Q&A with Geoff: What if I don’t want to hang out with my wife’s brother?

Jul 13, 2022


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 in a way that leaves both of you feeling respected. 

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 imperfections 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 isn’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 canceling him from your life, I’d like to recommend a different way to respond to him. 

Though challenging, it’s powerful when we can meet people at their level of interest and understanding. This means looking beyond their annoying behaviors to better understand the source of their suffering. Seeking to understand someone can help us have more patience for their quirks. Plus, it feels good to make room for other people who feel unseen.

Of course, I’m not suggesting you tolerate abusive or inappropriate behavior. Boundaries are essential if his behaviors are creating serious challenges for your family. 

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 feelings of irritation are 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 some work and inspiration.

As you spend time sorting through your personal reactions, considering the needs of your children, hearing your wife’s heart and seeking to better understand your brother-in-law, I’m confident you’ll find a solution that brings peace. 

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