Controlling sister-in-law makes a splash at the lake
Dear Amy: I need a script and advice on how to deal with my controlling sister-in-law.
Our family (four siblings) inherited a lake cabin from our parents. It has been in the family for decades. We share expenses and rotate the time that family members can use the cabin.
My brother's wife seems to think that this house is personally hers. She rearranges the furniture, changes the artwork, dictates where storage items should be kept (like moving all the paper products to the garage, even though it is not insulated and gets wet).
She has decreed that there should be no pets. Most recently she has decided that we need new high-end appliances, despite the fact that this is a remote location and there aren't any repair facilities close by. There is no discussion about any of this. If anyone challenges her actions, or even asks for a discussion, it is swept aside with a litany of imperious comments that basically state that she knows best.
My brother never stands up to her. His attitude is, "Well, she is good at organizing."
Her behavior is getting so controlling that no one wants to come to family gatherings.
Can you give us some help?
-- Silently Screaming
Dear Screaming: You and your siblings co-own this property. You should run it as a group, setting up some commonsense parameters that are easy for everyone to understand and follow. One rule should be that no substantial changes can be made to the property without the owners agreeing to it.
My theory about people who are overly controlling is that they are basically trying to tamp down their own anxiety by trafficking in perfection.
Somebody in your sibling group (preferably all of you) should tell her respectfully and plainly that there are parameters all must abide by. Any "improvements" to the property should be voted on and agreed to by the group. The group should vote on a pet policy. If you want new cabinetry or appliances, then cast your vote and agree on the cost.
Here's a script: "Sandy, this is a reminder that the lake property is co-owned by the sibling group. We siblings will discuss and agree to any house rules or capital improvements. You are a valued family member, but you're going to have to accept that you are not a partner to the property."
It might be a good investment for you and your siblings to see a lawyer to make sure you all understand your ownership rights and responsibilities. You four should meet in person annually to discuss this property and review expenses and improvements. Your brother might bring forth ideas generated by his wife. Review them with an attitude of openness, and take a vote.
Dear Amy: I enjoy having friends fly in to visit for a few days, but I'm not sure how to react when they are constantly texting, taking pictures, posting on Facebook and talking on their phones for the majority of the time.
I took a friend to tour wine country and we were unable to have a conversation because she was more interested in taking pictures, tagging and posting than conversing.
I took a friend out to dinner and she talked on the phone to her daughter until food was served, then took pictures of everything and texted and posted the pictures.
Is there a polite way to approach the subject, or should I limit my exposure to these people?
Dear Frustrated: Years ago, I was visiting with a friend and, while talking to her, I distractedly leafed through a magazine. She said to me, "Wow, I feel like you're not really interested in what I have to say." I made a lame excuse about multi-tasking, but I've never forgotten her statement about how this made her feel.
When we are with people, we should be with them.
First, I think you should ask, "Do you realize you have been on your phone the majority of the time we've been together? I feel invisible." And then I think you should limit your exposure to them.
Dear Amy: Regarding sharing personal news on social media, about five years ago, my sister received a congratulatory phone call from a friend. The friend exclaimed, "I see Rick is getting married!" Rick is her son.
So she called Rick and asked him why he didn't tell her and her husband, and Rick's response was, "But Mom, I posted it on Facebook!"
I still think that's funny.
-- Chuckling Aunt
Dear Aunt: This strikes me as more sad than funny.
(You can contact Amy Dickinson via email: ASKAMY@amydickinson.com. Readers may send postal mail to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or "like" her on Facebook.)