Dear Annie: My daughter, “Betty,” is having a terrible problem with her sister-in-law, “Linda” (her husband’s sister). Linda is very manipulative, thinks she’s never wrong and can be downright hateful. Recently, Linda’s husband was given a very bad diagnosis, and she used this situation as an opportunity to verbally attack Betty. She brought up things that were resolved years ago and wouldn’t shut up until my daughter agreed with her on everything.
Linda also was angry that Betty and her kids went to our family reunion and mentioned having fun on her Facebook page. She yelled at Betty, who took the abuse since she felt sorry for her. The very next day, Linda called my daughter and acted like nothing happened.
Here’s the kicker: Betty recently had medical troubles of her own that were quite similar to the ones Linda’s husband is having. The compassion she feels is real. She genuinely wants to help in any way, but unless she bows and scrapes to Linda, her help is refused. What kind of wife refuses support for her husband?
We understand that Linda is hurting, afraid and maybe insecure. Her world is out of control, and she is jealous of anyone who is living a “normal” life. But how much does one have to take? She’s always been ornery and now has a good excuse to be even more so. I want to help my daughter. What is the best way to deal with this situation? – Repercussions for Caring
Dear Caring: Linda’s personality is not going to change, no matter how helpful or sympathetic your daughter is. Betty’s husband might be able to get through to his sister, suggesting she speak to her husband’s doctor about coping with her stress levels. But even so, it may not be enough. Betty needs to accept Linda as she is and respond as if the negativity doesn’t exist. That means ignoring her barbs, pretending to be oblivious, changing the subject and smiling sympathetically while saying, “You must be so frazzled. I’m so sorry.” Repeat as needed.
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