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Jean
Jean, Psychotherapist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 433
Experience:  Masters degree in counseling, Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
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2nd opinion please: I really hope you can help me

Customer Question

I really hope you can help me. What am I doing wrong?? I have been married to my husband for almost 7 years and problems started shortly after we got married. My husband had kids before we got married and one of his kids is from his previous marriage with very controlling woman (his ex). When we got married I immediately fell in love with his entire family and hoped we all could be one big happy family. Unfortunately his sister (who was always very sweet to me) is and has been pretty close with his ex. And, of course, as she doesn't mind inviting her husband's ex to her house because of the mutual child involved, she didn't think much of inviting her old friend (my husband's ex) and her new family member (me) to her parties like baby shower, etc. My husband and his ex do not get along very well, but kept in touch because of the child. She didn't make it easy for him to be able to see his daughter very often either. However my sister-in-law was able to get his daughter and visit her any time because of their close relationship, she also has her own daughter the same age, so it was important to her to have access to her niece as they were growing up together. However, it was always hurtful for my husband to see their close relationships after his ex-wife cheated on him. When I came into the picture it was also hurtful and awkward to hear her stories about ex, see pictures with them hanging out together or socialize at the same parties. Problems started when I didn't come to my sister-in-law's baby shower (invitation got lost in the mail according to her), but I told her that I wouldn't have come anyway, because of my husband's ex. My husband and I tried to explain to her that it's hurtful and disrespectful toward us. She got mad at us and told us that she does it because of her niece. She is the only one in the family has real access to his daughter. And every time the ex gets upset with my sister in law she doesn't let her see the niece either. She also mentioned she tries to have good relationships with everyone. And they do live close to each other unlike us. We had a big falling out with my sister in law after we found out she and her family were also spending the New Years eve and Christmas (aside from our family gathering) with the ex and stopped talking for almost 2 years, though she kept calling my husband. I couldn't find the piece because of this and finally wrote her a letter trying to resolve everything. She said that we are her family and she always loves us and wishes we could have friendly relationships. I explained to her that I too wish we could be closer and I am not against them being friends, but she has to consider feelings of everyone involved and there is a line she has been crossing. I also told her that as long as she remains "family ties" with his ex in stead of friendship, we couldn't be in the same family. She didn't answer to that but started calling more and tried to rebuild the relationship with our family while still kept the same close relationship with the ex. Confused with her behavior I emailed to her last September asking to meet with me one day and have a talk, hoping to see where we are standing and set clear boundaries. She said she will let me know when she is available, but to this date (7 months later) we still haven't met. She acts like nothing has happened and she loves us, she calls us often and when we do meet at someone's party we have a good time, but her husband still has the worst attitude toward us because of this issue and nothing between their family and the ex has changed. Moreover they visited ex during the Christmas holidays, but they still haven't been to our house despite the fact that my third child (her nephew) was born around that time and we invited them to visit us around holidays. She said they were busy and still says she is going to come visit us sometimes soon and we are going to meet, etc. It's already April... I am really confused by her behavior and don't know what else to do. It seems like she really wants us to have a close relationship, but all my attempts to bring us closer and remove "the wall" between us fail every time. I really would love us to be close, I like her a lot and family is everything to me, but as long as this issue remains unresolved I don't see it possible. But more than anything I just want to understand her behavior, this whole situation, am I wrong for being upset, what I am doing wrong and how should I act? Thank you so much in advance.

Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Mental Health
Expert:  Jean replied 1 year ago.

Jean N/20pluscounts :

Hello, I can assist you with your question. Welcome!

Jean N/20pluscounts :

Your situation sounds very difficult, but not uncommon with situations such as this

Jean N/20pluscounts :

I do not sense you are doing anything wrong- you are very wise to set those boundaries

Jean N/20pluscounts :

The woman you describe is a "pleaser" only tells people what they want to hear. She may have a big fear of confrontation. Her agreeing to set a time to see you only to "avoid" it all together.

Jean N/20pluscounts :

It sounds like you and your husband are on the same page about this one?

Customer:

yes, we are

Jean N/20pluscounts :

That's important that you have the support of your husband

Jean N/20pluscounts :

How does this affect you- where does it have the most impact for you?

Customer:

I really want to have a piece in the whole family. I want our kids grow up together and I am the only child in the family so hoped we could be close and I would gain a sister, but in stead it hurts me to be close to her, because of my husband's ex

Jean N/20pluscounts :

The ex creates a toxic environment for you- have you decided you can not be around her?

Jean N/20pluscounts :

It sounds like you are experiencing loss- loss of what you had hope the "family" would look like.

Jean N/20pluscounts :

Unless you can get an honest and clear answer/answers from your sister in law, you are left wondering- do not have enough information. She does not sound like one to commit- again pleasing, doesn't want to rock the boat. Tells you what you want to hear- likely tells the ex what she wants to hear etc. It does not seem like too much of you to want the peace you describe- but does not sound like everyone is on the same page. Is the sister in law the one link to all of this- or is there someone else? It's very difficult if you sister in law is not being upfront about this- you are left to "fill in the blanks"- to figure out what is really going on. It took courage for you to speak up and set those boundaries- but is also may mean a great loss for you- when you hit a wall with your sister in law. It sounds like this has changed little through the years- and for some reason she has attached herself to the ex.

Jean N/20pluscounts :

Are you still there- sorry to interrupt if you are still typing

Jean N/20pluscounts :

If there is no way for you to tolerate your sister in law having a relationship with ex-cutting off ties may seem like your only option. Certainly talking to her, writing to her again may be worthwhile- knowing you've tried everything, before you decide to have to cut those ties.

Customer:

yes, it seems exactly like you discribed. His ex hates me with passion, she didn't like that her daughter liked me and blocked me from contacting her daughter on social sites. But I think most of all it hurts that she is still considered a family, where I wasn't prepared to share my spot with her and be a "second" sister-in-law, it feels very disrespectful and hurtful, almost like my sister in law disregarded the whole divorce and regardless of what she did, she still remains a family. It's only her and her family acts like that. His brothers don't want anything to do with my husband's ex. Also she acts like that only toward my husband's ex. She doesn't act like that with her other brother's ex, though 2 kids are involved there. And I am prepared to accept the fact that we will never be close. But her actions confuse me. One day I think she does, so I try hard, but then I am left disappointed and hurt. I just want to pick something and stick with it. So I am trying to figure out what does she really wants, what is really going on and how should I act at this point.

Jean N/20pluscounts :

There is a good "love letter" format to consider using that comes from the book Men are From Mars Women are From Venus by XXXXX XXXXX The format is useful when one is trying to clearly express one's emotions to another- not just male/female couples. It uses "I" messages to express how you feel- starting with the anger, resentment, loss, and finally to the sadness-

Jean N/20pluscounts :

Trying to figure out what's is up with your sister in law is a "crap shoot" other than for some reason she has attached herself to the "ex".

Jean N/20pluscounts :

Your energy may be best spent on those relationships that are more positive, supportive, and loving. This starts to feel like "mind" games- if she's not willing to be straight forward with you on this.

Jean N/20pluscounts :

It hurts when it may feel like sister in law has chosen her over you- sister in law may truly believe you all "should" get along- when that is not realistic. She may struggle in setting boundaries- some people really do not set good boundaries- sister in law may be one of them. Her actions may confuse you because she has trouble setting boundaries- only telling people what they want to hear vs. giving you honest answers. Having those answers would really help you it sounds like- but she may not be willing to be honest about this. That's why you feel so powerless, helpless to make sense of this- you do not have the sister in laws honest answers- wishy washy. This is likely a lot less about anything you did and more about sister in law having trouble setting boundaries. Some people have to learn to set boundaries- but have to be willing to learn or to take that risk. Support for you to share your emotions about this loss is important- as hard as it is- do not blame yourself for this one- you sound like the only thing you've done is care- have a desire for that "sister". It's a loss when it does not feel that way. It's almost as if the sister in law keeps the "ex" in the picture when all you want is to be done with her- it's "history" right? Remind yourself you have done nothing wrong- most important- but do process those feelings of loss. It can feel like a death when we have to cut ties in a relationship- not easy for sure!!

Jean N/20pluscounts :

The ex is "controlling" she may have her "hooks" into your sister in law- and for all these years. Your sister in laws underlying intentions could be to try and hold the family together with the child involved. Trouble letting go, but is not understanding where you are coming from for some reason- keeping the peace again! If sister in law is unwilling to talk openly and honestly about this you are left whirling- confused. Does it mean cutting those ties to take care of yourself? Maybe

Jean N/20pluscounts :

I do need to run in a couple minutes- is this info. helpful at all? There are not always "easy" answers when it comes to love, relationships, family- so many dynamics and layers involved. Finding a place to continue to process this is good- I'm glad you posted today. Your feelings are just that- they are not right or wrong- just how you feel- and identifying those emotions and processing those may be the best you can do.

Customer:

That's what I thought... thank you so much for this answer or confirmation of my thoughts! I think I am past that point of dealing with loss. I've been miserable and depressed about this for while and now I am just ready and ok with anything, just wanted to make sure that I wasn't wrong (or selfish) for feeling this way and that I really couldn't do anything anymore before I settle I guess. I think I can keep the cordial peaceful relationship, just will know to keep the distance and have appropriate expectations. Thank you very much for your help!!! It HELPED A LOT!!!

Jean N/20pluscounts :

Glad to help- take care!

Jean N/20pluscounts :

Let me know if I can help again- can ask for me if you'd like

Customer:

thank you. how do I do that?

Jean N/20pluscounts :

Thank you for your post- do appreciate it.

Jean N/20pluscounts :

You put my name at start of a question Jean N/20 plus counts

Customer:

I definitely will if I need any more help. Thank you! Have a good one!

Jean N/20pluscounts :

Please rate my answer ok or higher so I can get credit Much appreciated!!

Jean N/20pluscounts :

You have a great day too!

Jean, Psychotherapist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 433
Experience: Masters degree in counseling, Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
Jean and other Mental Health Specialists are ready to help you
Expert:  Jean replied 1 year ago.
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Customer: replied 1 year ago.

Thank you! I forgot to ask one more thing that bothers me in this whole situation. I am questioning my own actions and wondering if I am wrong in this situation because my sister in law and her husband act like I am the "bad guy". I mean we have resolved the issue over the letters for the most part with my sister in law to the point that we are talking again, but her husband won't even talk to me and has the worst attitude when we are at the same event, but for the most part he just tries to avoid going to events if I am there. Which makes me wonder if I am wrong by acting this way. Afterall it's kind of jealousy and not a good feeling. Thank you again!

Customer: replied 1 year ago.

I guess, what I am trying to ask is am I a "bad guy" for putting her in this position to choose between her friend and family kind of. Thanks.

Expert:  Jean replied 1 year ago.
You've identified a good point in all of this- you are right jealousy is not a good feeling. This process you are going through is the first step in working through this. When we feel so strongly about something it is difficult to see the bigger picture. From their point of view they may see you as over reacting, making a bigger deal out of this. It would help you greatly if they were to validate and try to understand how you feel vs. treating you as if you are the bad guy. Not so sure they will be validating your feelings any time too soon. You've made some progress you said in working this out with your sister in law. Her husband has been on the receiving end of hearing her side of things, not your side of things. If her husband sees the two of you equally making an effort to come to some sort of peace in all of this, he will likely follow. It is best to forgive and find peace vs. carry the anger, jealousy- whatever you call it. The intense feelings you carry around are only hurting you- and letting go, realizing your sister in law can love you as well is a good path to consider. Of course making peace, forgiveness, and finally peace, is ideal but know that will take some time. We can only be responsible for how we feel vs. how other's respond to us or our emotions. I hear you working through the layers- first you have identified the hurt and other emotions, and now you are taking a look at yourself- that's good- that is all part of the process in finding the peace. Yes, take a look at how you may extend the olive branch indicating you realize in the end it is the sister in laws call who she wants to have a relationship with. Your relationship with your sister in law can be separate from the "ex" not one and the same. Your sister in law can love you regardless of who else is in her life. Her having a relationship with the ex does not mean she loves you any less. She is probably not setting out to hurt you in all of this- she just does not want to have to choose maybe. Working through this is certainly a process- takes some sorting out. You are wise to take a look at yourself in all of this- I think from sorting this out processing you are gaining more insight and understanding. Progress not perfection when we work through something like this.
Customer: replied 1 year ago.

Yes, I tried this point of view and would probably be satisfied, but then I see my sister in law visiting the ex, spending Christmas together and having a close relationship with her, while making excuses to even visit us and her newborn nephew. And that hurts, because it feels like she picked her over me or may be just tolerate me to keep ties with her brother. I realize I can't make her like me and not like the ex, but it doesn't change how it feels that she is still only family to my husband and the ex and I am just someone she has to deal with.


So I blame her for being inconsiderate and disrespectful, but then blame myself for blaming her. Afterall, she is nice to me, it's the actions (her being closer to ex, than us) that hurt me. But do I even have the right to expect that?

Expert:  Jean replied 1 year ago.
Good Morning!

Something to consider is to really look at your relationship with your s in law as completely separate from the ex. Begin working towards accepting, I say begin, because it takes time, that your s in law will continue to have a relationship with the ex. So far in the many years she has made that pretty clear by continuing to involve her. Decide first and foremost if you can accept, and do you want to work on the relationship with your sister in law, separate from the ex. It may be worth a try. Your sister in law, as hurtful as it may sound, may be avoiding contact with you because she will not cut off the ex and she may not know how to "fix" it. She may want peace, just the same, but the "ex" seems to be an obstacle between the two of you. When you have spoken to your sister in law, if it has become confrontational or "negative", that may be what she is avoiding. Your sister in law may believe your expectations are unreasonable and she's not budging on that one. Focus on only having peaceful and loving conversations with your sister in law. Write her a letter, but leave out any mention of the "ex" and focus on wanting to rebuild the relationship. Send her an invitation to come and see you. Tell her in that letter that she means a lot to you and you are working really hard to accept whatever she decides, whoever she has a relationship with, even if that means the ex. First deciding if you can accept, separate from you, your sister in laws relationship with the ex. It is not easy by any means, but if your sister in law is someone you'd like to have a relationship with, it may be worth a try. It's sort of like making amends- telling her you are sorry for the part you have played in the conflict but you will do what you can to make it better. I think what may happen is your sister in law will soften up a bit and begin validating how you feel- understanding a bit more. This does not mean you still have all these emotions and hurt, but find another place to put those emotions, separate from your sister in law. You will still have strong feelings about this, but if the relationship is worth a fight, consider doing that. Writing in a journal, talking to a friend, counselor, whoever you feel comfortable with, about your emotions. As much as you want to just "get over" the feelings you have, it's a process. It's a sort of letting go, and in the letting go you may find that peace you seek. I hope that makes a bit of sense. Your feeling are okay to have, whatever they are, but you can still move forward, and rebuild that relationship. It sound like it means a lot to you to have that "family".
Customer: replied 1 year ago.

Thank you so much for your help! It really helped me to see the situation more clear. It is her right to choose who she wants to be close to and it is my right to choose if I want to be close to her. I let her know about my feelings and also let her know that I don't blame her, but can't be close to her because of this. Not sure she is able to validate my feelings, because she just kind of stopped talking and didn't answer anything. But I do feel better about getting it off my chest and I did tell her, I am still here for her if she needs me. Thank you, I do feel better now. I just accepted the fact that I won't have the family I've always imagined, not right now anyway.

Expert:  Jean replied 1 year ago.
Hello, you are so welcome- so glad to help a bit. YES that's so right that she chooses who she wants to have a relationship with, and you have choices about your relationship with her. The beauty in this is that there is a choice, albeit a difficult one. The best you can do is share your honest feelings, get in off your mind, forgiving her, and letting go of some of this "stuff" that you carry around. This is a good example how forgiveness and letting go is for us, not necessarily for the other person. You have made it clear that you are there for her. She may need a bit of time like you did, to process some of this-give it some time. You can create and have other relationships that feel just like family- loving and supportive. Acceptance, letting go, choices...all good things.

Take care,
Let me know if I can help again, Thank you for sharing your story with me, I feel honored.

Jean

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