Dear Emuna,

My husband and I are a happily married couple living in Israel for 16 years. I have family here and am also close to my parents. My husband only has his sister and her family. Unfortunately we have never been close with them but we all make an effort for our children who love meeting up with each other. This low-grade tension has been stable for many years but recently I feel that my sister-in-law is being increasingly rude and hostile to me. She loves hosting guests and doing kindness for neighbors but for some reason this philosophy does not apply to her brother and me.

I know that she has her "issues" and I shouldn’t take her appalling behavior personally. When she invites us she doesn’t interact with me the entire time I’m in her home. She offers the children a drink and doesn’t offer me anything, making me feel like I am just their driver. I feel terribly uncomfortable from the minute I set foot in their home and she does not utter the standard welcoming phrases. The easiest way for me to react is simply to avoid seeing her; I have a busy job so I always have an easy excuse. But what would that achieve? I don’t want to make things harder on my husband who is truly dedicated to his children and also cares deeply about her children. He will carry on schlepping them there several times a year regardless.

He doesn’t believe it is worth talking to her but I feel like something has to change. I think she could and should do better. Isn’t there a mitzvah to reprimand her? Is it really correct just to be a doormat for so many years? Many thanks for your advice.

Family Mess

Dear Family Mess,

First of all, let me express empathy for your pain. It must be so hurtful and frustrating to be at your sister-in-law’s home and be treated so poorly. Unfortunately in this area you are not the one to reprimand her. That is your husband’s job. She is his sister and he clearly has the stronger relationship. And I think you need to rely on his judgment. If he feels (and probably accurately given your description) that it isn’t worth talking to her, then it probably isn’t.

I don’t know why she treats you this way but it’s not something you are able to fix. It may not even be something that she is able to fix. Many of us have family members who don’t make it easy to be around them. We put up with their negative or destructive or unpleasant behavior for the sake of our children, our spouses or just plain shalom bayis, peace in the family. I don’t think that means being a doormat. I think that’s a mistake you are making. You are sacrificing your honor and your needs for the sake of your family – to make life easier and more pleasant for your husband and your children. That’s not being a doormat, that’s being a wife and mother!

It would be so nice if others would change the way we envision they but don’t count on it.

I think if you change your attitude (yes, you have to do the work because it seems she doesn’t want to and you’re the one reaching out!) you will be able to endure the experience much easier. If you can really lift up even higher, I suggest that you take the initiative to always be warm and friendly. Inquire about her and her family. Bring gifts – not expensive – home-made cookies, coloring books for the kids. Act as if nothing is wrong and everyone is close. It may make a change in her; maybe she feels you don’t like her and is reacting against that; who knows?

In any case, it will definitely make a change in you. If you act “as if” you will start to feel that way. You will feel more warmly towards her. You will become more invested in the relationship. I’m not saying it’s easy. I’m not saying it’s fair. Life isn’t. I’m just saying that if you make some changes, you may be pleasantly surprised by the outcome. At the very least, you won’t be sitting there silently in the corner.

It would be so nice if others would change the way we envision they should and make our lives run so much smoother but that’s unlikely to happen. We certainly can’t count on it. But, like in so many situations, like all of life in fact, the only person we can truly change is our self. But if we put our focus inwards instead of outwards, it’s truly amazing what we will discover.

Don’t think of yourself as a doormat; think of yourself as a giver. Don’t think of your sister-in-law as a thorn in your side; think of her as opportunity to lift up and grow. As I sometimes say to my kids when they are complaining about a relatively trivial issue, I give you a blessing that this should be your greatest challenge in life!