My brother and I have a strained relationship, for which I mostly blame my sister-in-law and my brother’s unwillingness to do anything that might upset her.
Over 10 years there’s been many instances where we haven’t spoken, and I haven’t seen my sister-in-law or niece(s) for months.
My sister-in-law repeatedly does something hurtful, then won’t talk to us until we decide to ignore what she did.
The last instance, she said something mean and hateful towards my mother (that we’d all be better off if my mother died).
I called my brother on it, but later I still invited his family to two events at my house, including a get-together with mutual friends.
At both events, she ignored my wife and me and made us feel uncomfortable in our own home. I told my brother that until she was willing to talk this situation out with us, we wouldn’t be inviting them over anymore.
I now haven’t seen my sister-in-law in two years and only saw my nieces twice at my parents’ house.
During this time, my brother’s family decided not to send a gift/card for my kids’ birthdays because of a small misunderstanding over my previous gift/card to his daughter.
I told my brother that it’s unfair to do this to our kids, they should have nothing to do with our squabbles.
However, I still see my brother every four to six weeks when I invite him for an outing with some of my friends.
It’s the only contact we currently have, and it always falls on me. I’m thinking of stopping inviting him around, but I still grapple with it because I know it’s the only time that he gets out with people who aren’t his wife’s friends.
Also, it will strain our relationship even more, which makes things more difficult for my parents, and more so as they age or when we two run into having to deal with their estate years from now.
Is cutting family ties the answer or stay the course?
This isn’t any easier on your brother than it is on you. His wife is seriously troublesome, yet he’s apparently committed to their marriage (which may be why you haven’t mentioned trying to discuss this alone with him).
He’s also trying to maintain your relationship as brothers, important to you both.
Keep contact with him. Try meeting alone to discuss possible solutions to the family discord. Start small with the exchange of birthday gifts for the children. See if you can go deeper to find the cause of his wife’s distance.
FEEDBACK Regarding the husband who was amassing debt buying "technological toys" while the wife was trying to save for a new house (May 17):
Reader – “I agree that she should seek legal advice about her potential responsibility for having to pay for the debt.
“But the language and tone of her letter also suggests that marriage counselling’s needed, too.
“She uses the prejudiced word "toys" to describe his purchases. She “informs” her spouse that all his income must go to paying his debt.
“She claims that he doesn't have the income to afford his purchases. But she seems to resent his exercising control over his own finances.
“Perhaps his spending signals that he wants some control over his own life if he's feeling trapped in a relationship with a control-seeker.
“Her thinking that "he must pay it off and can't buy anything else" sounds more like a control issue than a financial one.
“Maybe they have incompatible values.”
Reader’s Commentary Regarding the difficulty of dealing with narcissistic family members:
“Our family had the experience of many years of enduring several narcissistic individuals. To evaluate such behaviour, one can check with the criteria defined as narcissistic by the American Psychiatric Association.
“(Ellie - These include: a grandiose sense of self-importance; requiring excessive admiration; lack of empathy; sense of entitlement).
“Our experience shows that trying to approach a narcissistic family member is very naive and will not work.
“We repeatedly attempted it with “our” narcissists and never managed to get any of our differences resolved.
“Even if the relative does manage to establish communication, it’ll likely be suddenly cut off again due to an imagined slight.
“The only effective way to deal with a narcissist is not to. We learned this lesson very painfully. Our advice is to talk to a therapist familiar with narcissistic personality disorder in order to help you cope.”
Tip of the day:
A close relationship between brothers or sisters can provide needed support, by understanding/avoiding difficulties with the sibling’s spouse.