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How do I mend my relationship with my SIL?

(49 Posts)
debsam Mon 13-Jun-16 18:01:57

I have had a fairly OK relationship with my SIL until recently. We don't have much in common and live a long way away from each other and so see her very rarely. However, I like her and have had few problems until recently.

My mother passed away earlier this year and at the funeral, in front of my SIL's sister, who had come both to support her sister and because she knew my mum, I asked her if she had brought a hat (as this is the tradition in our religion). It was only after it came out of my mouth that I realised that I had embarrassed her in front of her sister and probably had made her feel uncomfortable. In my defence, I was obviously very upset but it probably looked as though I was more concerned about the trappings and traditions than her feelings (as I am sure that she was also very upset). After the service, I did apologise to her and say that I had been insensitive and was really sorry. I know that she was feeling insecure because she did not know our traditions and was feeling very out of place, and , in retrospect, I know that I shouldn't have said anything. (My brother could also have given her some guidance but he didn't so we have to live with that).

Roll on a couple of months and we are sorting now out my mother's house. Although I have been speaking often with my brother, I hadn't spoken to my SIL since the funeral. To add to the mix is the fact that I didn't send them a card for their 25th wedding anniversary which was a month after the funeral. I did try to phone to speak to my SIL in person but either I kept missing her or she just wasn't taking calls from me. I know I should have tried harder but, thb, I was in a very dark place from which I am slowly recovering.

However, my brother has now told me that his wife wants nothing more to do with the family and doesn't want to help him with anything to do with sorting out my mother's house. What goes on between him and his wife is for him to address but I hate to think that I have burnt all my bridges with his wife. I have apologised to her but I don't believe that she really accepted it and hearing that she doesn't want anything to do with us just confirms it in my mind. I know that we are unlikely to see them again very often (only weddings and funerals probably) but I don't like leaving it like this.

Any suggestions from anyone?

VimFuego101 Mon 13-Jun-16 18:04:45

Honestly, neither the hat issue or forgetting the hat seem that bad. You apologized for both. Even if you do manage to patch things up this time round I'm sure there will be another drama along shortly - that's just how some people are, you can't do anything about it.

VimFuego101 Mon 13-Jun-16 18:05:02

*forgetting the anniversary...

Arfarfanarf Mon 13-Jun-16 18:09:16

You know what? If she cant cut you a bit of slack after your mother dies, let her get on with having nothing to do with you.
I think she's behaved quite badly.

FetchezLaVache Mon 13-Jun-16 18:09:45

^^ I agree- I also can't quite believe she could have been married into a culture for a quarter of a century and not known that the etiquette is to wear a hat for a funeral, for instance. It kind of sounds like these things are going to be the excuse for a severing of ties she's wanted for years, but maybe couldn't quite bring herself to action while your DM was still alive...

ImperialBlether Mon 13-Jun-16 18:13:26

If someone asks if you've got a hat with you surely you'd either say, "I'm sorry, do I need one?" or "Oh I forgot." If this is truly all that happened, she's behaved very badly.

And why is she refusing to help her own husband just because you asked whether she had a hat? That's crazy. Does this mean if he inherits something from his mum she won't have anything to do with that, either?

happypoobum Mon 13-Jun-16 18:18:54

Are you absolutely sure there is nothing more to it than this OP?

I can't imagine what sort of bitch she must be to behave so horribly to you when you have lost your mother.

I agree with Imperial - I wonder if she has no further use for you now she and DB have inherited something?

situatedknowledge Mon 13-Jun-16 18:18:58

She really is in the wrong here, and not you. Your brother needs to help fix it, not simply pass on messages.

MariaSklodowska Mon 13-Jun-16 18:23:18

she sounds a bit bonkers - you were at your mother's funeral FGS.

AnecdotalEvidence Mon 13-Jun-16 18:35:56

I can't help thinking there is more to this.
The hat issue was probably awkward but if it was as simple as you described then no big deal.
The card shouldn't be a big deal.
It seems quite an extreme over-reaction to cut contact just down to these things.

debsam Mon 13-Jun-16 18:39:48

In no way is she a bitch. I think that it is probably years of resentment coming to the fore. My brother 'married out' - by which I mean that he married someone not of our religion. I am fairly religious but have never looked down on her or felt that she wasn't good enough. In my eyes, she was his choice, I cannot live his life for him and he was happy with her - and that was good enough for me. However, our religion can seem exclusive to some people and, tbh, I probably have never tried to embrace her traditions as in the most cases, they were contrary to mine. However, in the early days, my parents did try to convince her to convert to our religion and this caused a lot of problems in the early years of their life together. I stayed out of all of that and eventually my parents and my SIL had a good relationship.

MariaSklodowska Mon 13-Jun-16 18:48:39

ah OK so asking about the hat could have been a bit of a red rag to a bull.
Still it was YOUR mother's funeral and therefore she should be a bit more forgiving.

FinnegansCake Mon 13-Jun-16 19:13:47

I think your SIL's attitude is extremely rude and callous, you must be very hurt.

If you have never seen her very often anyway, I don't see that it would hurt her to continue a courteous relationship, for your brother's sake if nothing else.

What does your brother feel about his wife's decision? Does he think her attitude is justified? Was the apparently good relationship just for appearances sake, and SIL feels she no longer needs to pretend that she is part of the family?

I agree that after 25 years of marriage she should have known to wear a hat - didn't it occur to her to ask, at least? And why didn't your DB tell her?

debsam Mon 13-Jun-16 19:34:29

On the hat front - yes, she probably should have thought to wear a hat. And yes, my DB should have told her. In both of their defence, we have our funerals very quickly (just 2 days after she died) and they were on holiday in San Fransisco when it happened, so they had to organise getting back, getting their DD back from Nova Scotia in Canada in time for the funeral, so it isn't really surprising that something like that was forgotten.

She hasn't been outright rude to me - she hasn't been anything to me at all. It is just this comment from my brother that she doesn't want anything to do with anything to do with my mum and, by association, with us. As families, we have nothing in common - just usually birthday cards with cheques in for the kids and me getting my kids to call them to thank them for their presents and vice versa (although the last couple of years, his kids haven'tphoned to thank us). But I am very up on 'family' and I would hate for things to die if there is something I could do to prevent it. I do understand (I think) why she feels this way and, whilst being a bit hurt, it's not enough for me to call it a day. There have been a few niggles across the years when she has done things (or not done things) that I would have done in her place - e.g. when my DM fell and broke her shoulder and had to come and live with us for 8 weeks, she only phoned once and got her kids to speak to DM to wish her better, I always got my kids to phone my DM at least once a week wherever she was in the country to say hi to her but her other grandchildren only spoke to her on occasions and to say thank you for presents - things like that. I know my DB could also have organised that but when the kids were younger, he was always working late, so things like that usually fall to the wives.

But I would like to try and find a way to bridge the hurt and mend bridges. Do you thinkthat a letter directly to her would help?

Arfarfanarf Mon 13-Jun-16 19:55:29

Probably not but it would help you feel you've done all you can.

FinnegansCake Mon 13-Jun-16 21:22:48

It sounds as though your SIL's resentment of your DM, which she managed to keep in check during her lifetime, has finally bubbled over, and you are bearing the brunt of it. I imagine your parents were extremely upset that your DB married out, and attempts to persuade your SIL to convert were just a means of trying to make the best of the situation for the sake of future grandchildren as the religion is transmitted through the maternal line (I'm assuming the religion in question is Judaism). Your SIL would be fully aware of your parents' disappointment that your DB married her, and has perhaps spent 25 years simmering at being tolerated rather than welcomed with open arms.

Things may have been said to her that she has never forgiven; she may have maintained a distant relationship to avoid problems for your DB but now feels it is time to drop the pretence. Perhaps your remark about the hat was just another reminder to her that she is an outsider, and was the proverbial straw.

Although I think her attitude towards you is wrong, it no doubt stems from years of concealed hurt. The issues she has are with your parents, but can never be resolved. You sound like a caring person, perhaps you could try writing her a letter to explain how you feel. A letter allows the recipient time for reflection before responding, and I think your SIL should think very hard. Your parents' negative reaction to her in the beginning was not directed at her personally but at the ramifications of their (only?) son marrying out. This is a cultural thing that she should be able to understand now as a mature woman. You want her to be part of the family, and you are offering her an olive branch. I hope for all your sakes that she will seize it. You can do no more. flowers

LellyMcKelly Mon 13-Jun-16 21:32:07

She is only your SIL. Your brother is the one who should have been getting the kids to phone your mum, clear out the house etc. If she's backing out of family things I wonder if she and your brother have hit a rough patch, and this is why she is not inclined to be friendly. She's backing off from your family, not just you. I doubt it was over a hat.

Bolograph Mon 13-Jun-16 21:55:11

However, in the early days, my parents did try to convince her to convert to our religion and this caused a lot of problems in the early years of their life together

Your mother and father "caused a lot of problems" over religion. It wouldn't be unreasonable to think those problems wouldn't pass down a generation, and then at the funeral she gets told off? I'm not really surprised she's had enough.

Nannawifeofbaldr Mon 13-Jun-16 22:19:57

Would it be possible, perhaps with your brother's help to arrange to meet your SIL for coffee or a meal?

It does sound like she's had a hard time over the years. Maybe she needs to hear from you that you don't want to carry on the difficulties.

DontMindMe1 Mon 13-Jun-16 22:28:42

she doesn't want anything to do with us
As families, we have nothing in common - just usually birthday cards with cheques in for the kids

Well from the sounds of it you all have a pretty superficial relationship anyway. Doesn't look like you had much to do with each other when mil was alive.

However, our religion can seem exclusive to some people and, tbh, I probably have never tried to embrace her traditions as in the most cases, they were contrary to mine

Sounds to me like she's had enough of having to make an effort with her in laws for the sake of her dh. It isn't easy marrying into families who all practice their own religions and cultures but give no consideration for yours. You're expected to tolerate/join in with their celebrations etc but they won't do the same for you - because it's against their religion/customs etc. When a relationship is so one sided like that is it any wonder some people choose to pull back?

I am very up on 'family' and I would hate for things to die if there is something I could do to prevent it
There's more to being a family than blood and surname. You haven't made any real effort to get to know her or been a part of their lives. Sounds like the whole family kept their distance from her and your bil due to him 'marrying out'.
Perhaps you should have spent the past years nurturing a healthy relationship with her and making her feel like her and her kids are part of 'The Family'.

i think she can see that your idea of who and what constitutes 'family' hasn't actually changed over the years.
It's up to your bil to stay in contact with his family, why should she carry on with this contrived 'family' act when she doesn't need to?

Pico2 Mon 13-Jun-16 22:32:39

It's worth recognising that feelings about family can vary widely. For some people wider family matters and for others it's no big deal. And part of that difference can be cultural.

I can see the hat incident from both sides - on the face of it, how hard is it to google funeral customs and cover your head? But if you've just stepped off a plane, it's harder than it might seem.

You don't mention whether your DF is still alive. But if your DM was your last surviving parent, then your SIL may see her death as the time when she can give up pretending to be happy families. So it may not be what you said at the funeral, but just an inevitable parting of the ways.

debsam Mon 13-Jun-16 23:23:53

Thank you all for your comments. I don't disagree with anything that has been said really. It is quite true that families work both ways and I have always accepted that it was hard for my SIL - she had no outward religion (other than putting up a Xmas tree and giving presents) but came into a family where our religion was part of our everyday life (not just for Xmas!!). Wrongs were made in the early days but I always stood up for her and my DB - even to the point that my parents weren't talking to me at one point because I sided with my DB and SIL. However, it is true that it was always her having to conform to our traditions and rules.

It could be that this was a trigger point and she had just had enough. But, as someone who is the peace-maker in the family and who hates conflict and believes how important family is, from my side, it was never an act to me and I would like to try and see if I can mend things if they can be mended. Whilst the relationship was fairly superficial, I would still like to keep it amicable if only for my DB and the next generation. We are a small family - too small to risk losing a whole thread of it.

I think I will write her a letter if I can find the words - and if I can't, I will just bite the bullet and try and call her again and see if she will speak to me. Unfortunately we live 300 miles apart so I can't just pop in for a coffee and try and clear the air.

Bolograph Mon 13-Jun-16 23:34:18

she had no outward religion (other than putting up a Xmas tree and giving presents)

If that's how you speak to her, then I'm hardly surprised she's blocking your calls. Do you have any idea of how sneeringly dismissive that sounds?

AnecdotalEvidence Mon 13-Jun-16 23:40:49

The hat thing was just another symptom of her not fitting in the family. She got it wrong, again, she's not quite good enough, again.
This hasn't come out of nowhere. She has given up trying now, knowing that it will never be enough to really feel like part of the family.
Whilst I'm sure that wasn't your intention, it's how she feels.
Maybe you could talk to your brother to see if there's anything you can do.

MeMySonAndl Mon 13-Jun-16 23:43:46

She may have finally got to the end of her tetter. It may not be the hat or lack of it that is the problem but the years of pressure to convert to your religion, feeling offended that her relationship was not respected and then having to cancel everything to rush back at great expense and for all those years trying to accommodate your religion requirements she is asked where the bloody hat is?

I'm sorry OP, it just seems to me that you put the straw that broke the camel back. You may have been respectful but perhaps she already had too much in her plate accumulated from years of religious pressure.

It is not your fault, but I believe you need to give her a wide berth until she feels less angry/threatened and is ready to come back.

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