Dear Carolyn: I recently found out my sister-in-law has purchased a vacation home in Florida … without telling my brother. She wants it to be a surprise for his birthday but I think he should be aware that she made a large financial decision without him. I also do not want to mess up my relationship with my sister-in-law. Would it be bad to inform my brother even though she told me this in confidence?
Yes, it would be pretty terrible. The time to break a confidence is when doing so would prevent a harm greater than the betrayal itself.
The house is bought, so you can’t prevent the purchase, so your brother is getting surprised no matter what — so all you’d accomplish by meddling is to make yourself the messenger instead of your sister-in-law. I can’t think of any way that would help, but I can envision a bunch of ways it would cause havoc.
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Even if you did have standing or justification to get involved, which you don’t, it’s a bad idea to respond as if everyone would feel as you do. Your sister-in-law might have more insight than you do into what your brother wants.
Any good reason to stay out of someone else’s mess is a gift — to them if not to you — and you have at least two of the better reasons I’ve seen not to touch this drama with oven mitts. Accept the gift.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.