How Do You Help a Sister-In-Law Who Does Not Want to Help Herself?


Dear Dr. Buckingham,

I have read several of your articles and responses to many dilemmas that many couples face with in-laws and the duties of a husband. First let me say this, I am not married. My significant other and I have a beautiful baby girl who was born prematurely and thank God she’s now doing well.

My significant other lost his mother a year before we had our daughter. He is the eldest of 3 children. The death of his mother was devastating for the family. The devastation left them homeless, hopeless and grieving. The next year they lost their grandfather, their mother’s father. He was the last of their family.

Now his sister and niece live with us in our home. His sister does NOT have any concrete goals in life, no job, no car, no ambition, no motivation. She never leaves the house unless it’s with one of us. Her daughter goes with the dad for 3 days out of the week.  And she’s making no effort to look for a job. When I asked him why doesn’t she work, he offered the same excuse she had, “she has no car.”

Neither he nor her think that she should utilize public transportation. Every day she wakes up, looks at her phone, mostly social media, for most of the day, while he runs behind her daughter, she never leaves the house, no effort to search for a job and she has no means or source of an income. How Do You Help a Sister-In-Law Who Does Not Help Herself?


Tired and Frustrated


Dear Tired and Frustrated,

I am sorry that you are experiencing this in your relationship. While it is normal to be frustrated with your significant other’s sister, I would encourage you to seek to understand her. Her lack of drive and motivation could stem from feelings of depression associated with the loss that she has experienced. There may be other issues as well (being catered to, enabled, etc.) but it is not uncommon for people to suffer from depression after experiencing major life changes.

I would also encourage you to offer to guide her. Believe it or not, some adults need guidance. We often feel that chronological age makes a person responsible. This is far from the truth. We often look at adults and assume that they have skills based on their age. It amazes me how we give children guidance, but somehow assume that adults do not need it. If she is open to be taught, I would offer the help.

If she is open to be taught, I would offer the help.

On a daily basis, I work with individuals who have nothing and become defensive when you question their motivation and behavior. Through my work, I have learned that most behave this way because they are afraid of failing. Some people would rather do nothing in order to prevent themselves from looking like a failure. Her current behavior is probably a by-product of unresolved self-esteem issues and/or depression. Remember that behind every behavior there is an emotion.

Seeking to understand people is half the battle. Understanding combined with empathy can motivate and move people. However, judgment combined with resentment can discourage and deter people.

Speak with your significant other and recommend that you all seek professional help. I mention you all because everyone is impacted even if one person is the cause or problem. For example, your sister-in-law’s behavior is affecting you mentally. Get help because the source of the problem is not as important as the outcome.

Best regards,

Dr. Buckingham

If you have questions for Dr. Dwayne Buckingham regarding relationships (married, single, etc), parenting, or personal growth and development, please send an email to askdrbuckingham@gmail.com

Disclaimer: The ideas, opinions and recommendations contained in this post are not intended as a substitute for seeking professional counseling or guidance. Any concerns or questions that you have about relationships or any other source of potential distress should be discussed with a professional, in person. The author is not liable or responsible for any personal or relational distress, loss or damage allegedly arising from any information or recommendations in this post.

About the author

Dwayne Buckingham wrote 155 articles on this blog.

Dr. Dwayne L. Buckingham, author of Qualified, yet Single: Why Good Men Remain Single and Unconditional Love: What Every Woman and Man Desires in a Relationship, is a highly acclaimed international clinical psychotherapist, life coach, relationship and resiliency expert, motivational speaker and corporate consultant. He is also the President and Chief Executive Officer of R.E.A.L. Horizons Consulting Service, located in Silver Spring, Maryland. To learn more about Dr. Dwayne L. Buckingham visit his website at www.DrBuckingham.com.

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