All of this has really put my husband in an uncomfortable situation. He also finds her a bit hard to swallow, but is much better than I am at laughing her off, or finding a way to respond to her that isn’t hurtful. Also, he tends to gravitate toward his brother (her husband), which is very understandable, but the result is that I am left with her. I’m usually fine at maintaining a conversation with people with a wide range of interests and personalities, but with her, I just find doing so impossible.
I don’t want to create a disconnect between my husband and kids and his family, but I truly don’t know how to build a relationship, even a superficial one, with her. I feel like bringing up the issue with her wouldn’t be helpful, because the problem isn’t something specific that she does, but rather her basic personality and emotional intelligence.
Any advice would be appreciated.
You’re certainly not alone in your irritation at having to spend time with an in-law whose company you don’t enjoy. Ideally, you would feel as simpatico with your husband’s family as you do with him, and you and your sister-in-law would be more compatible.
Clearly she isn’t someone you’d choose as a friend, but what strikes me about your letter is the intensity of your feelings toward her. You say that she is honest and trustworthy, and has never done anything to hurt you or anyone in the family. But because she lacks “emotional intelligence” and holds what you consider to be less nuanced views on things like relationships and food choices, you “can’t stand her.”
When people have very strong reactions to others, I wonder how much of that vehemence is a direct response to the qualities of the person who triggers it, and how much is about something else.
You might want to get curious about how much of your reaction belongs in each category, because figuring this out will accomplish two things. First, it will help you see your sister-in-law more kindly, which in turn will diminish the intensity of your feelings and make the difficult relationship run more smoothly. Second, it will create more self-awareness, which will come in handy in all of your relationships, now and in the future.
To start, I suggest asking yourself, Who does this person remind me of? In other words, even if you didn’t grow up around someone who, on the surface, seems like your sister-in-law, do the feelings that come up when you think of spending time with her feel at all familiar? Maybe in some way she reminds you of a parent or your own sibling. Or maybe—and this generally takes people by surprise before they see the truth in it—she reminds you of you.
I realize, of course, that your frustration with your sister-in-law is rooted in your perception of how different you are. But many of the things that irritate us most about others are disowned parts of ourselves—the parts that are inconsistent with how we wish to view ourselves. We might disavow these parts by saying, for instance, “I can’t stand her; she’s so envious of her friends,” because we feel so much shame about the fact that we, too, feel envy. In other words, we take great pains to distinguish ourselves from a person who exhibits the very qualities we find shameful in ourselves, so much so that we aren’t even aware that we share them.