Navigating A Complex Relationship With Your Sister-In-Law Doesn't Have To Be Difficult

Without a doubt, when you marry someone, you also marry their family. This is even truer if your spouse's family is close-knit, and you'll be seeing them often. Since everyone differs in their way of life, some conflicts are inevitable. To make life in their extended-family environment simpler, many people try to curry favor with their new in-laws, especially the parents. But your parents-in-law aren't the only people whose hearts you should win. If your spouse has a sister, remember that she may also be an authority figure hidden in plain sight. And even if your sister-in-law isn't the outspoken type, she's still the daughter of the house, and her opinion carries weight. If she doesn't like you, your marriage could be far from smooth sailing.

Sometimes, you may feel disconnected from your sister-in-law because you just don't know each other yet. But sometimes there may be a fundamental clash of personalities. As marriage and family therapist Anita A. Chlipala outlines to Martha Stewart, the most challenging types of sisters-in-law can include those who are bossy, nosy, jealous, competitive, or rude. But whichever type your sister-in-law may be, it will be most comfortable if you can find a way to get along and spare your in-laws any awkward moments when you all get together. If you aren't close with your sister-in-law yet, here are some tips for getting along with her like a house on fire.

Give it time and find common ground

The recipe to having a healthy relationship with your sister-in-law is to not force it. As psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb counsels a reader at The Atlantic, you don't have to be best friends to see each other positively and create a loving family. If you're truly compatible, it may only be a matter of time before you grow closer and become best of friends. Of course, if your spouse is your sister-in-law's favorite sibling, it will be hard for her to not feel territorial and act chummy with you right from the beginning. Give yourself and your sister-in-law space to adapt to the shifts in family dynamics and time to get to know each other.

If you want to cultivate the relationship between you and any in-law, including your new sister, try finding something in common (per Family Education). To figure out if you're potentially compatible, broaden your conversation with your sister-in-law instead of sticking to small talk. Ask her a lot of questions, and gently mention your own likes and dislikes. For instance, if you both care about the environment, you may be able to join a sustainability group or workshop together. If your sister-in-law only has interests and hobbies that you're not familiar with, keep an open mind and try exploring her favorite activity. The goal is to show her that you are interested in connecting and serious about becoming her nearest and dearest. 

Offer her thoughtful gifts and support

In any new relationship, a surefire way to create a lasting impression and strengthen a mutual bond is to give thoughtful gifts (via Moo). There's something about receiving a present that delights us and makes us feel indebted to the giver. And on the giver's side, gift-giving can unleash a sense of inner satisfaction. Presenting your sister-in-law with a thoughtful gift shows that you care about her, Bridestory advises. Even a small token will do. If you're not sure what to get her, ask your spouse for advice. Or, if a gift feels like too much, find other ways to make your sister-in-law feel supported and appreciated. Shower her with sincere compliments and affectionate advice, or ask her opinion to let her know her thoughts are valued.

If all is said and done and you and your sister-in-law can't seem to connect, you should learn to just let go instead of wondering why you're not liked. It may not be personal, or about you at all. Instead, focus on the bright side and don't let one strained relationship overshadow other positive experiences with your in-laws (per PsychCentral). And if any major issue erupts, stay calm, assume good intentions, and maintain open and honest communication with your sister-in-law. Whether you like it or not, she's family now, and it won't help anything to start a civil war at every holiday gathering.