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Heavy Meddle: Help! I Can't Stand My Brother-In-Law

My wife is best friends with her sister. Does that mean I have to put up with her sister’s annoying husband? (Zak Suhar/ Snapwire)
My wife is best friends with her sister. Does that mean I have to put up with her sister’s annoying husband? (Zak Suhar/ Snapwire)
This article is more than 3 years old.

Welcome Meddleheads, to the column where your crazy meets my crazy! Please send your questions via email. Right now. Not only will you immediately feel much better, you’ll also get some advice.

Hugs,
Steve

Dear Steve,

My wife’s sister, we’ll call her Sarah, is married to a fellow we’ll call Stan. Stan is a good and decent person. He’s genuinely kind, reasonably intelligent and he treats Sarah like gold. So, what’s the problem?

Me.

Stan drives me nuts. It’s nothing he did in particular. His personality just annoys the daylights out of me. I find that he tries too hard to be liked. He’s cloying. He obliviously oversteps boundaries. And he can’t just shoot the breeze. Every encounter has to be intense — an opportunity for meaningful connection and bonding. It’s exhausting.

My wife and her sister are very close, and they put a lot of pressure on me and Stan to be BFFs. Stan seems perfectly comfortable with this arrangement, but I’m clearly not. I’m trying to put my best foot forward, but I feel resentful that I have to spend so much time with someone whose company I don’t enjoy.

Is there anything I can do? I don’t want to upset my wife, or create any kind of family drama. Should I just suck it up, and work on perfecting my poker face?

PHOTO

Signed,
Irritated in-law

Dear Irritated,

Is there anything you can do? Yes. You can do two things. First, you can tell your wife how you feel. It’s not a crime to dislike someone, even someone your wife very much wants you to like. But it is a crime — or a recipe for disaster at least — to withhold your true feelings from your wife. Clearly, you recognize how close she is to her sister and how much that relationship means to her. And that’s great. It’s also laudable that Stan tries hard to connect with you, even if he tries too hard. You should acknowledge both these facts.

At the same time, you’re not a kid on a mandatory play date. You’re an adult who wants to feel some sense of volition when it comes to whom you befriend. That’s totally reasonable. And clearly the semi-compulsory nature of this relationship puts you off. You can lead a husband to a water cooler, basically, but you can’t make him talk to the other guy standing there.

The thing about friendship, after all, what differentiates it from familial or marital relationships, is that it’s ultimately a matter of discretion, not obligation. In this sense, you really need to tell your wife to ease up on the pressure. It may be once she and her sister stop pushing you two to be besties, you can both, you know, relax a little. And perhaps this will help Stan to turn down the volume on his neediness a bit. Try to remember that he, too, is getting pressured by his wife. That may well explain some of his urgency when it comes to bonding with you.

you’re not a kid on a mandatory play date. You’re an adult who wants to feel some sense of volition when it comes to whom you befriend.

I can understand why your wife and her sister want you guys to get along. It would be so darn convenient, and would allow them to interact without feeling that they’re leaving you guys out. But ultimately, they should be able to have a close relationship without trying to fix you guys up.

The other thing you can do, Irritated, is to ask yourself a very basic question: Why does this Stan guy bug me so much? I advise this because whenever I have a strong reaction to someone it’s always — always — because their personality contains aspects of my own personality about which I have (shall we say) conflicted feelings. If you just found the guy boring, or you had nothing in common, that would be one thing. But the fact that he actively annoys you suggests you’re harboring some kind of unexamined identification with him.

And given the fact that you’re going to have to be relating to Stan regularly (possibly for the rest of your life), it would be a good idea to figure out now why he gets on your nerves so much. A little self-reflection goes a long way in these matters.

My own hunch is that simply cutting back on the enforced interactions will make all of this easier to bear. So will speaking your mind, rather than keeping your resentment bottled up. Because believe me, if your wife is anything like mine, she’s already picking up on that bad vibes.

Good luck with all this, brother.

Steve

A Special Message from Steve

Dear Heavy Meddle Readers,

If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume you enjoy reading this column. Or at least that you enjoy hating reading this column. So, if you are reading this, please do me a favor and send a letter. You can use this form, or send your questions via email. I may not have a helpful response, but as I always stress, someone in the comments section probably will. Thanks.

Also, join me at Faneuil Hall on Tuesday, October 6th for "Made in Boston: Stories of Invention and Innovation." This HUBweek event will feature the city’s best journalists, authors and innovators offering a behind-the-scenes look at stories that originated in Boston and reverberated around the world. For ticket info, click here. See you there!

Steve

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