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You Asked: My Sister-in-Law Is Driving Me Crazy

Dear Sugar,

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.


Join The Conversation
JaimeLeah526 JaimeLeah526 9 years
I'm in a really similar situation. My husbands sister is really unreasonable. We all love to have pretty serious discussions like politics and religion as a group but if you disagree with her watch out, she takes it as a personal attack. She can also never back up her side of the argument when someone disagrees with her. Her and my husband used to be really close and she would go out with him and his friends right before we met. Around the time we met she was told she couldn't go out with his friends because she acted this way. As soon as I met her (hubby and I were long distance) she acted like I took her brother away from her when in fact it was her actions. He's always catered to her way too much (as does her whole family) and it makes it really hard to deal with her. I put up with it when we are down there but if shes in my home I will say my piece. I don't want to cause problems because everyone knows that her parents would take her side and they're really unreasonable too. She gets it from them afterall. I'm glad I got the most open-minded, considerate one of the family as my husband.
AKirstin AKirstin 9 years
Ugh, I have this kind of sister-in-law, too. I don't do a whole lot for her (I think I've babysat for them maybe ten times in the last seven years) though, simply because I can't stand her. I walk on eggshells when I see her too, because I don't want to make life hard for my brother, and also because, frankly.... I don't care enough about her to bother breaking down those walls. I keep hoping she will just go away instead.
popgoestheworld popgoestheworld 9 years
Figure out what your boundaries are and respect them. Don't worry about walking on eggshells. Why isn't she walking on them for you? Rational people know when irrational people are being crazy about stuff. I'm sure if you're reasonable to her your family will back you up and she'll end up looking like the nut/drama queen.
tinyspark tinyspark 9 years
Tell her she is being a tool because it doesn't seem like anyone else is going to...
MarinerMandy MarinerMandy 9 years
She acted upset because you had to work? I think this is her problem, not yours. No reasonable person expects someone to not go to work so she can go out with her friends. Stop walking on eggshells around her, maybe have a heart to heart if you're up to it, but you have to stand your ground and not let her push you around.
cubadog cubadog 9 years
Sorry your partly to blame for this one. You never should have ever started the whole drop everything to watch their kids. Not going on your vacation to help her out why on earth would you do that? I have a nephew that I love dearly but I do not let my sister manipulate me into watching him because she is too lazy and cheap to find someone to watch him on a regular basis. My sister is overly sensitive as well and doesn't get it. All you can do is tell her how you feel and hope for the best.
laneylaney laneylaney 9 years
I'm sorry, this is totally unrelated but the woman in the stock photo looks exactly like the receptionist at the salon i go to. it's freaking me out, man.
GlowingMoon GlowingMoon 9 years
I agree with Asia, too. I think you've given your SIL too much. Also, your comment of "constantly [having] to walk on eggshells around her" gives me pause. Are you letting yourself be manipulated? Generally, are you a people-pleasure (even at your own personal expense)? These are questions I have about your personality. It may explain how you got in your situation. Sometimes the issue is not ALL about the other person. Sometimes one ENABLES another person to take advantage of them (unfortunately).
beachbum1 beachbum1 9 years
OMG, I worked with someone who had the same problem. You need to get a backbone and she needs to get a life. :oy: Sorry...
emalove emalove 9 years
Yeah, I agree with Asia84...since she's family, you should try to talk to her and have a heart-to-heart. Explain how you feel in a non-confrontational way and hopefully she'll be receptive to hearing you out. It's tough with family issues like this...I've found it's best to tread lightly and think before you speak.
Asia84 Asia84 9 years
you spoiled her. so of course she gets upset when you tell her you can't babysit her kids. it's that simple. look, be a woman and talk to her about how you feel. it doesn't have to be dramatic. . .even though she is. just tell her that you LOVE helping her out, but sometimes you have other things to do. talk to her over a lunch sans distracting kids. that way, she might not take it like you're attacking her.
shernic82 shernic82 9 years
I agree with what Dear Sugar had to say...your situation seems really tough! It's not your job to be an on-call babysitter, either, you have your own life and she should respect that. Just let her know the next time that you are not trying to upset her and calmly explain that you love her and her family, but you have things you need to take care of within your own life, too. Good luck!
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