Dear Carolyn: I recently found out my sister-in-law shares everything I say about my mother with her — including screenshots of texts and exact quotes from phone conversations. My mother is a difficult person, and my sister-in-law and I have spent years commiserating over her overbearing and trying ways.
I'm completely shocked by this. I thought she was my sister! We were so close!
I asked for an apology, but she says she did nothing wrong, and that my mother deserves to know anything that is said about her. I asked my mother for an apology for spying on her adult daughter, and she said I should apologize for the things I've said.
This has made me feel like an outsider in my own family, and I don't really want anything to do with any of them. Can I hold out for an apology? Or is this basically where I have to decide between an apology and ever seeing my family again?
— Overshared by Sister-In-Law
Overshared by Sister-In-Law: If this is exactly how things transpired, then your sister-in-law is a monster. That is a jaw-dropping abuse of trust, and I'd be as devastated as you are.
I can't imagine anyone who would betray you that thoroughly and profoundly would also ever apologize sincerely or change her ways — not without a personality transplant or a full-on Dickensian epiphany.
So no, there isn't much promise in holding out for an apology, but you can accomplish quite a bit on your own just by accepting the reality of the people you're dealing with.
Your sister-in-law — "Silvia" — used you to gain favor with your mother. That she did this over years, without detection and apparently without remorse, makes this an extreme case, but otherwise it's actually a common form of family dysfunction. The moment you say something negative about someone, an opportunist can use that to forge an alliance with your target. If the target then trashes you, the opportunist can share it with you to burnish the appearance of intimacy between you. I've seen entire families use this tactic on each other over years and years of petty infighting.
With no realistic chance of an apology from Silvia or your mom, you're looking at a decision between having nothing to do with your family again, or remaining a much wiser, arm's-length participant in its activities. You could choose both, certainly, at different times, depending on how you handle it. For example, you can decide you need a break from them as you process this, and then reintegrate yourself later on with a different set of mental ground rules. Maybe you'll work toward getting along with your mother again, but remain conscientiously estranged from Silvia.
One thing to consider: You can also give your mom a sincere apology, but not the one she thinks you owe her. Apologize for airing your complaints to someone else and not to her directly. She won't like it, I expect, but it'll help you get right with you.