Another holiday has come and gone. With it, another disastrous holiday get together. As the years go by, this is becoming the new norm for us. You see, we have an in-law problems. Particularly, we have sibling in-law problems. But we have gotten very good at dealing with it. Today I would like to share with you how we deal with sibling rivalry in our marriage.
Understand its an attention thing.
Just like when you were kids, every sibling wants to look better in mom and dad’s eyes. I grew up the middle child of seven, now thats some sibling competition. But my husband grew up as the older of two. Turns out his sibling situation is worse.
Everything was great the first four years my husband and I dated. We got along with his younger brother great. Any mild sibling rivalry stayed between the boys and didn’t extend into our relationship or our relationship with his parents (speaking of, I adore my mother and father in-law).
When his brother started dating a new girlfriend our fourth year together, we welcomed her like any past girlfriend he had. We weren’t particularly close with them, but we weren’t distant either. But everything quickly changed. Overnight there seemed to be an unannounced couple’s competition. They were engaged within 6 months, married less than a year later, and expecting their first child right after their first anniversary. We were happy for them. But at the same time we were at a completely different stage of our lives.
My husband’s parents have always been partial to both couples, staying neutral at all get togethers. But soon every time we all got together it was an announcement of what his bother and sister in-law were doing better than the rest of us. It became clear early on that attention was what they desired.
Sometimes you have to live your own life.
I LOVE family. Coming from a large one, I enjoy spending time with my siblings, parents, cousins, and so forth. BUT, I also enjoy my hobbies, my career, and my friends. It was great to find a husband just like me. We both enjoy time with our families when we can get it. However, we are at that stage of our lives where we fit in family time where we can.
My siblings and siblings in-law seem to understand where we are in our lives. Maybe its because I come from a bigger family, but it makes it easy. With my husband’s brother, it wasn’t as easy. It was clear that their expectations of what they wanted us to be and our expectations of what we were going to be were at opposite ends of the spectrum. We didn’t have time to be the doting aunt and uncle who spoiled the niece and nephew every weekend.
Our sister in-law was very outspoken and aggressive about what she saw as our “lack of interest” in her family. It made family get togethers uncomfortable and full of conflict. It only got worse when they added another child. Doors were slammed, comments were made, dinners were walked out on. The whole time we would sit there like quiet church mice, neither defending ourselves or giving in.
We knew this couldn’t go on. We shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for living our own lives. So we decided we wouldn’t be. We started handling things differently. Here is how we turned around our sibling situation and moved on.
Dealing with the sibling rivalry in our marriage:
- Its ok to be at a different place in your life. Just because your brother or sister is getting married and starting a family doesn’t mean that you have to be there too. Don’t apologize for this. Try explaining to your sibling or siblings “We are just at a different place in our lives that you are. Someday we will get there, but for now we will have to disagree”.
- Discuss without blaming. Try having a discussion couple to couple. Do not use blame words. Instead, use “I” or “we” words. This is how “we” feel when we get together with you. Or this is how “we” feel when you say “x”. Keep the conversation civil. If the other side starts to blame, end the conversation by agreeing to disagree.
- Don’t poke the bear! There were many times that I would have liked to have said not so nice things to my sister in-law. Like when she decided her husband would not be participating in our wedding. Or when she slammed the door because we didn’t personally say “hi” to her individually at a family dinner. I could have said lots of things. But this is what she wanted, the attention, so I ignored her instead.
- Fake it till you make it, when you must. Family get togethers are not the place for drama. The two worst things you could do would be make a scene or not show up at all. Attend the events that you have to and do what you must to keep things civil. We attend the event, make social niceties, and then deliver our attention to our parents and the kids. This seems to keep everyone happy.
- Do NOT take it out on the kids. We LOVE our nieces and nephews. I enjoy the little time that I get to play with them. The kids did not cause this, it is not their fault if their parents can’t get along with their aunts, uncles, and/or cousins. Make the memories with the kids, you won’t ever regret it.
- Don’t pull others in. It is so easy to engage our parents or other relatives into the rivalry that seems to exist. Resist the urge. Discuss it with your husband but that is it. You will only make matters worse or add more fuel to the fire if you bring others in.
- Know that it is ok to go your separate ways. Family is important in life. But it shouldn’t disrupt your life or add a significant amount of negativity to it. There may come a time when you choose instead to retain a certain degree of separation from certain relatives. This is ok. We eventually decided to go our separate ways with our siblings in-law. We see my husband’s brother’s family at the required Christmas and Easter dinners. But we do not go out of our way to create a relationship with them.
It took us a few years to get where we are now. Ending in-law rivalry doesn’t happen over night. But we are much happier with our marriage and our relationship with both sets of parents now than before. I encourage you to evaluate your relationship with your siblings. Try to discuss with them how you feel, and then move on if necessary. Your relationship with your husband is what matters the most. Someday you may be on the same page again and there may be a chance to repair the relationship. Until then, feel free to live your own life.
Have you dealt with sibling rivalry in your marriage? Leave a comment below with your best tips for getting through rivalry with your in-laws.