The Sister-in-law Survival Guide
September 2nd, 2009
When I was writing Sisters in Law, lots of people talked about their own sisters-in-law Ė indeed, once started, it was quite hard to stop them. So I also asked for everyoneís top tips for getting on with each other. Here they are Ė and even if youíre not married, just in a long-term partnership, itís still relevant: itís the relationship that matters, not what itís called.
1)†The wedding: arguments now set the seed for years of feuding. If itís yours, and your future sister/s-in-law seem unreasonable, try to find out why and compromise somewhere. If youíre the future sister-in-law, keep smiling and agree with everything. Even if her planning/lifestyle/hair is obviously completely crazy.
2)†Try to have a separate, personal relationship with her that goes beyond family gatherings. Do things together that donít involve the men.
3)†Christmas. Accept that there is no way of getting this right, what with everyoneís different traditions and expectations.† Just the presents alone Ė too mean, too lavish, too early, too late, too wholesome, too corrupting, all opened at once, one at a timeÖ. What do the children and the elderly want? Christmas is for them.
4)†Children: Yours are angels, but your sister-in-law is clearly far too indulgent or strict. She would benefit from a bit of advice from you. NOT.
5)†Parents: When parents get doddery, everyone has to help out. Blood relatives are the generals, let them decide policy. Partners and in-laws are ground troops, taking orders and providing willing back-up.
6)†Donít take sides, especially along blood lines. Psychologists say that people are most likely to accuse others of things that they themselves do. This is trebled for sisters-in-law: if you think she is lazy or inconsiderate, are you yourself equally guilty? And if you think sheís clever, beautiful or a lovely person, sheís probably thinking the same about you.
7)†Help: offer or ask for help, but donít inflict it. Sisters-in-law are often hugely supportive, but being too helpful can be invasive. Donít carpet-bomb her with good intentions, then get resentful when she isnít grateful enough. But if youíre always outside smoking when the washing upís being done, expect it to hit the family grapevine.
8)†Gossip. Donít gossip to your mother-in-law about women married to (or even divorcing from) any other sons. It always rebounds and fuels resentment. All other gossip is fair game.
9)†Donít be too sensitive: obsessive nit-picking anxiety over invitations or the lack of them, non-returned phone calls, critical comments, punctuality, etc will only make you miserable. She grew up with different traditions and probably thinks youíre mad, too.
10)†In the case of divorce, try to stay neutral especially if children are involved. However much you love your sister-in-law, avoid embracing her drunkenly with the words ĎI donít know why the rest of them hate you so much, Iím still your friend,í or similar.