"Markus Gauier Henr <ThePredator_N@_spam_myexel.com>" wrote about
an interfering sister-in-law. His suggested solution is to tell the
sister-in-law she can run the marriage. I believe *doing* that would
be a mistake which will lead to disaster.
However, I believe *suggesting* it may be the right thing to do. It
will one of several suggestions I have for you, but I'll start with
the most obvious.
Tell Karen the truth: Donna is the one who needs counselling. Donna
needs help, and Karen is harming her:
She's afraid of being alone, she's mad at me for taking away her
drinking buddy, and she knows that you've outgrown her. I know you
love her and you try to help her, but what she needs is the sort of
"tough love" that alcoholics need when they won't get off the
Every time you let her attack you -- and it is YOU she is attacking,
when she belittles your choices and insults our children -- you are
harming her. She can't form a normal relationship with a man, and
she'll never have a healthy marriage, until she learns to be angry
with the people who actually harmed her, instead of being angry at
everybody who hasn't been harmed. When you let her indulge her
anger, you are only harming her.
The behaviour is bad for her, it's bad for you, and it's bad for our
What your wife is doing now does not work. She needs to do something
Maybe you should tell Karen that you just can't take Donna's constant
insults anymore. You hate the way Donna mistreats her, you hate the way
Donna insults "us and our choices and our life". So she should make
our choices for us:
If you really believe that she's right when she does that, just ask
her to make your choices for you.
You should tell Donna that you recognise you don't know what's best
for you. Unless you are prepared to disagree with Donna and tell
her to stop, you should check every decision with her before you
do it. Ask her what's wrong with our life and how we should fix
it. Ask her what name would should have given our new baby, and
we can go file the paperwork to change the name to whatever she
thinks is best.
I'm not going to leave the Church, you understand, but you can
and I'll support whatever decision Donna makes for you. I'll help
explain to the kids that Mommy isn't Catholic anymore, and when
they take First Communion I'll explain why you're not there.
If Donna is right about everything, then we must be wrong whenever
we disagree with her. If it's what you want, we'll let her move
in here with us and make all our decisions and run our lives. If
that is what will make you happy, that's what we'll do.
Of course, Donna has made clear she wants you to leave me. So it
may well be that she'll want you to leave me. Have her pick out
what things you'll take when you move in with her.
With any luck, Karen will recoil in horror at the idea, and that will
push her into doing something.
A less drastic and obvious version of the same is to implement it
without giving it billing: if Donna starts to complain about something
("this neighborhood is a slum"), cut her off midsentence and say "So
what do you think we should do?" If she says "move", say "Would you
be willing to shop for a house you think is better than this one?"
If Donna says "This screw is loose", you say "I never noticed. Could
you go around the house and make a list of things that need mending?"
If Karen says "Donna says...", stop her and say "I don't really care
much about Donna's evaluation of the problem, unless she has a solution
for it. Did she say what ought to be done to fix the problem?"
You're in the military. Get yourself transferred and move your family
with you. If they're in New England, get yourself sent to San Diego,
or Honolulu, or Okinawa.
React to Donna with boredom. When Karen starts on about something Donna
said, say "Yeah, yeah, I'm awful, you're unhappy, our life is horrible.
Did she say anything *new*?"
If Karen says she's unhappy, say: "Of course you're unhappy. Whenever
you spend time with Donna, you come home unhappy. The problem isn't me,
the problem is that you're addicted to someone bad for you, and you
haven't given her up yet."
Take this example:
Your response should have been, as calmly as possible, preferably with[T]onight she said, "You can't force me into an unhappy relationship, if I want to leave I have the right. Counsellors don't work, I'm making this decision alone!"
a touch of boredom:
I'm not forcing you into an unhappy relationship. When you spend
time with me, you smile and laugh. When you spend time with Donna,
you're edgy and angry. Your only unhappy relationship is with
Donna. And I'm not forcing you into it: you force it on yourself.
You say that Karen can't part from her family. So ask her the question
backwards: "If you had been able to choose who would be in your family,
would you have chosen Donna? Because if you leave me for her, that's
the choice you'll be making."
Take control of the language. Whenever she says something such as "If
we get divorced because of my family I will never forgive them.", you
stop her mid-sentence and say "No, this is your family. If we get
divorced because of your *sister*, you'll never forgive her. If we
get divorced because of your *mother*, you'll never forgive her. But
you can't get divorced because of your FAMILY, because THIS is your
family. Your husband and your children are your family."
Be logical. I can think of two examples which illustrate what I mean.
1) Somebody wrote to Ann Landers saying he wanted to go to med school,
but was concerned that he'd be in his late 40s by the time he
finished. She asked "And how old will you be in 8 years if you
don't go to med school?"
2) In "The Karate Kid", the title character joking suggests that he
go talk to the teacher of the guys who keep beating him up, and ask
the teacher to tell them to stop. Mr Miyagi approves of the idea,
and they have this exchange:
Daniel: Hey, I was just kidding about that.
Miyagi: Why kidding?
Daniel: Because I'd get killed if I go down there.
Miyagi: Get killed anyway.
How this applies to you is this sentence: "If we get divorced because of
my family I will never forgive them." So you ask "Does that mean you
wouldn't talk to Donna, or visit your parents? What does it mean that
you would never forgive them?" If she answers in the affirmative, then
your reply is:
If you're going to break off contact with your family anyway, why
not do it before they drive us to divorce? Because if you don't
reduce contact with them, we'll probably end up splitting. So it
looks like your choice isn't to stay with them, which you're not
going to do no matter what. Your choice is whether you want to
separate from them as a married woman or as a divorced woman.
Send Karen on a retreat. She's said she wants everybody else to fight
this out without her, and just leave her alone. So give what she's
asked for. (With a new baby, it may be hard to separate her from the
family, especially if she's breast feeding, but maybe she really does
need time to herself to figure things out.) So find some convent
somewhere full of nuns who take a vow of silence, and which allows
visits. Preferably some place which doesn't allow cell phones or even
Tell Karen you're sorry about all the trouble she has, but you can't be
silent while Donna speaks. With the hubbub of the house, and taking
care of her family while also dealing with her sister, she can't get
five minutes to herself to think. So what she needs, in your view, is
time to herself when nobody will talk to her, so she can think and read
in peace. (A woman at our church reported that she got over a lot of
the screwups in her old family from a book by John Bradshaw, _Bradshaw
On: The Family_. I've never read it, so can't directly recommend it,
but it probably can't hurt.)
Get her some reading that's not directly about families, exactly.
Something like _Cordelia's Honor_, by Lois McMaster Bujold. The title
character is inspirationally rational and capable.
Incidentally, Karen is right about one thing: counselling doesn't work
unless you're willing to (a) be honest with yourself about your
problems, and (b) make changes in your life. If Karen is not willing to
recognise that her controlling relatives are the problem, and she's not
willing to make changes in her life that involve doing without them,
then counselling is just a waste of time.
You should also probably prepare for a split, as awful as that is.
Darren Provine ! firstname.lastname@example.org ! http://www.rowan.edu/~kilroy
"When you choose an action, you choose the consequences of that action."
-- Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan