Q:I absolutely love my younger brother’s partner. They are pre-engaged, but she’s felt like a part of the family for years, and is a wonderful and generous person.
But I have a real problem with how my brother treats her. Behavior that I used to brush off as youthful immaturity on my brother’s part (like irrational jealousy and flaking on very basic boyfriend duties, hurting her feelings) has not gone away and is troubling to witness. I’ve come to think of her as one of my best friends, as close to a sister as I’ll ever get. She seems content with the status quo of their relationship, but I can’t help but think that if it were anyone but my own brother she was dating, I’d be encouraging her to break the relationship off in search of a guy who’d treat her better.
It’s so hard because part of what has kept my (and probably my family’s) mouth shut up to this point is selfishness: 1) We don’t want to lose her, and 2) she makes my brother better. She encourages him to be more family-oriented, and she does a lot of emotional labor that helps him stay connected to us. And if they were to break up, I’m terrified and heartbroken at the prospect of having to choose between my brother and my almost-sister (because I don’t think he’s mature enough to handle a breakup properly). I’m unsure of how to broach the subject of suggesting they go to counseling without it sounding like I’m judging them, or it just turning into a fight with my brother over my “butting in.” Any advice??
A: Dear Anonymous,
Don’t say anything to her.
Talk to your brother.
It gets tiring, doesn’t it? To be a woman and to be on guard for all the ways that men can be terrible to you. To warn other women to watch their backs, to encourage them to do different things to avoid being victimized, to tell them to hold high standards and to expect men to rise to them. Screw that. He’s your brother, your family—tell him all the ways he’s falling down and how he needs to step up.
Maybe my words are strong, but yours don’t have to be. You obviously care about this lady, and he’s your brother, so I’m guessing you care about him too. Have a heart-to-heart. It’s not about judging them (though I’m giving him some side-eye from over here). Every relationship can use some outsider input from time to time (that’s why I have a job).
These tricky conversations are best handled by asking some questions and listening before launching into your, “I think”s. Opinions: Everyone has them, nobody wants to hear them. So just ask him what’s going on; open up the lines of communication. “Does it ever bother your girlfriend when you…” might be enough to get his wheels turning without even offering your nuggets of wisdom.
Yeah, he might ignore you. Or maybe you already tried this and it went nowhere. But that’s where I’d start—at the source of the problem. And if he still doesn’t right the ship, then yeah, you’ve gotta let that girl know what’s up.
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