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Conversations with Leonie: Family Troublemakers

by | Jul 23, 2019 | Conversations with Leonie

Hello Leonie,

I am having the Devils own time with my sister in law. My brother married her over 25 years ago and all this time she has been nothing but trouble and hard work. I have tried everything to get along with her, but she will always find a way to be upset, angry or insulted. She gets equally upset over things she feels we haven’t done as other things she (and only she) thinks we have done wrong. She will whinge to my brother about some ridiculous thing she feels we have done to slight her, and he will come and ask us to not hurt her feelings. After this last BS thing where she claimed that my sister, my mum and I deliberately excluded her from movie night has broken my tolerance to the point where I just feel like cutting my brother lose so I can be done with her.

What do think my options are? Does it really have to come to a point where we lose him to stop being targets of her toxic trouble making? She is literally making my mum sick. I love him but now it’s become a self-respect issue because none of us would put up with this crap from anyone else and we are sick of tolerating her to keep my brother happy. My sister wants to disconnect, and my mother is on the fence because naturally she does not want to miss out on seeing her son. We say seeing him means seeing her because they are now a matching set in that where he goes, she goes. They flat out refuse to go to family counselling. You must see this a lot and I feel others reading this will be able to relate. What is your take?


Hi Tessa,

You are right in thinking you are not alone and most of us have to deal with a person either in the immediate family or a person who has married into the family whose behavours cause upset, often fracturing the family of origin. Often there are personality disorders, low self esteem or control issues going on with the toxic interloper. These people often have a predictable pattern of unhealthy behaviours such as waiting for and actually manufacturing a reason to get upset and cause drama and upset. Many families have lost sons and daughters (and even parents when they remarry to a person like this) to this kind of in law. One behaviour that I feel is the dominant one is that person always causing issues will never self-reflect and check themselves to see if they are a contributing factor to ongoing disharmony. They tend to always look for someone else to blame. Of course, this is a trademark of an immature and unevolved individual. So, in a nutshell, they won’t take responsibility for their own behaviours or outcomes. So how do you handle it? Knowing that the person will never take responsibility for their crazy making behaviours and that they often believe their own lies can help you manage the relationship by not, trying to justify yourself, argue with them or try to get them to see reason. Instead, I suggest that your sisters, your mother and you make a pact to stay united and not engage with her carry on. I know this is hard when you all love your brother so much, but you must not give up self-respect and in your mother’s case, your health by continuing to engage in this toxic interplay. I suggest telling your brother (collectively) that you don’t want to hear one more complaint regarding his wife and if he does start up, put your hand up in a stop sign in front of his face and if need be: walk away. In other words, don’t engage with the crazy! There is just no percentage in it. It usually solves nothing.

In the helping profession we often teach a client to use positive self-talk in your head when you feel that you are being confronted with these behaviours. Some internal dialogue to say to yourself may be something like

“This has nothing to do with me. This person was like this long before she joined our family. Its all about their issues”
“I don’t have to be an audience to this toxic conversation” and leave.

It can be a mugs game to try to reason with an unreasonable person, so the trick is to not involve yourself. I advise my clients to simply remove themselves from the perpetrator. For instance, if your sister in law is visiting, keep the conversation polite, don’t make comment on anything she or your brother are doing and never allow yourself to be left alone with her. In this way all actions are transparent to your brother and she can’t build a lie up about what any of you have said or done in his absence. If she complains about being left out of movie nights and so on, simply tell your brother that you do not enjoy her company and that you do not want to give her any opportunities to complain and whinge about any little thing or invent issues ever again.

Explain that you have tried for years and you are done trying. Explain that you have tried everything including suggesting family counselling. At the end of the day, you have the right to control your environment and not expose yourself to toxic people.

Til next week

Leonie Schilling

Leonie Schilling

Counsellor | Author | Columnist | Radio Commentator | Trainer | Mediator

Leonie is a Qualified Counsellor, Trainer, Mediator and Early childhood Educator who is also a Justice of the Peace.

Specialising in Relationship Counselling, Personal Counselling and Employment Coaching.



by Leonie Schilling

A Practical Guide to Saving and Maintaining Your Relationship.

This book is a must have for people looking for a practical and easy to understand plan to repair their relationship.


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