Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Sister-in-Law Berates Family at Every Opportunity

DEAR HARRIETTE: My brother is married to an opinionated big-mouth who never has a kind word to say to anybody. She frequently berates him and other members of our family. This behavior is disturbing to the entire family, especially to our mother.

My other brother is in prison on drug charges. Our family has suffered a great deal of pain because of his sentencing, but we have found strength in our unity and have remained supportive of him. My brother’s wife, however, never misses an opportunity to express her hatred for my brother in prison. She's completely insensitive to our feelings. I don't treat her like a sister-in-law because she does not behave like a member of the family.

I would like to write her off and never have any contact with her again, but I worry that it would upset my mother and brother, and they don't need any more problems.

Can you please advise me how to deal with my sister-in-law without starting a family feud? -- I've Had Enough, Jackson, Mississippi

DEAR I’VE HAD ENOUGH: Speak to your sister-in-law separately, and ask her to be more considerate about your brother who is in prison. Tell her that her derogatory comments about your brother are hurtful and unnecessary. Be direct with her, and let her know that when she speaks unkindly about him, it hurts his mother’s feelings and creates unnecessary tension. Ask her to stop.

When she goes in with her barbs about him -- or anybody else, for that matter -- speak up and change the subject. You can even say, with a bit of humor mixed in to lighten the moment, ”OK, Delores (or whatever her name is), let it be, girl. Let’s move on.” Don’t let her keep control of the conversation. If you interrupt her enough, she should eventually stop.

(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)

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