DEAR CAROLYN: My husband’s oldest sister is on the bossy side and typically arranges family gatherings. During our wedding planning, it was pretty clear she was used to getting her way. I am usually a good communicator and good at picking battles, so I figured I could handle her.
My husband and I purchased a new house and offered to host a holiday gathering. Since then, his sister has made our lives very difficult. She comes over to our house suggesting total overhauls of rooms and gave me a menu; most of the items she is planning on bringing, claiming that I don’t know how her family does things yet. My husband tried being blunt with her: We are hosting this holiday and are happy to see you then. But until then, let us do it our way.
She sends daily emails dictating all sorts of things. She also doesn’t want one of the brothers to bring his girlfriend because they haven’t been dating long enough to share holidays.
She’s out of control. Her husband and my in-laws let her get her way. I don’t want to do that or fight about every side dish for the rest of my life. What to do?
Your husband was blunt with her; what he tried to do was rein her in by being blunt with her.
At this point, it appears as if you and your husband both need to accept that stopping her bossiness isn’t a realistic goal. A goal that is realistic is to host this gathering the way you want to, no matter what Bossy says.
You can achieve that by pushing back whenever she pushes, but that sounds exhausting and needlessly high-conflict.
Instead, you can also just decline to engage her and hold your course. For example, she suggests room overhauls (I love that one. Is she paying the bill?), and you say, interesting; and arrange things as you wish. She suggests side dishes and you say, “Thanks, but please don’t bring food. We’re cooking.” When she brings food anyway, say, “I’m sure I said we were cooking,” serve one of her dishes and store the rest.
When she declares that the new girlfriend isn’t welcome, say, “Hmm, I see what you’re saying” and invite the new girlfriend anyway. The emails you can ignore and respond to selectively. If she says five things in an email, you can deal with one in your response and just not mention the rest.
You can do this because you have two things in your favor: your house and your husband. You can invite whom you want, serve what you want, and present a unified front against whatever fit Bossy decides to pitch. She can react by making a lot of noise, of course, and even by trying to turn the family against you. But if you stay calm and firm and welcoming, she probably will have little leverage, at least not enough to overcome her own history.