I decided I would simply stay out of my sister-in-law’s way as much as possible. This worked until one night when she was in our home to celebrate a birthday with her daughter and granddaughter. At the end of the night, my wife walked them to the door while I remained sitting in the living room, relieved to have avoided contact.
A few seconds later I sensed someone standing near me. As I turned around, my wife’s sister bent over me, grabbed me around my neck with one arm, put her other hand on my chest, stuck her face into my shoulder, and kissed me as far down on my neck as she could get. My wife did not see what happened. After I got over being stunned and feeling really creeped out, I was angry.
When I complained to my wife, she did not seem surprised and made some feeble excuses, ending in “Well … that’s my sister.” She has refused to confront her sister about this or even ask for an explanation. She is worried that this would change her relationship with her sister. She now says that her sister “didn’t mean anything” by what she did, and seems to be trying to blame me for being offended.
The latest twist in this is that my sister-in-law and her husband are moving here and will live about 10 miles away. My wife knows how I feel, but she is excited and plans to spend a lot of time with her sister. This continues to bother me, and I have much less enthusiasm and interest in my marriage.
Am I overreacting? I think that my sister-in-law’s actions were rude, disrespectful, indecent, and calculated to cause trouble. What she did is also considered assault in the state where I live.
I figure I have several choices: Keep trying to get through to my wife and break this hold her sister has on her; try to get my sister-in-law to explain her actions to me; talk to her husband; threaten to go to the police; let it go but keep my distance; or some combination of these things.
I would very much appreciate your thoughts on this.
I want to begin by saying how sorry I am that this happened to you, and to assure you that you’re not overreacting. What makes sexual assault so insidious is that in addition to the distress caused by the assault itself, people experience a tendency to question their sense of reality, because others aren’t willing to acknowledge what happened.
Especially when sexual assault occurs in a family, other members of the family will often seek to minimize it by saying that you’re exaggerating or misinterpreting, or by blaming you for being “too sensitive.” Sometimes people will even suggest that you had a role in inviting the sexual behavior.
On top of this, some people don’t believe that women commit sexual assault, especially against men. If your wife holds that belief, then your sister-in-law’s reputation for being “flirtatious” might be informing your wife’s perception that what her sister did was inappropriate but harmless. Imagine that you had a brother who made your wife uncomfortable with his inappropriate comments and intrusive touching and then one day grabbed and forcibly kissed her, leaving her feeling angry and violated. My guess is that if your response was a dismissive “Well … that’s my brother,” your wife would feel as you do now—angry, alone, resentful, and betrayed.