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Carolyn Hax: Think well of rude sister-in-law

Wed., Nov. 4, 2009

Dear Carolyn: I do not get along with my sister-in-law. She is nosy, rude and catty, and it is very difficult for me to be around her for more than a few minutes. However, it is important to my husband and me that we spend time with his brother and our nieces and nephews, and so we continue to be friendly and take whatever she dishes out.

With the holidays coming up, can you give me any advice for dealing with her without letting her get to me? Please don’t use my name since she may read this column. – Anonymous

Who will read about this “nosy, rude and catty,” relation you describe, and recognize herself?

Your name is fairly common (I withheld it anyway), and so for her to be open to seeing herself in such an unflattering light, she’d likely need both humility and self-awareness – and people with humility and self-awareness don’t rummage through a person’s fridge/drawers/business uninvited. Right?

Now flip that around: To be as intrusive as you describe, your sister-in-law would have to be oblivious to her own rudeness.

That’s why, in your last line, you’ll find your first step: Do not regard your sister-in-law as someone who thinks like you. She is, for your purposes, a visitor from another planet.

Now take this argument a step further, and note that for her to be unaware of how intrusive she is, there has to be something she finds sympathetic about herself or her ways.

What could that be? How does she justify her actions to herself? Reach for ideas. Then, supplement those ideas with this: Why did your brother-in-law date her, fall for her, marry her, have children with her?

Good thoughts about her are essential. An intense dislike of someone so easily becomes a self-justifying one: Since no one wants to be the bad guy, time with enemies is often spent in search of new reasons to blame them for our own hostile feelings. It’s a natural process – and, it’s exactly the process you need to thwart if you want to get through roast-bird season without screaming.

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