Group Therapy is a relationship advice column that asks readers to contribute their wisdom.
A reader writes: My boyfriend and I are talking about moving in together. However, there is one problem: his overbearing sister. She insists on organizing all events and then bombards us with lists, e-mails and nagging phone calls. My boyfriend and his family laugh about it and tell me to ignore her control-freak ways, but I feel anxious about losing my sense of autonomy. It's come to the point where his sister is making me reconsider our future. How can I deal with her without losing him?
Family's are a package deal
When you marry someone, you marry their whole family. Or when you move in with them, as the case may be. To be perfectly honest, I don't see what the problem is with your boyfriend's sister – she takes care of all the event planning (which is a lot of work) and you get to enjoy the event.
I'm going to assume that you've already tried asking her to tone down the e-mails and phone calls. In that case, you need to accept that you're not going to change her, and if you want to be in a relationship with her brother than you'll need to learn to accept her for who she is. However, it seems to me that you should be reconsidering your future with your boyfriend. In my opinion, it would be a tragedy to drive a wedge between what sounds like a close-knit family. Maybe what you're really anxious about is whether you're ready to take that big step.
– Jennifer Nichols, Winnipeg
Man the helm or jump ship
Maybe you will have to tell him that it really effects you. Sit down and tell him about how it is going to play havoc on your relationship; you don't want to make him choose between you and his sister.
She cannot take over and play captain in your ship, because then you are bound to hit choppy waters which may ultimately run the ship aground.
If you are feeling anxious before you move in, it may just get worse if she is the control freak. Sometimes he is just going to have to say no to his sister. If not, jump ship.
– Faeeza Moolla, Regina
Be gentle – at first
Keeping our autonomy is near and dear to our hearts when we plan our future with someone. Your overbearing sister-in-law may be charting out territory that extends into your space. Talk to her. Invite her for coffee and explain in a friendly but firm manner that you will consider her input, but you will be the decision maker. Maybe she has been indulged by her family, but you cannot ignore her. If gentle persuasion does not work then you may have to tell her to butt out. At that time, you will know whose side your boyfriend is on.
– Farhat Rehman, Ottawa
The final word
When I got married, I had a similar sister-in-law issue. Mine is a teacher and I felt as if she treated me like one of her recalcitrant students. With time, I learned to use her organizational superpowers to my benefit. We had children at the same time; I never needed to carry a diaper bag.
Jennifer's right when she says you should look at your sister-in-law as a positive, given her craze for organizing. I signed us up to be soccer coaches with the full knowledge that I would have to do nothing but watch my sister-in-law send out e-mail notices to all the parents and design all the soccer drills. I was purely decorative in this arrangement.
I understand Faeeza and Farhat's sentiments; however, I think dealing with your boyfriend's sister directly is the best way to go. After all, she's not interfering with your relationship with her brother.
I've learned that the key in this type of kinship is not to be completely useless or they eventually catch on. People like your sister-in-law always have an Achilles heel. That's where you come in. Logic and organization go out the window when dealing with a teenager daughter who needs a grad dress. My small-minded, materialistic tendencies suddenly became useful when I procured the perfect outfit for my niece so my shopping-phobic sister-in-law did not have to self-combust in a mall.
You will find a way to roll with this family. They are probably a tight-knit clan like mine but there are distinct advantages. If the two of you decide to get married, think of your sister-in-law as a built-in wedding planner. Put your feet up and let someone else do the freaking out.
Regina-based Zarqa Nawaz is the creator of Little Mosque on the Prairie.
Next week's question
A reader writes: My partner and I have been married for just over a year. A few members of his family have a big problem with the fact we didn't have a religious wedding and have decided not to raise our future children in his family's religion (I'm not religious. He is, but is not practising). As a result, his family have behaved very poorly toward me and my partner (throwing things, calling me awful names and lying). Needless to say, it has strained relationships with my in-laws. We now live in a different city; things are better but I get the feeling it's the distance that's providing a buffer. There are constant invitations to go visit– holidays, long weekends, etc. While I don't mind the occasional trip there, I don't feel comfortable staying with them, or, frankly, seeing them on a regular basis. But I don't want to prevent my partner from seeing his family. If he visits without me it seems to cause more tension. What do I do?
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