Live-in Sister-in-law

My sister-in-law has lived with us our whole marriage.

Question

I’ve been married two years and during that entire time, my husband’s sister has lived with us. She moved in to finish her college degree and is now looking for a job, but seems content to stay in our home. I love my sister-in-law –and I’d love to see her get her own place. My husband and I have no intimacy or privacy. She has no social life, so she’s always around. What can I do?

Answer

It’s admirable for a couple to open their home to someone in need, especially if that person is a family member. The gift of hospitality is a special gift and one that reflects a part of who God has called us to be. However, there are times and seasons in relationships where that may not be in the best interests of the couple or of the guest.

The first years of marriage are a critical time in a marriage relationship when your relational root system is developing. It’s a time of leaving, cleaving, adjusting, bonding, identity development and setting patterns that will impact the rest of your married life.

Our experience is that in the early years of marriage, it’s best for a couple to live on their own with ample time and opportunity to discover what it means to be a couple, discover each other’s uniqueness, learn how to deal with differences and to cultivate intimacy. That’s almost impossible with a 24/7 house guest.

At the outset, you and your husband need to have several conversations with each other. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered. How much have you and your husband talked about this situation? Have you discussed the pros and cons of the situation both for you as individuals, for your marriage and for his sister? Does your husband know how you feel about this? Does your husband agree that you have no intimacy or privacy as individuals or as a couple? Does this concern him at all? Have you sought counsel regarding this issue? Do both of you agree on what needs to happen?

Invite him to share with you what he thinks and feels. Listen to what he says regardless of whether you agree or disagree. Then share your heart with him. He needs to know how you are perceiving the situation with his sister, what you feel, how it impacts your ability to be spontaneous and open with him. Be very careful to keep perspective and to not put your husband on the defensive. At this point, you both need to “seek understanding” (Proverbs 2:2-4).

When the two of you are on the same page, then you can have a conversation with his sister. Someone once said that a ship in the harbor is safe but that’s not what ships were made for. If she is going to grow, develop and mature into the person God has created her to become, she needs to get out of the harbor of your home, establish her own life, her own friends and her own identity. She needs to hear how you both care for her and that you want both her and your marriage to succeed and there will need to be some changes.

Remember that this kind of situation may take a few conversations before there is understanding and a unified plan for change. Prayer needs to be a vital part of the process. What a valuable opportunity for you and your husband to go through together!

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