“My Husband Flirts With My Sister-In-Law”

My husband, “Bob,” and I have been married for twenty-four years. He is ten years younger than I am. I am a beautiful woman, so I guess I don’t understand why he flirts with other women. He has this smirk thing that he does. What the heck does it mean? We rent a beach house every year with my brother and sister-in-law, and she comes over with food and drinks and takes over the place like she has something to prove. Here’s the thing: she is a pain. Her husband is finally treating her better than he used to partly because of my teaching him how. But she has been flirting with my husband forever. It didn’t bother me years ago, but now it’s disgusting. Her huge boobs are always in everyone’s face. All she wants is his attention! I’m a very cool person and this is disgusting to me. Oh, and I’m not jealous of her — it’s the opposite. I can’t stand Bob’s smirk thing and how women are always trying to flirt with him. Is it him? It makes me feel like I’m disrespected. — Tired of the Smirk Thing

Since you say you and Bob have been married twenty-four years and that your SIL’s behavior at the beach house didn’t used to bother you but now you find it disgusting and you suddenly can’t stand Bob’s flirting ways and “smirk thing,” — or at least, you’ve finally been driven to write to an advice columnist after all these years of marriage, I’m going to go out on a wild limb and presume that there have been some issues between you and Bob that have cropped up recently/gradually. And your being beautiful doesn’t preclude you and your husband from having these issues or his seeking attention from other women because he’s missing something from you or because he’s seeking an escape or distraction — even a momentary one — from the tension in your marriage. This isn’t about other women — not even about your SIL and her huge boobs. This is about you and your husband and whatever’s going on between you two that has made you suddenly feel threatened by other women. So do some soul-searching, communicate with Bob, let him know it hurts your feelings when he smirks at and flirts with other women, and discuss how the two of you can better connect. And consider forgoing the beach rental with your brother and sister-in-law until you and your husband are on better footing and can sustain the presence of another woman’s boobs in the same home for a week.

I am the oldest of six and come from a dysfunctional family. As the oldest and the peace-keeper, I tried to maintain a relationship with all my siblings. I was hurt when my three sisters disowned me many years ago. About three years ago my baby sister suddenly came by my house a year after her husband passed away unexpectedly. She came in with three bags of tee-shirts, plunked them down, and told me she wanted three memory quilts made from the shirts. I was caught off guard and really uncomfortable, so I mumbled that I would see what I could do. After agonizing over this I made one quilt and told her I just couldn’t make the other two. She did give me some money which covered the materials and my time.

After that she would drop by every three months, eat dinner, and watch a little tv. It was still uncomfortable for me, but I decided to hang in since she is my sister. The problem is that no matter how much I say “no” she shoves money at me every time she leaves. I lost my job two years ago, but we are by no means struggling financially. The last time I called her a couple of days later and explained that we are family and her visit is not a business transaction and it made me uncomfortable for her to leave money around my house. Well, she came by last night, ate dinner, talked a couple of hours, and left $30.00 in my sewing room. I am still finding my way with how I feel about her ditching me for years and then showing back up, and so I am still a little uncomfortable around her. I want her to understand that she can’t leave money at my house. I don’t need the money and it makes me feel like a charity case. I am at my wit’s end! I have no idea what to do at this point. Any ideas? — Not a Charity Case

First, how about visiting with your sister somewhere else besides your house? What about having a regular lunch or dinner date where you can catch up and each take turns treating the other? Or, can you drop by her house instead of her always coming to your house? What about catching a movie together, or going for a walk, or asking if she’d like you to accompany her to visit her husband’s gravesite? Any of these ideas might help avoid her shoving money at you, but if you can’t avoid her coming to your house and/or giving you money, tell her that because you don’t need the money and because she can’t stop herself from giving it to you, you’ll be donating it to charity from now on. Maybe you can even donate the money in her late husband’s name to a charity that supports his memory. If you do that, be sure to have a receipt sent to her address so she knows where the money is going.


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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.


  1. Northern Star says:

    LW 2, I’m kind of confused about your letter. Did you get any explanation about WHY your sisters disowned you and then your youngest sister then changed her mind and is trying to have a relationship? Seems like your extreme discomfort and agony (which is the only emotion you expressed toward your sister) is related to THAT, not to her misguided attempts to make up or contribute to your finances (you lost your job after she started visiting, so I’m assuming she heard about some woes from you, after all).

    30 bucks here and there just isn’t a big deal. If you want to have a relationship with your sister, hang onto it and use it the next time she visits to take her out to dinner (or donate it). If you DON’T want a relationship with your sister because of unanswered questions and overall discomfort, you’ll have to tell her not to stop by anymore.

  2. LW1: Time to change your summer accommodation, without the brother and sister in law. You are not glued all together, are you?
    And have a frank, honest conversation with your husband, as Wendy said.

  3. Avatar photo meadowphoenix says:

    #1: “I’m a cool person” Now you know that’s a lie. Your letter is rife with how uncool you find all this. You do sound jealous that your husband is willing to give his attention elsewhere. Taking it out on your SIL, who you seemed to previously want good things for is also uncool, and you seem to be getting BEC stage with her. Take some time away as a couple, reconnect, or find a counselor.

    #2: Why are you afraid to talk to your sister about your confusion regarding her disowning/coming back? Okay, you’re uncomfortable. You seem loath to do anything about that (if that is part of the people pleasing you learned as a kid, talking to a therapist can get you comfortable with dealing with difficult conversations with your family). WW/NSS; do other stuff with your sister, and this probably isn’t about the money.

  4. Avatar photo bittergaymark says:

    LW1) I don’t know what to make of you. Your narrative is just plain odd to me. This whole boobs in everybody’s face all the time would be easier to object to… ONLY it’s a fucking beach house?! So I don’t see somebody in a swim suit or even a bikini is that out of the ordinary. Or in everybody’s face either. And you also seem to blame her for how poorly her husband used to treat her and yet now take credit that this has improved? I dunno. You sound a little batshit crazy to me here. Definitely NOT somebody I would ever label as cool. Also, coming in to a place that you are co-renting and bringing food and drinks doesn’t strike me as the least bit odd. Is she supposed to come with nothing and mooch? I’m sure you wouldn’t have an issue with that? Uh huh, sure. Yeah right. You are hilarious threatened by your sister-in-law. Yet fail to provide any concrete or even vaguely valid reasons for feeling this way. Oh, right. Your husband smirks. Uh, sorry. Everything else in your tale of woe rings so false — I have a hard time taking that at face value. You sound irrationally jealous to put it mildly.

    LW2) Eh, your letter is too vague to understand. Without the back story — it’s too hard for me to fill in the blanks. Wendy is right, though. Although, honestly? Just take the fucking money. I suspect your sister feels guilty for underpaying you for the quilt.

    1. Agreed. LW1’s letter doesn’t add up. I’m not sure why she’s mad that her sister in law brings food/drinks to a vacation house they’re sharing?!? You had to teach your brother how to be nice to her, his wife?!? You don’t like seeing her cleavage?!? You’re taking your husband ogling her (and flirting with other women) out on your SIL?!?

      If you have problems in your marriage, it’s not your SIL’s fault. Talk to your husband. The man you married. And if you have that miserable a time on vacation, don’t go. It’s really that simple.

      I think you do sound a bit unhinged and channeling some anger/hate toward the wrong person.

  5. LW 1. Are you even real? You dislike your SIL bringing stuff and making herself at home in a rental….that presumably belongs to all of you? Also how does one throw boobs? I’m a B cup so I don’t have much to throw around, but is she giving your husband lap dances? Having nip slips? Or and I had the same thought as BGM…is she just wearing bikinis at a beach house, as one does? You know it’s said that the things we dislike most in people are things we are the guiltiest of. With you messing in your SIL’s marriage, I don’t think it’s off the mark to call you a busy body with no boundaries

  6. LW1: You are all over the place here, and seem like a really jealous person. I love how you call him your brother in one sentence, and in the next one call him your SIL’s husband when you talk about how shitty he is to her.

    Basically to sum up your letter, you are a cool person who is jealous that your much younger husband smirks at women, when he has a pretty little lady at home, and because of this your SIL, who used to get treated like shit by YOUR brother, but now gets treated better because of your intervention, is a tits outs asshole who brings her own food and drinks to a place she is sharing with somebody else so she doesn’t have to piss any one off by taking their food in drink, is to blame because she flirts with him back and gives him all of her attention.

    Time to rethink what/who the problem here is.

    1. When I die I want ‘tits out asshole’ put on my tombstone.

      1. LisforLeslie says:

        @Ange – why wait? Embroider that on a jacket.

  7. anonymousse says:

    Maybe the smirk thing is because they all know how insanely jealous you are!

  8. as a general rule anybody who characterizes themselves as cool or easy going or laid back is never any of those things.

    1. not even if they stomp their foot while saying it?

  9. LW1, You have 2 separate issues with 2 different people.

    Your SIL: I don’t know why she stayed with your brother if he did not treat her well and I don’t know why he is staying with her if she is such a flirt. But it is none of your business. Don’t invite her for your beach rental. Problem solved.

    Your husband: I don’t know if he was always leering at women or if it is a recent phenomenon. Talk to him – like couples do.

    And if you are going something like menopause where everything and everyone irritates you, talk to your doctor.

    1. That should be ‘going through something’

  10. Leslie Joan says:

    If you don’t like your husband’s reaction when someone flirts with him, why not have a calm discussion about it, privately? Could be the smirk just means that he thinks the flirter is making a fool of herself, and he’s amused and trying not to embarrass her. He may or may not enjoy the attention. You won’t know until you ask calmly, and listen to the answer.

    He can help put a lid on the flirting, by asking for space, or other discouragements. But it might be the best course of action to avoid being with people whose behavior you don’t like.

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