What do I do if I don’t really want to hang out with my wife’s brother. He’s single and alone and I feel obligated to have him over. I don’t enjoy spending most holidays with him. I really don’t even like him around my kids. I am thinking I am the bad guy if I say I don’t want him over. Any thoughts?
Living in families presents us with regular opportunities to confront relationships that are difficult for us. These encounters, no matter how infrequent, can either stretch or shrink us and those around us. Even though you struggle with your brother-in-law, let’s talk about how you can respond to him so that you can both “understand one another, and both [be] edified…”[i]
Like you, I also live in family network with individuals who challenge my patience, compassion, and tolerance. I’ve also had enough family experience to acknowledge that I’ve also been a personal challenge for some (or many!) of my relatives. It takes humility and honesty to acknowledge our fallen natures and the ways we can unintentionally overwhelm each other in our family relationships. Without this essential recognition of our universal humanness, we’ll risk spending our days in self-assured smugness as we reflexively “swipe left” on family members who irritate us.
Of course, you’re not the bad guy for not wanting to spend time with someone, even when they’re a family member. There is room and space for you to figure out your relationships, even if it means slowing things down. You don’t owe anyone an explanation for needing room to make sense of your relationships. However, because this is your wife’s brother, she likely has some feelings about having him in her family’s life. If it’s important to your wife, you need to address it with her so you can have unity.
You and your wife are wise to seek unity about how outsiders are going to fit into your marriage and family. Operating out of guilt, fear, and obligation aren’t going to create the unity that will bring peace to your family relationships. I recommend you sort through these concerns with your wife or another trusted confidant so you can better understand your own reactions to your brother-in-law.
Perhaps he talks too much, so you have your wife do more of the talking with him. Or, maybe he is bossy with your kids and needs a clear reminder that you’ll do the parenting. He could be so lonely and desperate that he doesn’t have any self-awareness about how he imposes on your family time. Regardless of the specific concerns, work with your wife to creatively respond to the challenges in this relationship.
Of course, you can simply not hang around him and call it good. However, as is the case in families, you will likely continue to feel a recurring need to respond to the pull of family ties. Instead of either giving in to resentfully spending time with him or completely cancelling him from your life, I’d like to recommend a different way to respond to him.
Even though the Savior clearly set boundaries with those who antagonized him, we see him patiently working to meet people at their level of interest and understanding. All of God’s children benefit from his infinite ability to see us and respond to us with goodness. Because he’s perfect, we’re technically all the difficult ones, but he doesn’t treat us that way!
For example, Christ didn’t avoid Zacchaeus or yell for him to come down from the tree. Instead, he climbed up to reach him directly.[ii] When a woman was caught in the act of adultery, his interaction with her left her with loving redirection and self-respect.[iii] This is not easy for us to do, so we require heavenly help in the form of charity. We must be filled with Him if we’re going to have the capacity to see others and respond to them with that same goodness.[iv]
I’ve also found it true that when people are lonely, they can be so desperate for human connection that they become offensive in their asking. Again, it doesn’t mean you have to be his only connection, but perhaps some occasional initiation on your part might send a signal that he’s on someone’s mind. This type of relational initiative can soothe an anxious soul.
Your irritation is a signal that something isn’t working in this relationship and needs your attention. The solution may involve creating more space, but it may also be some other arrangement you can’t currently consider without divine assistance. As you spend time sorting through your personal reactions, considering the needs of your children, hearing your wife’s heart, and seeking divine inspiration, I’m confident you’ll find a solution that brings peace.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at ge***@ge**********.com
Download Geoff’s FREE guide to help you quickly end arguments with your spouse: https://www.geoffsteurer.com/3-steps-to-end-your-marriage-argument
About the Author Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, host of the podcast, “From Crisis to Connection”, and creates online relationship courses. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
[i] D&C 50:17-22
[ii] Luke 19:1-10
[iii] John 8:3-11
[iv] Moroni 7:45-48