Your sister-in-law often vents to you about her husband — your brother. It makes you feel two-faced and guilty. How do you redirect the conversation but still make her feel supported?
A: Don't be a go-between. Directness is better. Avoiding conflicts doesn't usually help a relationship.
Be direct with your sister-in-law. Say, “I'm glad you're married to my brother. He can be a pain in the butt sometimes, but I love him, and I want you both to feel I support your relationship. When you vent to me, I feel guilty about it. I don't want to trash him, but I do want to support you. Know that I want to help, but ultimately I hope you guys can work on whatever it is you're struggling with together.”
Or you may need to pull yourself out completely. You can say, "It sounds as if you've got some complaints about Bill. He's not perfect, but 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. For example, share how great a cook your husband is. Highlight the positives, and you’ll encourage your sister-in-law to see the positives in her own relationship.
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 on you and it’s not that her feelings are invalid.
You can also help her find better places to vent about her husband, like other women friends or support groups.
— Kristina S. Brown, licensed marriage and family therapist