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Background

I've always had a pretty great relationship with my sister. I would say that, growing up, we've been best friends, a lot of our close friends are mutual friends, we've been on holiday together (just the two of us) etc.

She's been with her fiancé for about 2 years in total now. It's her first serious relationship; so, needless to say, it's been an exciting time for her. 'Dave' — as I'll call him — is a nice guy. I wouldn't have chosen him for her, but I do like him. He's honest, friendly and polite and they share quite a few interests. So my issue is not with Dave, but with how my sister acts around Dave.

Problem

This week they've been with our side of the family a lot more than usual, which is why the issue has become more apparent to me now.

My sister won't stop referring to her fiancé as 'my love' or occasionally 'baby.' This is near constant, to the point that she uses it without thinking — she accidentally referred to one of the family as 'my love' because she's clearly using it so much! Dave does say 'my love' too, but maybe once a day. My sister is using the phrase every other sentence instead of using Dave's name or 'you' when talking to him. It grates so bad.

Also, she's constantly making unnecessary comments about how Dave comes first. When one of the family propose an idea of an activity, she instantly says "well I'll only be participating if Dave wants to participate" or she'll clearly state out loud "Dave is the most important one to me." I'm 100% fine with a fiancé being the no. 1 in a person's life, but announcing it in front of your mum, your dad, your sibling etc., implies either that we were arguing the point (we weren't at all) or that we are unimportant (I know we aren't), so this also grates.

She is also constantly touching him, just really clingy. If we play a game, she's openly discussing how she can help him win, even though the point of the game is for everyone to compete.

Now, I'm not a very tactile person, and she is, so I appreciate that we are different that way. But judging by all the other couples among my family and friends, my sister is acting obsessed. I don't see my married friends all over each other, or even dating friends making 'announcements' to the group about how their significant other is more important to them than everyone else.

It may be worth adding that I am not in the wedding party but Dave's sibling is. Obviously, that was a joint decision, not just my sister's, but Dave doesn't know me all that well. Also, none of my side of the family is invited to hen nights/stag nights. I know some people choose to have friends only and not family for these nights, but I believe Dave's relatives are being included. I'm not super bothered about this (as long as I'm still invited to the wedding, which I am) but I think it might reveal where her obsessed mind is at.

Question

To sum this up: Dave is nice and makes my sister happy, and I wouldn't dream of interfering in their relationship, which is clearly going to result in marriage regardless. I have no issues with Dave and Dave seems fine with my sister's words/actions/attentions. My family, including myself, have all made an effort with Dave to include him, to chat to him, to get on with him. The only change has been in my sister's behaviour.

I want to ask my sister to tone down the public displays of affection, particularly in front of myself. How do I go about asking her to do this? Judging by her recent behaviour, I feel that she may consider this an attack on her relationship with Dave if I speak to her directly about this.

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I don't think that asking your sibling who is at the height of the 'honeymoon period' of her romance to stop being so affectionate or stop using pet names for her fiancé is likely to significantly change her behavior or to have a positive or neutral affect on your relationship with her. It does sound like she is predisposed to view any attempt to ask her to tone it down as an attack on herself and her relationship, and I don't think there's much you can do interpersonally to completely avoid that.

I can't say with any confidence that this is definitely what's going on, but I would venture to speculate that your disdain for her behavior is visible to your sister, and possibly appears to her as disdain or disgust for her fiancé or their love/relationship. If this is true, it seems pretty obvious that the logical response from her perspective would be to limit your involvement in wedding-related matters, which could account for not being part of the wedding party. The other likely outcome is her doubling down in publically expressing that Dave and his feelings are more important to her than the opinions and feelings of all the 'haters'. You see this a lot in teenagers who are dating someone their friends or family disapproves-- an excessive need to defend their couple-hood and build up a sense of 'us against the world'. I've seen it, and, embarrassingly... done it, before.

It may help to accept that your sister is probably not trying to be irritating. It could be the defensive behavior that I mentioned above, it could be an uncontrollable outpouring of mushiness because of the upcoming wedding, or it could just be that she's developed some habits around how she communicates with Dave. There is a good chance that if it's infatuation or defensiveness, that will fade out gradually after the wedding. If it's just an irritating habit, who knows.

If you want to talk to her about it, the approach that is widely recommended in both business and personal settings, is to 'wrap' a criticism or a behavior change request in positives, and focus on the behavior that you want to change, not the person doing the behavior. One description of this skill is found at https://personalexcellence.co/blog/constructive-criticism/. You can also 'take the blame' a bit by saying that change is needed due to your own foibles, (rather than that her behavior is objectively obnoxious).

Hey sister, you know I think Dave is an awesome guy, right? I'm glad you two found each other. So, I've been struggling with how to bring this up. It's not your fault, but I am really uncomfortable with public displays of affection. Could you humor me and try to keep that in mind when we're hanging out? Thanks, sister. You've always been like a best friend to me as well as a sibling, and I love seeing you so happy with Dave.

Be specific about what aspects of her behavior bother you, and phrase it as a case of you being uncomfortable (rather than her being annoying). For example, "I feel like the game isn't as exciting when you and Dave are basically one team and the rest of us are single players" Is better than, "You ruined the game when you helped Dave." Adjust to suit your communication style and address the behaviors that bother you the most.

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    This form of criticism delivery has been around for a long time, and while it may have worked in the past, most people know about it now and it no longer works. In fact, it has been widely rubbished in recent times, with Google's director of engineering saying that it "dilutes the message and it leaves the person totally confused as to whether they were totally awesome or need to fix something". – Astralbee May 10 at 8:03
  • I can see how it would be transparent in many settings, but it has worked for me in situations similar to this, when I need to validate some parts of the situation, but criticize others (in this case, Dave and your relationship with him are good, your helping him instead of playing the game normally is not so good). It definitely is less effective if you don't have related validation to give (for example, you are a fantastic cook, but helping Dave play the game is not so good). – Meg May 15 at 13:10
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We are only hearing your perspective on this, which you have to admit may be skewed slightly due to your sibling relationship with your sister. That said, I can't argue with the factual situations you have described and I think most people will agree that her seeming rejection of her own family in favour of her future in-laws, along with an apparent desire to please her partner more than herself is a little weird and could indicate some form of obsessive behaviour.

I wouldn't say she has the typical signs of 'Relationship-Obsessive Compulsive Disorder', as this tends to manifest itself as negative obsessions and has a debilitating effect on people. However it does seem like a kind of obsession.

Doctor of Medicine Roxanne Dryden-Edwards writes:

"the person who suffers from obsessive love tends to want to spend excessive time with their love object, such that they think excessively about and engage in behaviours that put them in touch with their love object to an extreme degree. They may limit how much they engage in recreational activities or other social relationships, even becoming incapacitated to the point of being unable to work"

Your sister's behaviour fits this somewhat, with her family relationships being minimised and her not wanting to engage in any activity without her partner. However, the doctor goes on to write that Obsessive Love is so strong as to require psychotherapy treatment, and as you do not mention any concern about her becoming "incapacitated" I suspect that this is not quite this bad yet.

The same article I quote says of healthy love that:

"A healthy love relationship usually evolves over time such that it no longer involves the near desperate intensity and fervour of infatuation. Healthy love tends to mature over the years to include commitment, friendship, and a solid respect for the other person as an individual and of their needs."

If your sister's behaviour is nothing quite as serious as "obsessive" love then this would suggest that her behaviour will change over time as her relationship matures. True, she has been with him 2 years, but being engaged to be married may have reignited her infatuation with him at this time.

If you aren't prepared to just wait and allow your sister to enjoy her wedding and then settle into marriage, and you feel that you absolutely must say something to her about her behaviour then choose the focus of your statement wisely. If you make it about the public displays of affection then she is likely to compare what you think with what other people think, and as she seems to be surrounding herself with his family who might well think such displays are fine, you might just find yourself dividing the two families further. As all these behaviours are connected, could you perhaps encourage her to do something for herself the next time she passes up an opportunity because her partner will not be there? It could help her realise that she has lost herself a little in this relationship.

You might say:

Are you sure you don't want to do [x]? I can understand you wanting to be with Dave, but I'm sure he does things for himself without you sometimes. You need some time for yourself in a healthy relationship.

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