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Putting A Stop To The Backstabbing Drama

First; a little background. I recently started dating a guy and it looks promising. So promising, that he have on several occasions introduced me to his family (closest family consists of his father, sister w/husband and two kids aged 3 & 5, and their aunt w/ husband and two kids in their early twenties).

Everyone is nice and welcoming and always positive towards me. I do have a hard time getting along with the sister. It works fine at family functions, we talk about the weather and the roast and the beautiful cake and all things mundane and I play with her kids and all is good. But we never really talk, she does NOT EVER tell anyone what she means, just smiles and nods and move on and comes back with an ever bigger smile. This would be great if she was such a person that forgives and forgets but sadly that is not the case. Instead for voicing her opinion she just smiles and nods and smiles even more until she drops a bomb some time later about how offended/sad/etc she feels about a particular situation. She NEVER confronts face to face and she never really talks about things, just smiles and nods.

The particular event I would like to describe to you happened during Easter holiday.  I and my boyfriend made plans to stay at his winter cabin, do some skiing, etc. for the entire holiday. His sister, husband and kids would come up to visit and have dinner one day and I really looked forward to it. I brought my dog along since he loves to play in the snow, and the kids had a good time playing with the dog.  I and my boyfriend’s sister cooked dinner and chatted and generally everyone had a good time. (I thought that everything went VERY well at this point and I actually felt that got a bit closer to her).

After dinner we sat down to relax and the dog went to sleep in a corner. I made point of putting the dog down for a nap as he was getting a bit worked up by the kids constantly playing and giving him commands.

I need to point out that the kids are not at all used to dogs and did not know how to properly behave around him. Thus, when they tried to approach the sleeping dog and started poking him, I politely, but sternly told them to please leave him alone, he has laid down to rest in his bed and seems to want to be left alone. He is a big dog and even though I completely trust him around kids he could easily knock them over or something like that if awoken abruptly, and I did not want the kids to be scared or get a bad experience.

The kids backed off, the dog kept sleeping and I avoided a potential dangerous situation and everyone was happy. I thought nothing of it afterwards. My boyfriend’s sister and her husband did not even flinch when I confronted their kids, no reaction at all and I thought I was well within my right to tell them to leave the dog alone.

The young boy, however, kept his interest on the dog and I had to tell him one more time to leave the dog alone, but that’s how kids are. I did not raise my voice or use foul language, just sat down with him and explained why we need to respect the dog’s space when he sleeps.

In my eyes it was completely called for because it was my dog and it is completely up to me if I want the kids to play with him or not, and secondly no one in my boyfriend’s family are particular familiar with dogs hence I thought it a good opportunity to teach the kids a little bit about how to treat a large dog as I did not want them to approach him unattended.

However, a couple of days or so later my boyfriend got a call from his sister, where she told him that she probably stand to spend more than a couple of hours with me at the time because I was too harsh and rude and berated her kids. Apparently she was furious! My boyfriend kept a polite spine, and told his sister that she was out of line reacting like that and then relayed the conversation to me later on. I was devastated since I want nothing more than a happy and friendly relationship with my future sister-in-law and I love her kids very much. It just bothers me that she did not speak to me at the time, or if she didn’t want to bring up the subject in front of the kids, made no effort to speak to me afterwards.

Is there any way I can handle this situation gracefully without insulting the sister? I really wish she had spoken to me at the time, and I would have adjusted my manners accordingly but she did nothing of the sort, carrying on as nothing ever happened and being all cheers and joy. And then she starts yelling at her brother because of my apparent rude behavior, not trying to confront me or even talk to be about the subject.

I have noticed that they seldom really talk to each other in my boyfriend’s family, everyone just keeps their mouth shut and then complain to everyone else than the actual persons involved. Therefore I am not sure it will go down well if I approach his sister on the subject, I have consulted my boyfriend and he said that I am more than welcome to confront his sister but I will not get a sincere response, she will be happy as ever and then call and shout at him for telling me.

I am quite furious myself as I think that it was well within my right to tell the kids not to disturb the dog and in addition avoid a potential hazardous situation.

Do you have any ideas on how I handle this and hopefully the same situation in the future? Should I keep low and forget about it all and then risk similar situations in the future or should I keep my ground and tell the sister that if she has an issue with me she can take it up with me? All I really want is an open and honest relationship with my boyfriends family.

Any thoughts?

Yep, lots of thoughts.   Sister is a drama queen and over time she has been allowed by her family to get away with these post situational rants behind people’s backs.

The way to mitigate her behavior is for both you and your boyfriend to commit to never hearing secondhand rants about other people.  And I mean *anyone* ranting to either of you about anyone else in the family.  Your responses when the drama gossip starts is to halt the conversation and say, “I do not want to hear it.  If you have a problem with XXX, you go talk to XXX.  Do not speak to me until you do and if you cannot resolve the conflict together, I will help moderate between you two to come to a peaceful resolution.”   You want to force her to either address her offenses with the person she claims has offended her or force her to cease the backstabbing gossip.

Your boyfriend should view his sister’s drama gossip as a very divisive tool to sow discord between you, him and various family members.  I do not believe he should listen to any of it if his sister is unwilling to address her offenses directly with the person she claims has offended her, i.e. you.   I think you should release your expectation that you and boyfriend’s sister will become bosom buddies and accept that civil but superficial interactions may be all that can be expected from this relationship.   I would certainly be discreet in what you choose to tell her about your personal life or opinions, btw.


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  • Alissa April 4, 2013, 12:29 am

    My sister is like this- hence my cutting her out of my life 6 years ago as much as possible. In her case, there is definitely a personality disorder on board. She is 16 years my senior but has spent much of my childhood trying to undermine any amount of attention/care I received as I threatened her “position” in the family by being the much younger (only) sister. This involved the standard one sided arguments- I wouldn’t get a call from her on my birthday/etc but heaven forbid I forget and do the same. Etc. Etc. Ad Nausea and very disgustingly so. Even badmouthed times I offered to help a sick relative because I was offering the help to them and not to her. Nothing is ever good enough, so why even try.

    I am getting married on May 5th- her response upon hearing was to immediately try to badmouth all my wedding plans once I vacated the family gathering to go to work. My entire family is wise to her antics- my mother has sworn her off years ago due to her withholding my mother’s contact with her grandchildren (she has 3 children…shudder) because my Mother would not be her personal housemaid to her satisfaction. I am not kidding. She is a very “princess” mentality and when my Mother had a personal obligation she needed to fulfill and it interfered with her scheduled plans of when she needed my Mother to be around she cut off all contact.

    We all got them somewhere, OP…. Unfortunately.

  • Another Sarah April 4, 2013, 4:23 am

    I have to agree with Jeab and schnickelfritz.

    If the whole family does the same thing, that’s their way of reacting to a situation. The sister might very well have been brought up to think that she cannot confront someone directly as it would be rude – perhaps she is lacking a polite spine when it comes to confrontation and didn’t know how to address the situation.
    Additionally, if the kids are not used to dogs, I suspect that means the parents aren’t either. She might genuinely not have realised it was a potentially dangerous situation.
    I would speak to her directly and say something along the lines of:
    “I heard that you weren’t too happy about me speaking to your kids the other day. I’m really sorry if I came across as overstepping my boundaries, but I just didn’t want my dog to jump up and scare them or snap at them if they poked him while he was sleeping. He’s a lovely tempered dog but you can never be too careful, he is an animal at the end of the day. If I do something that upsets you please come and have a quiet word with me as I really like you and your kids and don’t want to accidentally cause offence”
    If she accepts that, then you’ve solved the problem. If she phones her brother and tells him off then you know she’s a drama llama and to avoid her in future

    One last thing: He’s your new boyfriend. He’s her brother. They might be very close. She might phone him and complain about things honestly not expecting him to pass them on because she thinks of him as her brother, NOT your partner. She might use him as a sounding board to tell her when she is flying off the handle.
    How he mentioned it to you is key to this story. If it was “LW I have something to tell you, my sister was really mad at you, I told her off though” that’s one thing, if it was “oh, my sister’s jumped the tracks again, I told her not to be ridiculous” that’s just siblings.

  • WildIrishRose April 4, 2013, 8:19 am

    You were quite right to intervene between your future SIL’s kids and your dog. If the dog had been startled and had frightened or, God forbid, bitten one of the kids, you would never hear the end of it.

    As for the SIL herself, it’s been my observation that people like this don’t change. My suggestion would be to tell your fiance that his family members need to talk with you directly about any problem they may have with you, and if they can’t be persuaded to do that, then you need to rethink marrying into this family. The old adage that you marry your fiance’s family is absolutely true.

  • Daisy April 4, 2013, 10:44 am

    What a shame that the sister hasn’t already taught her children not to approach a dog without first asking permission from its owner. If Bowser had been startled and jumped up into the child’s face, I can guarantee you Sister would have had something to complain about. As for the non-confrontational playground routine, some of my in-laws liked the same games. The correct response is just as Admin advised. You keep smiling, you never engage in backstabbing, and you simply do not, ever, allow anyone to repeat what anyone else says about you. As soon as it starts, smile kindly and say, “I’m sorry, but if So-and-So has a problem, she needs to come to me directly.” When they see you won’t play, one of two things will happen. Either they’ll tell Sis to talk to you directly, or they’ll continue to listen to her, but not repeat anything to you. Either way works for me!

  • RP April 4, 2013, 12:14 pm

    “You really don’t know what she said exactly, maybe he presented it differently.”

    schnickelfritz, that is an EXCELLENT point and another really good reason this kind of communication needs to end right now. We’ve all decided the sister is a drama llama but we don’t actually know that. We only have the OP’s BF’s word on what was said. It’s entirely possible he misunderstood what his sister said or overreacted to it.

    Also, someone could easily manipulate someone by lying to them about what other people are saying and thinking about them. I don’t think that’s what’s going on here but generally speaking you should be very wary when only one person is telling you that a bunch other people don’t like you.

  • Kay L April 6, 2013, 9:08 am

    Classic case of a passive aggressive person.

    Just go about your business and don’t give this person any power by worrying about whether or not you have offended them.

    There was nothing wrong with your speaking to the children. And, if there was, she could have gently corrected you at the time. For example, if you were coming down too hard on the boy or interacting wtih him in a way that s objectionable, that was her cue to step in.

    If her objections had merit she wouldnt have to hide them from you and then try to sell them to other family members one person at a tme–divide and conquer.

    Confront her? No, That woukd be like throwing holy water on a vampire! Passive aggressive people do not like people who are direct and to the point.

    It’s all about control. Being direct cedes a lot of that control to the other person. Passive aggressive people are very manipulative. They don’t feel they can get what they want in a normal functional way so they resort to these tactics. And they can’t handle not getting their way!

    Unfortunately, for some of these people the only way to please them is to give them something to make them unhappy. Your boyfriend should simply tell her “That’s between you and her. It’s none of my business.”

    And you should just go about your business with the knowlege that it is she who is causing herself miery and not you. Don’t be drawn in. In that way, it forces her to own her behavior.

    Also, most kids get wise to this kind of thing. Never put them in the middle, expect them to take sides or criticize their loved one. Just because they love that person does not mean that they condone the behavior or that they will inherit it. You can give them a better example just by being one, eing happy and staying clear of the drama.

    And like the admin says, this means steering clear of all of tha behavior from any of the family members.

    I know all about passove aggresive because I was for a long time. It’s what I learned and it made me very unhappy all the time. After being in a group of other people who were even more PA than I, I was able to see the mechanics of the behavior and stop doing things that way.

    Now, I am practically allergic to people who are PA! I don’t try to fix them or offer advice, I am just very direct when dealing with them in spite of that making them very unhappy and at times openly hostile (happned kn my workplace once or twice).

    They want you to look at your behavior and try to figure out what you did wrong to make them unhappy when its their own behavior that is the problem.

    Sorry, I know that was long… still wordy after all these years!

  • Din April 6, 2013, 11:33 am

    You’ve already recognized that this is her “way”, not just with you. This is not normal behavior and you’re not going to be able to do anything to change it. You and your boyfriend sound like lovely people and you did everything appropriately with the kids and the dog. Unfortunately, it sounds like you haven’t encountered this type of person before. She is who she is, and you can’t change her, and you should resolve not to try. Resolve to have a polite cordial relationship with her, remember that these passive/agressive situations are going to come up occasionally, and when they do, take a deep breath and remember that they aren’t about you personally.

  • Jess April 7, 2013, 7:23 pm

    @Jeab–I totally agree. My first question was, “Wait–since when did the BF’s sister become ‘future-sister-in-law?'” I thought that while the OP was well within her rights to warn the children about the dog (I’d have done the same thing), she was being rather presumptious in terms of defining her relationships with the BF and his family.
    I’d probably behave like the sister if my brother ever brought home a new girlfriend. I’m pretty introverted and shy, and I don’t like to make a scene; I’d be quietly nodding and smiling too. Additionally, it’s like Jeab said–the BF may have related the phone conversation differently.

  • Anon April 7, 2013, 10:52 pm

    I think the admin’s advice seems sound. However, to play Devil’s advocate, I have sometimes been guilty of what the OP’s SIL was doing, or something similar. Sometimes when someone does something that offends me, particularly in a sitution like a family dinner where you have been conditioned to be polite and not make a scene etc., I don’t say anything right away. Sometimes I’m just to shocked to say anything (if what was said was really offensive, just really surprising), and can’t think what to say until later. It still seems better to say something afterwards than to never mention it and let the offensive thing be said again. If it was my mother or father in law or brother or sister in law who said the offensive thing I might well ask my husband to have a word with them rather than do it myself if I didn’t feel they would listen to me (based on having tried to confront them directly in the past and having been cut off, ignored or laughed at). It sounds like the OP’s situation was different, but I don’t think it’s necessarily rude not to speak up about something on the spot, or to involve a third party.

  • Anon April 7, 2013, 11:07 pm

    Reading through other comments above, I wanted to add that I’m not (I think) one of those people who are just offended by everything. The kind of offensive comments I’m talking about are things like my MIL telling a friendwho was over for tea that her financial problems were all her own fault and she should never have had her child because “condoms always work”, another family member saying that at the dinner table that sometimes it’s the wife’s fault if her husband beats her… stuff like that.Sometimes the thing that is said is just so obviously offensive that I just can’t believe that I need to actually say so (surely they realise it?), so in the moment I don’t.

    I have met folks who are offended by anything though. I am still at a loss as to why I was lectured at some length about my outfit being “innapropriate” because I wore a dress to dinner at my husband’s parents house. It was modest, no cleavage showing at all, hemline below my knees. As near as I can figure it’s just that I wore a dress at all when the hostess was in trousers (which I should somehow have known about in advance?).

  • Joyous April 10, 2013, 2:11 pm

    I rarely say this but…I can completely understand your situation, I feel your pain and I’m so sorry for you. I was once in your situation when I was married and it was awful. Please set limits now. I was talked about in that family as rude and horrid just because I talked about the situation WITH the person. They, like your boyfriend’s family, preferred (and still do) the passive-aggressive approach. My mother was even there once and felt my confrontation was assertive, not aggressive. My ex-sister in law put me through HELL. I hear she still talks about me to this day. Which is fine…I guess I’m just that interesting that she can’t stop talking about it.

  • Maybe June 6, 2013, 9:31 am

    Uh, you might want to think twice about marrying into this family. When you are the only sane person in your house with your passive-aggressive husband and your 2.5 kids who act just like him it will be too late!