Make us your home page

Be assertive, polite with bullying brother-in-law

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Be assertive, clear the air with disapproving brother-in-law

How to Deal: We have plans this weekend to visit my husband's family. I just found out that my husband's brother, "Bill," called my husband and asked him not to bring me. When asked why, Bill gave a really flimsy answer about my not fitting in with them and how they were not comfortable with me being there. My husband told Bill that he was totally out of line and that if I was not welcome, then as my husband he was not welcome and would not be attending. He also told Bill that he could explain why we weren't there to their parents and hung up.

Bill later called back, apologized and said that he was out of line and that we were both welcome in their home.

The thing is I don't feel welcome at all and don't want to go. I had no idea Bill (and presumably his wife) did not like me — especially to this extent. I am really close with my husband's parents and other siblings, and this whole situation has left me feeling awful. If we do go, how do I interact with this brother- and sister-in-law? I could end up just bawling at the dinner table.

Carolyn: If you do go, I hope you'll catch a moment with Bill alone to say, "I don't understand what I've done, but, whatever it is, I hope we can get past this."

It shows that (1) you have (parts); (2) if he tries a stunt like this again, neither you nor your husband will back down (and perhaps he should consider bowing out); (3) you are approachable, so he loses any excuse for not addressing you directly; and (4) you're not going to be party to silent tension.

Please talk to your husband about this either way, so you're of one mind on how to handle the visit.

I'm sorry it came to this, and it will be a white-knuckle moment if you choose to take it on, but I really think it will help — your confidence, if nothing else — to walk toward the fire, instead of retreating.

How to Deal (again): I'm not sure if I have enough of those "parts" to confront him (I am significantly younger and much less confrontational than he, but I'll try).

From what I understand, their reasons for not liking me are that I do not pay homage and defer to them the way they would like (I am younger, we are less established, and we haven't been married as long as they have, so I really should have no opinions). Objectively, I do have to say that Bill is kind of a bully. I guess this is the first time it's been directed at me, and I so wasn't prepared for the kick in the groin.

Carolyn: His disapproval is starting to sound like a compliment.

Given your followup, confronting him, especially in such a friendly, I'm-being-the-bigger-person way, might be gas on a fire — which I could use to argue both for and against confronting him. But, then, look how Bill backed down when your husband did the right thing. An argument for courage if I've ever seen one.

Tomorrow, a hypothetical twist.

Be assertive, polite with bullying brother-in-law 11/08/09 [Last modified: Sunday, November 8, 2009 3:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Washington Post.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours