My brother and his family live close by, and we're pretty tight, meeting weekly for dinner and frequent outings. The problem is, while my relations with my brother are perfect, his wife is another story. She frequently misunderstands everything I say, turning things into big issues. For example, last week she asked if I could babysit for her on a Tuesday evening while she went out with friends. When I told her that I couldn't because I had to work late, she was completely hurt and acted like I had totally let her down.
Over the last 10 years, I have supported her and treated her with nothing but love and respect; taking care of her kids and even forgoing a vacation when she needed babysitting help. I have never interfered in her and my brother's relationship or family life. I feel like I constantly have to walk on eggshells around her, and I just can't keep it up for much longer. What should I do?
— Sick of My Sister-in-Law Sasha
To see DearSugar's answer
Dear Sick of My Sister-in-Law Sasha,
In my own experience, the walking on eggshells approach never works when it comes to family — you'll only end up feeling resentful. The joy of family is that you get to be yourself, so do just that. Conflicts are going to arise no matter what, but especially when two people are very different. Your sister-in-law sounds overly sensitive, but that doesn't mean you should have to tiptoe around her. In fact, the tension is going to exist whether or not you try to keep it buried, so you might as well just let it all out and see if it can be resolved once and for all.
The next time something seems to ruffle her feathers, be direct. Tell her that you didn't meant to offend her and would never try to hurt her intentionally, but you're not willing to ignore your own opinions or emotional needs to protect her. If she's simply a very touchy person, it's unlikely that she'll just suddenly change her ways, so don't wait around for that to happen. As long as you're caring and reasonable, there's no reason you can't act how you want when you're with her.