Annie Lane: Setting ground rules with sister-in-law

Published 6:30 am Wednesday, April 7, 2021

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Dear Annie: My sister-in-law has been living with her parents for over a year, after her college graduation ceremony was canceled because of COVID-19. My wife and sister-in-law don’t get along well with their parents, so she’s been very unhappy there.

We invited her to our wedding last November. It was just the three of us, and she acted as our officiant. After the ceremony, she threw a temper tantrum. We ended up having to cancel our dinner plans and go straight back to the hotel.

After the wedding, our plan was for the three of us to find an apartment and live together. We supported her in getting her driver’s license, by riding around with her so she could get driving practice. We pushed her to find a job she claims to love. We tried to help her, while she complained about “adulting.”

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Three days before my birthday in January, out of the blue, she sent me several long hurtful text messages. She told me everything she doesn’t like about me. A lot of what she said about me wasn’t even true, and I’m not sure where she got it from. My wife confronted her, and she said it’s not her fault because she was just writing her thoughts and didn’t mean to send them.

Since then, we have not had any communication with her. We found an apartment without her. Now their parents are ready to kick her out, as they want to move to a different state and downsize to a home for just the two of them. Should we reach out and open our apartment to her?

—Never Had a Honeymoon Phase Because of Sister-in-Law

Dear No Honeymoon Phase: Your sister-in-law sounds like she is going through a pre-adult-life crisis. The best thing you can do for her is to be straight with her and keep the lines of communication open — and not just with text or email. Instead of your wife talking to her, consider approaching her directly about her messages.

When people are unhappy, they lash out at the ones they love the most. While it is certainly hurtful, understanding this can allow you to see your sister-in-law with more compassion. You’ve been through a lot together, and I can hear the resentment brewing. Rather than letting this boil over, let cooler heads prevail.

If you don’t think you and your wife will be happy with your sister-in-law living with you, then don’t live together. You can still be close — from a distance. And if, after some time apart, she has a steady job and is respectful to you and your wife, then I’m all for helping family out temporarily. But if she acts entitled and does not take accountability for her actions, then show her some tough love and let her find a place on her own. Whichever you choose, set some ground rules from the beginning.

“Ask Me Anything: A Year of Advice From Dear Annie” is out now! Annie Lane’s debut book —featuring favorite columns on love, friendship, family and etiquette —is available as a paperback and e-book. Visit for more information. Send your questions for Annie Lane to