How Do I Deal With an Emotionally Clueless Relative?

Dear Neil: My husband’s twin brother is both rude and thoughtless. He informed good friends at Thanksgiving that we couldn’t make it to dinner, so we felt snubbed when we weren’t invited. But we weren’t informed, and we were available. When we moved into our house, he asked the price we paid. When we told him, he said: “Is this all you get for that amount?” He has never called to even inquire how things are going in light of my recent cancer treatments.

I don’t want to deal with his twin. The twin is over 60 and never married. My resentment is strong toward my brother-in-law, but also because my husband won’t give me his promise of unconditional support. Shouldn’t a husband support his wife over his twin?

Feeling Unsupported

Dear Unsupported: Your brother-in-law could be a narcissist and therefore simply doesn’t think of other people, but you might just be talking about someone who is emotionally clueless. He may not have malicious intent, but he is clearly obtuse and insensitive. However, I wouldn’t want to be asked to choose between my wife and my twin—that would be a very uncomfortable position to be in. Your husband could help by guiding his brother about what to do, but you and your brother-in-law still have to clear things up.

Therefore, it’s time you invite your brother-in-law out to breakfast or coffee—just the two of you. Ask for his cooperation in fixing your bruised feelings. It is imperative that you be extremely polite and respectful. You are wanting him to be polite and respectful toward you, so you do yourself no good if you are angry, attacking or insulting to him. Tell him that you are hurt, and explain why. Then tell him how you would like things to be different in the future. If he comes through with emotionally intelligent behavior and greater sensitivity, you don’t have to be close with him, but perhaps you needn’t stew in anger when he’s around.

If this doesn’t work, it would be fair for you to tell your husband that although you’re not trying to keep him from having a relationship with his brother, you are not wanting a relationship with him yourself. That will create awkward get-togethers—they share the same birthday—but it will hopefully give you greater peace of mind.

Many people find insensitive, overbearing or obnoxious relatives difficult. Of course, we don’t get to choose our families or our spouse’s families, but circumstances often force us to be together with them. View this as a test of your tolerance and good graces. Don’t let an objectionable person turn you into someone who is icy, resentful or spiteful.

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