Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Parenting & Relationships

How to handle bullying brother-in-law

Take the bully by the horns in an effort to ease family friction

Q: I've written before, but in a much elongated version. Yet the problem persists:

My brother-in-law, husband to my husband's sister, has been verbally abusing my husband for over a year now (well, actually, through email to him and rants to other relatives). His sister will not intervene, since her husband has proceeded with her knowledge and approval.

This mess is entirely the result of a family business situation, not of either of their making.

The dilemma: We are often invited to celebratory family events that these two will surely attend. Our non-attendance is noted. So, how to handle these situations? Parents-in-law say not going would be "politically" loathsome (allowing bro-in-law and sis to "win"); ignoring bro-in-law seems childish; small talk seems abhorrent — unless it's to call him out as the ass he is, which would be rude. I am in a quandary. Suggestions?

This is still too long.

Anonymous

A: No, it's just right. There's a lot going on here.

And it all adds up to a classic bullying scene. Your brother-in-law is the bully, your sister-in-law is his validation — mean people generally think they're justified, not mean — your husband is the victim, their parents and other relatives are the under-outraged bystanders (perhaps with their own agendas), and you're the one watching it all and saying, "Um, isn't anyone going to do anything?"

To answer your question: Whoever thinks to ask it is the one stuck with acting on it.

So talk to your husband about how you and he can handle this in a way less reminiscent of rolling helplessly onto your backs.

You can, for example, explain to his parents this has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with decency. Skipping encounters with the brother and sister-in-law is your right, and if the rest of the family misses you, then they can take it up with the brother.

If they don't like that (or you don't, or your husband doesn't), then you can say you'll gladly take your place at family gatherings, but do so feeling no obligation to pretend all is peachy just to maintain appearances. Perhaps: "Whenever you're ready to have a civilized conversation, BIL, I'm here. Until then, please understand I have nothing to say to you." Add a turkey and you have yourself a Thanksgiving.

In-your-face approaches? Both, yes. But not gratuitously, and not with the intention of returning the abuse. Instead, it's a quiet, calm stand to deny this family's denial, thereby removing the courtesy-cover under which the bully operates. Like so many others.

To operate effectively, bullies need people to have some other objective than exposing them: avoiding the bully's wrath, say, or preserving the appearance of normalcy, or covering one's own culpability, or enjoying a shared enemy's takedown. Families fear they'll be torn apart, or just that confrontation will ruin Christmas.

But when a bully's at work, few objectives have sufficient weight to justify shrugging and saying, "Well, I don't have all the details," or whatever else people shrug and say when witnessing an attack.

If your husband refuses to rock the boat — steady it, I say — then please remind him that everything he does or doesn't do at this point is a statement; it might as well state what he wants to say.

Comments
This year’s Florida State Fair food oddities include catfish ‘sundae’ and chicken and waffles pizza

This year’s Florida State Fair food oddities include catfish ‘sundae’ and chicken and waffles pizza

Being the first in the country on the fair-going calendar, the Florida State Fair is also the first to roll out the outrageous, deep-fried, bacon-wrapped, cheese-covered foods on a stick that perfume the midway. While cotton candy, corn dogs and funn...
Published: 01/22/18

Tell Me About It: Guest list exclusion puts wedding at risk

Q: Our wedding is falling apart. My fiance and I were set up by our friend Julia. Julia can be a bit of a firecracker and holds a grudge worse than anyone I know, but she’s a loyal friend.My fiance and I are also close friends with a woman named Sara...
Published: 01/22/18

Tell Me About It: Opening up on the residual effects of abuse

Q: I’m in my mid-thirties and in a relatively new, but so far amazing, relationship. I really can see myself with this person long-term.I’ve been in a couple of abusive relationships before that have taken their emotional toll (occasional nightmares ...
Published: 01/21/18
2018 Children’s Gasparilla Parade: Guide and insider tips

2018 Children’s Gasparilla Parade: Guide and insider tips

On Saturday, the kids get first crack at the booty from the pirates at the Children’s Gasparilla Extravaganza, the annual alcohol-free party on Bayshore Boulevard. To kick off the season of Jose Gaspar, the fictitious marauder whose legend has...
Published: 01/18/18
You can buy the balls from Amalie’s Beach Tampa exhibit at auction

You can buy the balls from Amalie’s Beach Tampa exhibit at auction

More than 100,000 people showed up at Amalie Arena in 2016 to frolic in a huge ball pit. It was a sea of 1.2 million white orbs so vast that grown men could belly flop and remain afloat. Almost two years after the Beach Tampa packed up, some 15,000 l...
Published: 01/18/18

Tell Me About It: FaceTime offense lands sister on the outs

FaceTime offense lands sister on the outsQ: When does FaceTime become an intrusion?My sister-in-law recently relocated to our area. We invited her to join us for our traditionally quiet New Year’s Eve celebration. About two hours before midnight, she...
Published: 01/18/18

Tell Me About It: Cousin’s husband pursues young sisters

Cousin’s husband pursues young sisters Q: I just found out that my niece’s husband has made inappropriate comments/propositions to both of my daughters, one still a minor (17). I have to tell my niece, right? I don’t want to hurt her.Broken HeartA: Y...
Published: 01/18/18
Plan your weekend Jan. 19-21: Gasparilla Children’s Parade, Jake Owen, Riverdance, Florida Orchestra’s Dvorak

Plan your weekend Jan. 19-21: Gasparilla Children’s Parade, Jake Owen, Riverdance, Florida Orchestra’s Dvorak

Plan your weekend   Gasparilla Children’s Parade: A week before the more raucous pirate invasion, the G-rated version hits the streets. The Children’s Gasparilla Extravaganza and Parade kicks off Gasparilla season with a bicycle safety...
Published: 01/17/18
Top things to do this week: Steve Martin and Martin Short, Gasparilla Children’s Parade

Top things to do this week: Steve Martin and Martin Short, Gasparilla Children’s Parade

PICKING AND GRINNING: Steve Martin and Martin ShortThere wasn’t a lot of bluegrass being played around Hamilton, Ontario, when Martin Short was a kid. But his decades-long friendship with Steve Martin has made him a fan, which brings An Evening With ...
Published: 01/17/18

Tell Me About It: Mom needs reassurance of their gratitude

Mom needs reassurance of their gratitudeQ: Whenever my mother gives me or my family member a gift, she ends up asking about it several times afterward. Does not matter if it was $5 or expensive.We always thank her for gifts, and these comments feel l...
Published: 01/16/18