He's stuck trying to mediate mess between wife, sister-in-law
Q: My wife and my sister-in-law have a strained relationship. The issues between them escalated when, a year and a half ago, my brother admitted to an affair.
My wife had a phone conversation with my brother in which she voiced her displeasure with his actions and really "let him have it." My sister-in-law took offense to the conversation and wrote a long and nasty e-mail to my wife essentially attacking her character, telling her to "grow up" and saying she has no right in "judging" my brother.
To complicate things even more, my wife has been undergoing fertility treatment for the past two years. So, she was very sensitive to my brother's infidelity, given that he has two kids with my sister-in-law.
He and my sister-in-law have since reconciled.
Now to make things even more delicate, they have announced they are expecting a third kid in their "mended" marriage. The recent news really set my wife off, considering her fragile mental state.
Any advice as to how to make the best of a complicated relationship between two sisters-in-law? I really feel for my parents, who just want to have some sense of normalcy when the entire family is together for special occasions.
A: You're very generous. The one I feel for is you, since your wife did cross a line when she stepped into your brother's marital business. And while the news of the third child is no doubt painful for your wife in light of her fertility struggles, it's news of a child from a reconciled couple: "Congratulations" stands alone on the menu of proper responses, at least outside the confines of your privileged spousal communication.
That's not to say your wife is the only offender here. The route your sister-in-law chose to protest your wife's impolitic behavior sounds as impolitic as the very behavior she's protesting, if not more. And your brother screwed up, of course — but, again, that has nothing to do with your wife.
If your wife openly expressed her dismay about the pregnancy, then she owes the happy parents an apology they're under no obligation to accept. Otherwise, breaking this impasse is strictly a matter of your wife admitting her mistake (sending the issue to the second domino, the sister-in-law, who'd have to do the same). As emotional as your wife must be, pumped full of anguish and hormones, she doesn't get a pass for crossing the line as she did.
Should you try to mediate this mess, that's where you start. "(SIL) said some horrible things, but you're the one who hit the hornets' nest with a stick; as a result, my parents have to suffer every time they see their family together. For their sake, and mine, I'm asking that you please try to see this as a bad time for everyone — for you, for her, for us, for them — and look for some room to forgive."
Loving a spouse, supporting a spouse, even siding with a spouse doesn't mean looking the other way when that spouse makes a whopping mistake. This is her rift to start mending — with your support and encouragement. If either she or the sister-in-law resists, then please schedule time when just you and your brother visit your parents. Let them enjoy their sons in peace.