Q: Your sister-in-law often vents to you about her husband — your brother — and it makes you uncomfortable. How do you redirect the conversation but still make her feel supported?
A: Be direct, which is not the same as being mean. Tell your sister-in-law, “I’m glad you’re married to my brother, and I want you both to feel I support your relationship. When you vent to me, I feel guilty about it. Know that I want to help, but ultimately I hope you guys can work on whatever it is you’re struggling with together.”
Whatever you do, don’t get roped into being a go-between. Your sister-in-law has no right to expect you to pass on her complaints to your brother. If she has issues with him, she needs to address them with him. Tell her, “It sounds as if you’ve got some complaints about Bill. You’re not going to solve anything by talking to me about it. Go talk to him.”
JOSH HETHERINGTON, licensed marriage and family therapist
A: Redirect the conversation when it feels as if it’s crossing a line by asking about other parts of your sister-in-law’s life or using humor to change the subject. You can even mock your own discomfort about the situation.
Model boundaries to your sister-in-law. Talk about your partner in ways that you would be comfortable hearing about your brother. Highlight the positives, and, hopefully, you’ll encourage your sister-in-law to see the positives in her own relationship.
If she doesn’t pick up on the hints, establish a boundary. Say, “I am so grateful that we have a close relationship. I want us to always talk to each other, but I feel uncomfortable when we discuss intimate information about my brother.” Use “I” statements, so that she knows the discomfort is yours and it’s not that her feelings are invalid.
KRISTINA S. BROWN, licensed marriage and family therapist