When a family member gets married, they form a new alliance with their spouse. This shift in family dynamic can cause tension between you and your sibling's spouse. Attempting to create a peaceful relationship with your in-law can help you maintain and even improve your relationship with your sibling.
If you see your sibling often, chances are, you will spend time with their spouse. Begin by asking general questions and you will find some common ground. Some good conversation starters include:
- How was your day today?
- Any plans for this weekend?
- Tell me about your work. My sibling was telling me you are a/an (insert job)
- What do you like to do for fun?
- (Sibling's name) tells me you like to (insert activity or hobby). How did you first get interested in that?
How to Handle Special Events
Holidays and other special events can be stressful, especially if you aren't sure how to deal with your in-law. If you haven't yet connected, set an obtainable goal by starting off small.
- Attempt to give them a genuine compliment.
- Spend a few minutes chatting with them. If you are not comfortable with them yet, approach them when they are standing in a group.
- Be courteous. If you are at a party, ask if you can get them anything to eat or drink.
- If you are at a loss for what to say, remember you both have your sibling in common. Share a funny anecdote about growing up to get the conversation going.
- When the night is over, be sure to say goodbye before you leave and note it was nice seeing them.
How to Deal With Awkward Situations
You may have some social anxiety and feel uncomfortable around new people, or your sibling's spouse may be shy and guarded. Either way, try a few tips to help you interact with them.
- If you are nervous, keep conversations brief. Excuse yourself if you are overwhelmed. You can say, "It was great speaking with you, I need to head out, but I look forward to seeing you again."
- If there is an awkward silence, ask general questions about how they met your sibling, what they do for fun together and where they are living.
- If you don't understand what they said, or a joke they made, ask about it. You can say, "I'm sorry, I must have missed something. What did you mean by (insert what was confusing)."
- If they have an opinion you don't agree with, be kind and open with them. Ask questions out of curiosity, instead of being defensive about your stance. You can also share you respect their opinion, but have a different perspective.
Depending on who your sibling has married, you may face inappropriate situations. Unfortunately, there are people out there who do not respect boundaries. Your sibling's spouse may be a boundary violator if:
- They make rude and lewd comments about you or your sibling regularly.
- They physically or emotionally violate you. Examples of this include physical harm, inappropriate sexual comments or touching, and verbal abuse.
- They attempt to split you and your sibling. Splitting occurs when one person pits two other people against each other. They may do so by starting arguments between you and your sibling, which over time creates a rift in your relationship.
- They use you for emotional support and speak poorly about your sibling to you.
Maintaining a healthy relationship with anybody starts with setting appropriate boundaries:
- If the situation is safe, meaning you are not in physical or emotional danger, attempt to speak with your sibling's spouse about how you are feeling. You can say, "I felt uncomfortable when you made this comment. Going forward, please do not speak to me in that way again." Be sure to inform your sibling that you had a conversation with their spouse so everything is transparent. Hopefully, it was just a misunderstanding and you can work on your relationship in the future.
- If your sibling's spouse puts you in physical or emotional danger, inform your sibling that you are no longer comfortable being around their partner, and briefly explain why. Make plans with just your sibling and do not enter into situations where you will be alone with their partner.
- If they attempt to split you and your sibling, do not engage in arguments. Let your sibling and their spouse know that you will speak with them individually if they are having a problem with your behavior or something that you said.
- If they use you for emotional support, let them know that it is not appropriate for them to talk badly about your sibling with you. Redirect them to speak with their partner to resolve the issue.
What to Do If It's Been Years
If you've known your sibling's partner for some time and still don't get along, there are a few things you can try:
- Do not engage with them if they are making comments that make you feel uncomfortable. Politely excuse yourself or set some boundaries.
- If you've tried to set boundaries in the past but they still violate them, make sure you only engage with them in a group setting, or very minimally one on one.
- If they tend to be abrasive or rude, try to be kind in return. It is really hard for most people to continue to behave poorly when they are not getting a reaction out of their target.
- If you just don't enjoy their company, spend some time making small talk with them at the beginning of your visit when you have the most energy. Once you've hit your max, remove yourself from the situation and hang out with someone else.
- If you know that they will be at an event, or they have invited you over for dinner, make sure you bring a friend or a partner to accompany you. Sometimes this can make the visit a little more bearable.
- If you don't enjoy speaking with your sibling's partner, try to make sure that when you do spend time together you are engaging in an activity instead of a sit-down meal. This can limit conversations while still allowing you to spend time with your sibling.
Improving Your Relationship
If your sibling's spouse is safe to be around, make an effort to get to know them. After all, your sibling married them for a reason. You can work on your relationship by:
- Making an effort to do activities or hobbies with them that they like
- Treating them to lunch and asking questions to get to know them better
- Inviting your sibling and their spouse over for dinner, making sure to cook something they both enjoy
- Having a movie night with both of them
- Giving them a 'welcome-to-the-family' gift
If you and your sibling's spouse got off to a rocky start, or you don't know them well yet, take your time and know that you will find some ways to connect eventually. In anything that you do, remember to be kind and genuine. As long as the partner is safe to be around, give this person a fair chance, because they may be in your life for a while.