't have a family so come and hang out with my lovely family to make you realise what you're missing)
If you could support your dsis effectively when she asks for it your relationship would be better.

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