Subscriber OnlyHealth

‘I’m in love with my wife’s sister and want to tell her’

Ask Roe: I know my wife would be devastated and I would end up losing a lot

Dear Roe,

My wife and I are married for 17 years. Like all marriages, we’ve had our rough patches, ups and downs and arguments. She loves me immensely and I love her also.  We are in our mid and late 40s and we have teenage children. My problem is that I’ve developed feelings, which are getting stronger all the time, for her older sister. She is separated, she visits us about once a week and sometimes stays for a night at the weekend. We get on very well and she is a lovely person.

Every time she visits, I always feel myself drawn to her. My feelings for her are getting stronger and stronger all the time.  I would really like to let her know my feelings towards her.  I can’t tell if she has any feelings for me other than me just being her brother-in-law, but I think so much about her that I hope she would. I have been on the brink of telling her how I felt but I always chickened out. 

I know my wife would be devastated if anything happened between her sister and me, and that I would end up losing a lot. Having said that, I’m still tempted to take a chance and tell her how I feel, and face the consequences afterwards. Can you give me advice on how to deal with this?


Have you watched Fleabag? You should watch Fleabag. (Not that it’ll help you in this specific dilemma, particularly, just because it’s magnificent.) In one episode, the inimitable Fiona Shaw plays a therapist. When the lead character presents a moral dilemma to her, Shaw says bluntly “You already know what you’re going to do. Everybody does.”

I love Fiona Shaw. I love Fleabag. But I don’t think she’s entirely right on this one. I think, more often, people know what they should do, and they know what they want to do, and the chasm between those two things is so vast that we become stuck. And the problem with being stuck in a chasm is that you lose all perspective.

You want to tell your wife’s sister that you have feelings for her. You know that you shouldn’t. I also think you know that no-one in their right mind is going to tell you that this is a good idea. Because it’s a terrible idea.

I don’t really believe in unrequited love. Love is a shared process built between people who are open to the process. Unrequited love – or unrequited “feelings”– are largely a projection. A projection of what you’re looking for onto a person who you have reduced to a canvas. I believe your sister-in-law is a lovely person with many attractive and admirable qualities. But you have no reason to believe she shares your feelings. You just “think so much about her that I hope she would”.

So what do you think about? An affair? A happy life together filled with the lust and excitement and fulfilment currently missing from your marriage, even though you have no evidence to believe that your sister-in-law even thinks of you that way, let alone that she would make a good romantic partner for you?

None of that is going to happen.

Let’s imagine for a moment that you told you sister-in-law you had feelings for her, and discovered she feels the same way (which, I stress, I don’t believe she does). But let’s look at how that “ideal” scenario would play out.

Anyone who tells someone else they love them while still married to someone else is ending their marriage. Maybe not legally, maybe not immediately, but they are ending their marriage in its original form; a marriage based on trust and respect and commitment. By telling your wife’s sister that you love her, you are going to utterly shatter your wife’s self-esteem and her view of your entire marriage. If your sister-in-law reciprocated your feelings, her relationship with her sister would be destroyed, and the other members of their family would inevitably become embroiled in that split, too.

You will utterly destroy everyone’s opinion of you both – including your children. Do you really think they’ll be able to forgive you or their aunt for breaking up their family in such a hurtful manner? Will you be able to forgive each other, or will all the admiration you shared for each other be forever clouded by the knowledge that you’re the type of people who could betray your wife, your sister?

Does that sound like the start of a happy, sustainable relationship to you? Or a life riddled with guilt and shame and conflict, all based on a new relationship that has no foundation to cope with it?

You know this. Which is why you’re stuck in chasm, too scared to tell you sister-in-law your feelings, but unwilling to give up the dream of her and re-commit to your marriage, gazing up at both options and unable to decide which side to try climb.

There’s another option. You could start walking through the chasm instead, and see where it leads. Walk through the chasm of your dissatisfaction, your discomfort, your desire to self-destruct. Explore it. Look at what emotions and unhappiness led you down here in the first place. What is missing from your marriage that you’ve let yourself cultivate feelings and projections for someone else? Because letting yourself obsess about someone, think of them romantically, not setting boundaries around your time with them are all choices. Why did you make them?

What work and self-awareness are you avoiding by not focussing on improving your marriage? It’s interesting that you’ve latched on to the idea of a woman who literally comes to your house every week. There’s a fantasy there of never having to be single, never having to grapple with the work of dating, of having a perfect alternative life hand-delivered to your doorstep without having to do any work.

Remove your sister-in-law from the equation. She is not an option, and more importantly, she is not a solution. Decide what you want from life, and from love, and what is missing right now. What is your chasm made of? Then commit to doing the work to fill it. Do it by working on your marriage, or by leaving – respectfully - and building the life you want on your own.

You’re in a chasm. Do not drag your wife, your sister-in-law, your children and your self-respect down into it with you. Do the work to find a safe way out, a way back to a happier, more honest way of living. Good luck.

If you have a problem or query you would like her to answer, you can submit it anonymously at