Whether it’s a sister or a sister-in-law, navigating — and sustaining — meaningful friendships within your family can be hard. Real Housewives fans have gotten to see that firsthand watching The Real Housewives of New Jersey sisters-in-law Teresa Giudice and Melissa Gorga tread through some awkward moments, as well as The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills sisters Kim and Kyle Richards' rollercoaster ride over the years. But there are ways to make these relationships go smoother! Personal Space spoke to licensed marriage and family therapist Alyson Stack Albano to learn the best ways to nurture these important relationships, just in time for Galentine’s Day!
Building a friendship
According to Albano, the best way to start off on a good foot with a new sister-in-law is with “consistency and reliability.” Being a reliable friend and making a consistent effort means finding ways to spend time together, even if you are very busy with work, kids, or other commitments. Albano explained that connection doesn't require anything “elaborate or scheduled.” Some casual bonding activities Albano suggested include invitations to work out together, initiating a doggie playdate, or going afternoon grocery shopping together.
For long-distance relatives, busy schedules and time differences make maintaining friendship more challenging, but “social media, pictures, and text messages are all great ways to connect.” Being consistent from afar can mean checking in on a regular basis by text or family FaceTime, as well as remembering birthdays and special occasions.
Fixing a strained relationship
Not all sisters or sister-in-laws are best friends, but that’s OK. Albano shared that fixing a broken or complex relationship “can often lead to closer intimacy.” Therefore, don’t be discouraged if it is currently strained, as there are many ways to mend it.
Albano explained that a rupture in the relationship is usually “triggered by unresolved underlying dynamics that require attention.” So finding the source of the trouble is key to moving forward in a positive direction. “Love is an action,” and repairs come in different forms, such as “making amends, taking responsibility and/or a thoughtful gesture.” Once the air is cleared and trust is rebuilt, a healthy friendship will follow.
“Family and friends both require multiple doses of nurturing and boundaries” — all the more so when building friendships with your family members. Creating boundaries can actually be considered “self -care,” so don’t hesitate to set limits if you need them; especially if there are certain patterns of behavior that create tension, then interrupting that chain of events can “protect yourself from being reactive.”
According to Albano, the easiest way to do that is by being honest and direct in “stating your needs.” Particularly in the case of sisters or sister-in-laws who share a social circle, the combination of friend and sibling drama can provoke painful wounds from childhood. Keeping the communication open and clear so limits can be set as needed will go a long way. Also, understanding that your sister-in-law or sister may have different ways of managing situations will reorient your expectations of her.
At the end of the day, all friendships require work, and "you have to be a friend to have friends.” To stay focused on the positive, try to avoid holding family members to higher standards than your other friends, and respond to them the way you want to be treated. It is possible to be friends with family members, but it isn't always easy, so taking time to celebrate those family friendships is always worthwhile.
Continue celebrating Galentine's Day with Bravo by watching The Real Housewives of Atlanta's Cynthia Bailey and The Real Housewives of Potomac's Karen Huger create magic as they interview each other on Housewife to Housewife.
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