Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: A year ago, my brother verbally lashed out at my husband, and my husband followed up a few days later with a long email that basically said my brother needed to get therapy and help with alcohol.
My brother called my husband to apologize, but my husband felt the apology was not appropriate given the nature of the situation.
To my husband, my brother is not a part of his life anymore. My brother and I communicate, but his situation has left a huge rift in our family. Please advise what to do and how to best handle this moving forward. It hurts me greatly to have this family issue.
Never miss a local story.
Husband vs. Brother
So, your husband made the ruling of “not appropriate” on the apology, and that’s it? If he didn’t explain to your brother what he thought would be appropriate, and instead just went you’re-dead-to-me silent on him, then that would be perilously close to a silent treatment.
That wouldn’t be unfair just to your brother, too, to deny even a chance at reconciliation – it would be unfair to you.
Marriages are partnerships. You owe your husband respect for his limits if and when your brother crosses a line that can’t be uncrossed, yes – but if your brother’s outburst doesn’t merit that distinction, in both of your estimations, then your husband owes it to you to find some justification to back away from his grudge.
It’s pretty simple emotional math: If your husband flatly refuses to accept any apology or amends from your brother, then he is choosing to stand between you and your family when that isn’t his last resort.
The element you’re missing here is a conversation of reckoning, where you ask your husband why he rejected the apology as insufficient, and what it would have taken for him to accept it.
I realize framing it this way leaves an opening for abuse, since your husband could declare he wants some outrageous concession from your brother, just to use his leverage – but it can work if neither you nor your husband is after a pound of anyone’s flesh. Make it about civility, frailty, forgiveness. Assure him too that your aims are modest, by saying you don’t expect him to make fake-nice with Brother; you’re merely asking to discuss ways, if there are any, to repair damage while keeping integrity intact. Point out that while Husband is clearly the party injured directly by Brother’s outburst, you are the collateral damage.
Since there’s alcohol(ism) involved, and since a conflict between two of its members has apparently resulted in a “huge rift” in an entire family, and since boundaries are often both the cause and the enduring casualties of a substance-abuse problem, please also consider that therapy could help you, not just your brother. Understanding the dynamics at work in your family of origin will give you a better understanding of your marriage, which will then give you a better idea of how to be a good spouse and a good sibling both, without being torn in two.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.