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My brother's wife just came out
July 5, 2013 5:36 AM   Subscribe

How do I support my brother, his wife, and myself through my sister-in-law coming out as a lesbian?

My younger brother married his current wife last June (just just past their one-year anniversary). Since their marriage, he and his wife have lived with me (I'm single). We all got along for the most part and it was mostly financially beneficial for all of us. Since about Christmas though the house has been extremely tense and about 2 months ago my sister-in-law and my brother sat me down and shared that she is a lesbian and wants to come out now (not really a surprise). I felt hurt and angry that I was expected to keep this secret until she was ready to share this with our family, and over the course of the last month, my family and her family have all been told. Everyone, including me, is very supportive for the most part.
I'm struggling at this point with how best to support my brother, his wife, and myself. They will be separating but want to continue living here. They want to tell a sports league we're all involved with this week what they're going through but I feel like this is unnecessary. Why share this with acquaintences? Close friends I understand but not an entire league. I'm not sure why I'm having more trouble now that I know for sure a separation is happening (at one point they discussed an open marriage). I do feel like for a long time I was expected to carry this for them/keep secrets/act like everything is normal, and now my feelings aren't being considered. Any advice? Anyone gone through anything similar?
posted by katie521 to Human Relations (47 answers total)
 
I think that you should consider that whatever it is that you think you are going through pales in comparison to what your brother and his wife are experiencing.

I would consider the notion that you will be better equipped to support them once you recognize that this isn't really about you.
posted by DWRoelands at 5:40 AM on July 5, 2013 [68 favorites]


and now my feelings aren't being considered

Forgive me for being blunt, but what does this have to do with you? Why do you care? How does it affect you in any way? You're not even being asked to stay quiet anymore, just to let them (?!) tell whomever they want.

They're not rhetorical questions; knowing your motivation behind these feelings will help people answer this question.
posted by supercres at 5:41 AM on July 5, 2013 [15 favorites]


My advice, you have GOT to get these people out of your house. How else could you possibly disengage? There are other roommates for you, there are other roommates for them.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:44 AM on July 5, 2013 [20 favorites]


I'm not at ALL unaware that my experience here is completely different than what my brother and his wife are going through. I am not at all saying this is ''all about me'', but I'm speaking from my experiences only, not theirs as that's for them to speak to. It affects me in that we're living in my house, so financially this will impact all of us. It affects me in that for months I was told to keep their secret which I did because it's not my place to say, but that's a weight to carry (again, not at all comparing this to what they're going through, I'm just speaking from my experience) and was a stressor. And now I am trying to be supportive but there's some feelings still there. I would never kick out my own brother but the house is quite tense.
posted by katie521 at 5:46 AM on July 5, 2013 [10 favorites]


Be supportive by being a good sister and keeping the things they share with you in confidence. However, you might want to find a new living arrangement though. People going through a breakup go through all sorts of phases (especially if they're still living together) and I wouldn't want to be caught in the middle of that. If you think things have been tense the past little while, just wait.
posted by futureisunwritten at 5:47 AM on July 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


Forgive me for being blunt, but what does this have to do with you? Why do you care? How does it affect you in any way?

Asking your roommate to handle the drama involved of two people going through a separation while living with you without moving out is a bit self-centered (though there may be no other logistical option for economic and personal reasons). I would be a bit resentful, too. The OP isn't part of the "family unit" formed by her brother and sister-in-law, and she shouldn't be considered some kind of co-collaborator/conspirator during the separation process.

If someone asks you about them, I would just reply "they're going through a separation," and hopefully the personal asking will have enough tact to know to direct any other questions to them, not you. Do whatever it takes to get them to move out as soon as possible. Hopefully both, but at least one (preferably your sister-in-law) should find another place to live.
posted by deanc at 5:48 AM on July 5, 2013 [22 favorites]


"They want to tell a sports league we're all involved with this week what they're going through but I feel like this is unnecessary. Why share this with acquaintences? Close friends I understand but not an entire league."

This sort of thinking is very natural to do, but really profoundly unhelpful. One of the very few things they can control together about their rapidly disintegrating marriage is how much they share about it and to whom; butting into that process, even if it might look like they really need help with it, is only going to lead to everyone having an even worse time.

"...and now my feelings aren't being considered"

You are probably going to get a bunch of answers jumping on this, but your brother and sister in law really do have much bigger things to worry about. Really the best support that you can provide is not being another thing to worry about as much as possible, even when that is understandably very hard. Your brother and sister-in-law will notice and really appreciate it once they are in a space to be able to.
posted by Blasdelb at 5:48 AM on July 5, 2013 [13 favorites]


Tell your brother to get in touch with pflag. There are also several books that help het spouses of gays.
posted by brujita at 5:55 AM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Since their marriage, he and his wife have lived with me (I'm single).

They will be separating but want to continue living here.


Is there anyone on Team You who you can talk to? Therapist, good friend -- someone who is entirely outside of this dynamic? It sounds like you may feel like being supportive means doing 100% exactly what they want, no matter how stressful it is for you (like continuing to let them both live there as they divorce), but that's not really the case here. You can be supportive but still draw boundaries that work for you and allow you not to get caught up in the middle of this. Talking with someone who isn't wrapped up in this might help you see that more clearly.
posted by pie ninja at 5:55 AM on July 5, 2013 [43 favorites]


Fair enough. In at case, just disengage as much as you can. If you're being asked to engage in shit-talking about the other party, refuse. Headphones while they're fighting if getting out of the house (temporarily or permanently) isn't an option. If the room is that tense while they're together, don't be in a room with both of them. Set ground rules as much as it's possible (you are their landlord, after all, right?): no door-slamming, yelling to a minimum.

You are an innocent bystander, but innocent bystanders have a responsibility to themselves (and to anyone trying to clear up the wreckage) to stay out of the way of the car crash as much as possible.
posted by supercres at 5:56 AM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


This sounds really difficult and frustrating. You have a right to feel out-of-sorts and unhappy. It's what you do with those feelings that matters. I think you feel very involved in this process because they live with you. That's ok, but this is still their marriage, and whatever they decide to do, whomever and however they decide to tell - that will be what is best for them. Trust them to make the right decisions for themselves.

Do you have hobbies that can take your mind off this?

Also, consider talking to a trusted friend who is completely uninvolved, or a therapist, about these feelings you're having and what to do with them. They are legitimate feelings, but this situation is ultimately about your brother and sister-in-law. It sounds like you need support of your own to navigate the process.

I read somewhere (perhaps here) a good idea about dealing with interpersonal problems like this. Think of the people with the problem as a core or a pit of a fruit. They are in the center of the problem. Their supporters form a ring around that core. The closer a person is to the core, the closer they are to the problem - the more it affects them.

You should only try to address your issues - the way the problem affects you - with people who are farther away from the core than you. You can't go to your brother, or his wife, and possibly other siblings or your parents, to talk about how the problem affects you. But you can - and should - figure out someone to help you work through your issues related to the problem with someone more removed from the situation. I think a therapist or a trusted, uninvolved friend would be a good start. This sounds really challenging - they live with you, are doing things that you worry aren't in their best interest, and you've been keeping this big secret for quite awhile - and you should find support to help you work through this stuff that has come up as a result of the resulting pressure.

Good luck.
posted by k8lin at 5:57 AM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


The way you write this, there's an undercurrent of disapproval, somehow, that leaves me wondering: are you upset with your brother's wife? With your brother? Are you angry on some level that they got married only to have a divorce so quickly? Do you feel like they are "getting away with" something in terms of not having a standard bourgeois heterosexual marriage? Do you wish you were married? In my experience, sometimes (maybe not in your case, but worth considering) "they aren't considering my feelings" is a sort of proxy for other feelings of anger, fear, resentment, etc....

I add that feelings like this can have nothing to do with homophobia. I myself was brought up to disapprove very deeply of divorce and have had to work through a lot of unjustified feelings of anger and disapproval when friends got completely necessary, healthy and appropriate divorces.

Anyway, my point is that if there's something else bugging you, try to get to the bottom of that.

Also, it was very good of you to reliably keep their secret until they were ready to tell people. I concur that this is a weight to carry - not because of the actual nature of the secret, but because keeping a big, important, game-changing secret means you have no one to talk to about your feelings, no way to talk through any frustration you may have, and you've taken on a fairly significant and largely thankless responsibility. I think that was a very good, decent, step-up-to-the-plate thing to do, especially when you were living with the people with the secret and thus not getting a break.

Say, can you go away for a few days? Even a "staycation" at a friend's house nearby? Or even take a day trip out of town to somewhere really different (woods, a small town, a lake, etc). I bet you could press the mental reset button that way and feel a lot better.
posted by Frowner at 5:57 AM on July 5, 2013 [12 favorites]


Trust me, I understand. It was really really tough to keep this secret. Really. You get odd questions about their relationship and it freezes you and you go: "AHHHHHH I HAVE TO LIE BECAUSE I CAN'T TELL THE TRUTH!" deer in headlights sort of reaction.

It's over now, you don't have to hold this secret anymore. You held onto it for a few months, I had to hide that my sister was gay from my entire family for several years. You can let this go. If it helps, apologize to the people you had to lie to and ask them to understand that it wasn't your secret to tell.

Now, that said, this is really not about you. Really really. This is about an extremely terrifying time in this woman's life. It causes ripple effects for you, but that's all. Telling people involved in her life is probably cathartic for her. Finally, people know, and it's a burden off her shoulders. If that means that telling your league will give her cathartic release, you need to let her do it.

You sound a little bit ashamed to be related to someone who's gay, to be honest. Maybe reflect why you feel you're owed something for keeping a secret to yourself.

Just imagine, you had to stay quiet for a few months.. this woman has had to hide the very person she is.
posted by royalsong at 6:05 AM on July 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


Do you want them both to continue living with you? It sounds sort of like you're resentful because you don't want two people in the middle of a divorce living in your house together with you (totally understandable!) but that you cannot figure out how to say no.

The best way to support your brother and sister-in-law is just not to interfere with their decisions about who to tell and when and how. The best way to support yourself -- which is important too -- is to figure out what you want now out of your living arrangements and also to find someone outside the family you can talk to and work through your feelings with, either a friend or therapist or something.
posted by jeather at 6:05 AM on July 5, 2013 [11 favorites]


I think Frowner is right that it reads like you're disapproving of something. Especially the bit about "Why share this with acquaintances?" because it reads like either her sexuality or that they're splitting up should be this embarrassing secret. They're telling all and sundry so they can control how it's presented to the people in the sports league, rather than having them hear it as gossip.

It also sounds like maybe you feel you're getting dragged into drama or that you're worried that will happen. People in the sports league might want to ask you things or try and pump you for 'juicy details', which is a sucky position to be in. But it's totally okay if you say to those people "You'll have to ask Alice and Bob about that." Is there anyone you know who's not involved in this situation (i.e. doesn't know your brother and sister-in-law) that you can talk to?
posted by hoyland at 6:08 AM on July 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yea, if someone was the source of radiating tension in my home, my place of sanctuary, for the past seven months, I'd be cranky as all get out too. I don't care if they are family. Have they apologized for that yet? That would make a big difference to me.

What would be worse is if I didn't know how much longer it was going to last, and you don't.

I know it is financially working but you might want to consider, if not moving out/having them leave, how to get space from the unfolding difficulties happening, for your own well being, so you don't burn out and get resentful. Breaks, vacations, having them take trips or giving you a night off, talking to friends, therapy, massage, sports, whatever works for you.
posted by It's a Parasox at 6:11 AM on July 5, 2013 [9 favorites]


Also, it was very good of you to reliably keep their secret until they were ready to tell people. I concur that this is a weight to carry - not because of the actual nature of the secret, but because keeping a big, important, game-changing secret means you have no one to talk to about your feelings, no way to talk through any frustration you may have, and you've taken on a fairly significant and largely thankless responsibility. I think that was a very good, decent, step-up-to-the-plate thing to do, especially when you were living with the people with the secret and thus not getting a break.

Yeah, this was a lot to ask of you, and I really want to give you props for doing it for them. You went above and beyond what many siblings would do, and I hope they've thanked you properly.

They will be separating but want to continue living here. They want to tell a sports league we're all involved with this week what they're going through but I feel like this is unnecessary. Why share this with acquaintences?

Do you want them to continue living there? That's definitely something that should be discussed. Living with two people who've ended a relationship sounds like it would be really tough, no matter what the reasons for the breakup were.

As far as telling others, it seems like the more people know, the more burden it takes off you. Of course, a lot of that depends on the community. I've lived in small towns where NOBODY was out to the general public because some people just made it too hard for them.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:17 AM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


financially this will impact all of us.

That's fair enough for you to be concerned about and there's nothing wrong with being clear about what you need here. It could be that you need to have them move out and someone else move in with a lease so that you have some financial stability. Or have her move out so you can support your brother while they divorce.

It affects me in that for months I was told to keep their secret which I did because it's not my place to say, but that's a weight to carry (again, not at all comparing this to what they're going through, I'm just speaking from my experience) and was a stressor.

This aspect of it is no different from any other "secret" in that they told you because you live together and you are closer to them than anyone else. That's not a burden, that's a compliment. Telling you first because you matter the most and it will affect you the most. This would be the case if they lost a job, got pregnant, had cancer, etc.

You seem very focused on who's getting told and who isn't, and when. But you don't say anything about the coming out itself--many people would take that as a betrayal, as she only recently joined your family, probably at some cost for the wedding, etc. and now she's back out again ... that's the kind of thing that can give families a sense of collective shame too, like someone being left at the altar. For some people there would be embarassment about the very fact of homosexuality being involved. Are any of those things playing a role for you? If so it's not wrong, it just might be helpful for you to tease out what's feeding your angst about the whole thing. There's a lot there.

Your brother needs you. This can't be easy for him.
posted by headnsouth at 6:25 AM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I could understand if the very weight of the secret let you feel that once it was out, you would be home free - that they would divorce and get out and you'd be done with all this.

Instead, the secret is out, but the expected lessening of tension has not come along with it.

It is perfectly reasonable to be upset by this, but I think you need to be clear about it with yourself. Feel free to set appropriate boundaries.

Personally, I would never, never, live with two people in the process of divorcing. It is okay to ask one of them (probably your sister-in-law, by virtue of not actually being a blood relative) to move out.
posted by corb at 6:26 AM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think the coming out is a red herring here. You live with two people who aren't getting along and create tension in your house. You need to not be living with them anymore.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:29 AM on July 5, 2013 [33 favorites]


It reads that it's primarily your place (he and his wife have lived with me).

If so, I say the sister-in-law moves out.

Serious tension's a lot for anyone to bear. Assuming it is somehow your place, someone expecting that you'll deal with it for their convenience is someone who strikes me as more selfish than considerate.
posted by ambient2 at 6:32 AM on July 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Are emotions/relations between your brother and STB ex-sis in law still tense? If they are, despite wanting to be supportive to both of them, it might be for the best to draw up a timeline for one (likely the STB ex), or both of them, to move out in the next 2-6 months. That's plenty of time for people to look at budgets and find someplace else, but still offers an end in sight to in-home drama.

Not everyone can be good friends with their exes, and of the pool of those who can be friends, being friends and roommates at the same time after a breakup is entirely different. Additionally, I'm assuming that they've switched, or will be switching, from consuming one bedroom + common space, to consuming two bedrooms + common space. That will make your home seem smaller, which will increase your (and likely everyone's) stress.

Barring them being the exception of people who can split and make great roommates, it may be one of the most supportive things you can do, is to force a move out. Seriously, if you kicked both of them out, would they each look for their own place, or will they look for a 2br together? Unless they'd really look to start anew as roommates, they should probably get that over with sooner than later.

You say that it's your house, and you're letting them live there. I can imagine if I had my sibling living in my house that it wouldn't feel like my home. With the increased drama of late, that's going to have heightened their presence to you, and probably made your house seem less like home sweet home. You may be able to offer more emotional support once your oxygen mask is on.

As for why they are sharing this with acquaintances? So there isn't the awkwardness of noticing the lack of a wedding ring, or the entirely different play out of their relationship in public. So if someone comes across either your brother or STB ex sis in law flirting with another woman that they don't feel they've got a secret that either needs to be held, or told to the other. This was a marriage; an in theory life bonding relationship. We tell people it's over for the same reason we first told people, "We're getting married!"
posted by nobeagle at 7:18 AM on July 5, 2013


I have about 800 questions. I will try to stick to a few questions and initial thoughts.

Like a few people have mentioned, things tend to get ridiculous when people separate, even when it starts off amicable and reasonable. Even when they both want it to happen. I can't imagine your home getting less stressful than it is now and would be totally expecting things to get worse.

I think that, after yourself, your loyalty should be toward your brother and what he needs. Encourage him very strongly to get a written separation agreement - via a lawyer - before things go to shit. Ask me about how my divorce went (after a year of marriage) and I'll tell you how amicable and reasonable it was - and how that went to shit and quickly led to several years of back-and-forth legally and how much that cost me (financially and emotionally). A separation agreement would have prevented 99% of that.

Can you afford to live on your own? If not, do you have a friend who would you could live with peacefully? If so, I think it's reasonable to give your brother and his wife a time-frame in which to find alternative living arrangements (assuming you don't have a written lease in place and that this has been informal). Let them both know that you love them, care for them, etc., but that you do not want to be in the middle of this and, for your own sanity and well-being, you need them to leave. Even if your brother's wife is the only one who moves out, it's still going to be high-drama season for your brother. Can you handle that?

If you can't afford it, or you don't have someone else who could move in, you need some really firm boundaries for them to stay there. Whatever's making you uncomfortable needs to be eliminated or smothered as much as possible. You can't avoid the "people stalking around the house silently glowering" thing but you can ask them to respect boundaries around yelling, arguing, talking smack about each other around you, slamming doors, or any other negative stuff that's happening.

As for the league - ugh. I wouldn't want that info to get to them yet, either. At this point, people will likely start taking sides, the whispers will start, and it's going to get uncomfortable. I appreciate that they just want to be honest and open about things, now, and that they likely don't see how uncomfortable this is going to get. I also don't think there's anything you can do about it if they decide to tell everyone - other than, again, set your own boundaries inwardly. Decide that you are NOT their Public Relations manager, so any questions or gossipy stuff gets bounced right back to them with a polite, "I am staying out of their relationship, so I have no idea what's going on with XYZ. You'll have to ask them." and "I don't want to talk about my brother/his wife at all." and get used to saying it over and over.

I'm sorry you're dealing with this.
posted by VioletU at 7:18 AM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


This has happened a couple times in my family. I have one bit of advice: don't let the desire to support you sister-in-law and to not be or seem homophobic become reasons not to support your brother during a difficult time in his life. I felt like one of my uncles didn't get the same level of support as other family members who had divorced for those reasons. It is okay for him to be upset and angry and talking with him about his feelings and even validating those feelings is okay and shouldn't be avoided just because his ex came out.

Everyone continuing to live together seems like a bad idea.
posted by Area Man at 7:20 AM on July 5, 2013


So this was your home before they even moved in? I suspect that's part of the long-term stress: your formerly-peaceful refuge, to which they have brought months of strain. It sounds like they've been using you as a sounding board/neutral ear/referee all this time, as well as requiring you to hold their secrets: it's all enough to stress anybody.

They moved in as your brother and sister-in-law, NOT as your brother and another roommate; quite possibly you wouldn't have ever let her move in simply AS a roommate: she was accepted only as a family member. Have they been paying rent all along, or have you been supporting them financially as well as emotionally? At the very least, soon-to-be-former SIL should move out, and soon. That alone should help reduce the tension, but I also agree with the need for you to find someone of your own to vent to: a friend, a therapist, your pastor, a counselor who will be on your side. (Avoid using other family members for this!)

And if at all possible, try TRY to not let this get to you: any blowback they get is THEIRS --- from now on, refuse to listen to their marriage problems; tell them that while you care for them, they'll have to solve their own difficulties, that you aren't their marriage counselor.
posted by easily confused at 7:28 AM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd say you're on a great path forward already: you're getting outside yourself and your own anxieties/insecurities about the situation and you're focusing on what you can do to be supportive of the people you love. That's probably the best thing you can be doing right now.

Your feelings in response to this are very normal. (Feelings of being caught in the middle, being trapped by the drama that you never asked for in the first place, and your anxiety over being gagged and told that you're not allowed to discuss this with the people you love who typically offer you support, etc.) The normality of these feelings, sadly, doesn't make them healthy. They're kind of a breeding ground for resentment, and that is the polar opposite of your stated goal here.

When you have family members that are embroiled in interpersonal drama the absolute best thing that you can do for them is to take care of yourself. Go see a therapist. Do things for yourself that are good and stable and appropriate and which help you be available to them.

Are your finances strong enough to withstand this drama? (Having family living with you is a major commitment and understanding where your finances are implicated is a good way to alleviate anxiety.) Are your social bonds outside of them strong enough that you won't be left all alone if this blows up? (It sounds like your social life may well be tied in very closely to these two and that's a source of your anxiety.) Do you have good boundaries with them? (Examine what your limits are, what things you are willing/able to do and which you are not?)

A therapist should be able to help you deal with all of these things, as well as deal with some of those pesky awkward feelings that you're experiencing as a result of being put in this position against your will (and seemingly cut off from your standard support network by being silenced on the issue). A therapist can also help you navigate what boundaries you are going to set going forward. If they are still living with you and they both decide to date other people, is that going to be acceptable? How can you interact with one of them without betraying the other one? How can you be kind and generous without allowing yourself to be taken advantage of? These are all issues that may come up - and the best way you can be available to your brother and sister-in-law is to address them proactively before they become an issue. Being prepared and externally-supported is probably the best way that you can be available to them, no matter what their needs are.
posted by jph at 7:35 AM on July 5, 2013


The first way to support your sister-in-law (and brother) is to stop worrying about the details of her coming out. When and how they tell people is not a decision you should make. Her being gay isn't the main point here. The main point is a complicated breakup. Don't focus on the gay factor. Focus on not getting in the middle of their complicated relationship-- and how to make your living situation more ideal. By that I mean, it makes sense to not continue the three of you living together. It is reasonable for the sister-in-law to be expected to move out.
posted by manicure12 at 7:50 AM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


You do not sound, nor are you being as supportive as you think you are. I think that before you do anything major, you need to examine whether or not you have some prejudices and resentment towards your sister in law and/or lesbians or gay people in general because you sound really angry and resentful, not sympathetic, empathetic, and supportive. I totally get that this has turned your world upside down emotionally and potentially financially, and yes, you have needs that need to get met, but you are focusing on you in a way that is coming off as a little childish. Get therapy, seek support from PFLAG, do what you need to do, but please look inside yourself to see if you have some homophobia going on before you do or say anything more because you can't be an ally or a sibling to either of these people if you can't resolve those lingering feelings of sourness.

With that in mind, why can't you go to your brother and SIL and say, "I am having a very hard time right now, and I am doing my best to support both of you in whatever way I can, but in doing do my needs aren't getting met and I am becoming less and less able to do what I need to do to be a functioning human being and ally to each of you as you process your breakup and impending divorce. What I am going through is in no way analogous to what you are experiencing, but I am sad and frustrated as a sister and sister in law and I have no space in which to be sad and frustrated because we live together. I think that in order for each of us to do what we need to do, we need to set up a timeline for you two to move out and onto separate lives so you can focus on your divorce and the things that will follow. I also need to request that I no longer be secret-keeper for this situation because while I totally know it is not my place to out you or explain what's going on to other people, the weight of what's going on is more than I can bear right now and I am not able to fulfill that function anymore at this time. I love you, and I hope you know how I am rooting for each of you and wish you both the best. Please help me help you so we can all get what we need."

You could put it in email if it's easier. Show your support, and ask for what you need so you can keep doing what you need to do. That's okay to ask for.

But you not dealing with the bitterness that is permeating your question is not okay, so work on that too. Your brother and SIL are heartbroken right now -- show them as much love as you can.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 7:59 AM on July 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


The best way to support gay people generally is to support gay rights. You may be feeling some resentment that she married your brother possibly knowing she was gay, and that he is now going through turmoil. You may have some old baggage about gayness. It's worth reviewing your own feelings.

If it were me - I would basically say My brother comes 1st, and I'd try to follow his lead, while being a friend to his wife. There are so many variables about whether they should and can continue to live with you that it's impossible to give advice on that. If you find it too awkward because of their breakup, then follow your instincts. Go slow as it's all getting worked out.

An announcement of Jane is coming out as a lesbian and she and Bob are splitting is bound to be awkward. If it were me, I'd tell people individually, and let the word spread, not out of any shame, but because splitting up has so many levels of feeling.

Most of all, the message of I love you both, I'll do my best to support you through this is what you should be telling them, and maybe telling yourself.
posted by theora55 at 8:14 AM on July 5, 2013


Some parts of this are appropriate for you to want some say in (example: the tension in your home is stressful for you). Other parts are not about you at all (example: which people to tell, and when to disclose). Figure out which is which, and learn to separate/deal with those things accordingly.

It may take an impartial third party for you to bounce these things off of. Therapy isn't just for people who are mentally unwell. It's also for people who need or want to change their thinking patterns about things. This sounds like you. Contact PFLAG yourself and ask them if they have any suggestions for counselors you might see to help you work through this.

As for "how to support your brother and his wife" the answer boils down to: treat them like people who are going through a difficult time. Because that is what they are. They are people. And this is much more difficult/confusing/sad/etc than is even imaginable to you. Do not spend your time and energy speculating about when she figured out she was gay. Do not focus on her selfishness, or how he is being injured. Do not make jokes at her (or his!) expense, even in private to folks you are certain would never repeat them. They will repeat them. Do more, make space. Wash the dishes more often, be more thoughtful about keeping them fed. Do not intervene in their conversations, neither their fights nor their joy nor their plans...unless you are invited. And even then, tread lightly. Do not take sides, tempting as it is. Many will convincingly argue that your brother comes first, and perhaps in the long run this is so. But don't make that decision without deep and meaningful thought. See above, regarding a therapist. And if you find yourself saying loudly in your head, "but I don't have any problems with gay people!" then it is all the more important that you sort this out with a competent professional at your side.
posted by bilabial at 9:12 AM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


They will be separating but want to continue living here

"I'm sorry, but that will not be possible."
posted by FeralHat at 9:18 AM on July 5, 2013 [9 favorites]


They want to tell a sports league we're all involved with this week what they're going through but I feel like this is unnecessary. Why share this with acquaintences?

Because being closeted - as you discovered when you had to keep this secret for a few months - is a miserable, corrosive experience for most people. Even if these teammates aren't their best friends ever, I assume they see them regularly and perhaps quite frequently during season, so why not tell them? There is enormous relief in being out, in spite of the pain and drama that might come with it.

You do sound like you could use the support of an uninvolved third party, whether that's a therapist or support group or similar. It's also okay for you to set boundaries in your own home, including who gets to live there.
posted by rtha at 9:46 AM on July 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


They're not supposed to consider your feelings. That's your job, and it's okay to take action to make things better for yourself.

I think some comments aren't taking into account that they both live with you. They're splitting up as a couple, and they still both want to live with you. You didn't sign of for this.

Do you want to continue living with them? I can see why you might not want to. You've already lived through 6 months of tension in the house. And it could get even more awkward, if your brother and/or sister-in-law start having new relationships. You invited them in when the situation seemed very different than it does now. It's definitely okay to set new boundaries now if you want to live by yourself or just with your brother.

You say you feel put-upon because of having to keep their secret. I'm guessing you're resenting that you agreed to one thing and now you feel obligated to live with a couple in a completely different dynamic. Sometimes it's hard to put your finger on exactly what's causing your anger, when you're faced with a number of unwanted circumstances.

Their wanting to tell their league is not your business. When people live with you and tell you all that they're experiencing, it's hard not to feel like it involves you, but you need to be able to keep yourself separate from their issues and decisions. That alone might be a good reason to have one or both of them move out.

I know it's financially beneficial to you to split the rent, but it sounds like it might not be worth it.
posted by wryly at 10:09 AM on July 5, 2013


If they asked for your opinion, give it to them. If they did not ask, keep it to yourself. Except for deciding who lives with you, you cannot and should not control any of their life decisions.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:32 AM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I could see that if I'd been asked to keep a secret (and didn't really get a choice) and then seemingly all of a sudden they were all "wooo, let's tell the whole team!" I'd feel some whiplash from the sudden(ish) change in direction. It would highlight that the situation isn't "we're all three in this together" but "the two of them are making decisions and I get no choice in carrying them out." First you're covering for them, lying maybe even, now they're telling everyone that you were part of a conspiracy without barely even giving you a heads up, much less asking. Being a third wheel as they ride this rollercoaster could definitely get tiring.

I think the only thing you can do is minimize your exposure to the drama. I'm sure they'd be being more considerate of the impact they're having on you if they weren't in such intense pain and confusion right now, and I suspect that eventually (maybe years from now) they'll acknowledge what an impact this had on you.

I'm not saying they should be asking your permission or anything; I agree with everyone else there. What you're going through, they're going through times fifty. But I can see why out could put you out of sorts. The more you can find support for yourself from others, the more you can be your most supportive and flexible self for them.
posted by salvia at 2:50 PM on July 5, 2013


katie521: "They want to tell a sports league we're all involved with this week what they're going through but I feel like this is unnecessary. Why share this with acquaintences? Close friends I understand but not an entire league."

Because if they're the ones to announce it, they can do so while putting out the message that it's amicable, it's not due to abuse or infidelity or anything like that, and that people shouldn't feel they need to somehow choose sides. If they don't announce it, rumor and speculation will arise, which (IMO) always winds up with the most skewed, negative interpretation of a situation possible.
posted by Lexica at 3:47 PM on July 5, 2013


It would be really difficult to be in your situation, and you have my sympathy.

I think someone needs to move. Preferably the sister-in-law, and you can give her a grace period for it, but you really don't want to be in the middle of their divorce. Even people who seem to be level headed and handling it well can have some times when they are, shall we say, not at their best. And by that I mean lots of drama and blame and yelling. You have a right to not have that happening in your home.

My suggestion is: kindly provide a moving deadline and take a class or something so that you're away from the house as much as possible until the move is over with.

I'm guessing that even if your brother thinks right now that continuing to live with her is a good thing, this will actually cause him a lot of pain as the divorce progresses. So by getting her out, you will be helping him indirectly.
posted by bunderful at 4:24 PM on July 5, 2013


I don't think you have done, or are doing, anything wrong. I absolutely do not think that you sound unsupportive or judgemental or homophobic in any way. I'm not seeing any bitterness or need for therapy, either.

On the contrary, I think you've been put in a difficult position by two adults who have made bad decisions. Regardless of the reason for the divorce, most families are going to be kind of freaked out when a marriage they threw their love and support behind lasts less than a year. You've sort of been stuck in the middle if this, and now you're also expected to live with newly-separated (no matter how amicably) spouses? Just no. It's not fair. I recommend talking to your brother privately and kindly and telling him that either she, or both of them, need to find their own place. There's a difference between being supportive and being a complete martyr, and this is not the living dynamic you signed on for.

Re: the 'telling the sports league' thing. Doesn't seem like a good idea to me, either, but everyone's different. I know you're just worried about them, but let that one go. Not your business.
posted by Salamander at 4:24 PM on July 5, 2013 [8 favorites]


Being supportive doesn't mean you do exactly whatever it is they want at great stress or potential financial ruin to yourself.

I'd tell them they are both awesome people and hope they will be part of your life going forward. But just like you couldn't necessarily room with [your other best friends], you also can no longer live with either of them. And seeing as how the mortgage is in your name, I'd give them each 90 days to move out.

In a separate conversation, ask them if there's anything else you can do for them re: coming out. Consider those specific requests and do what you can. If they don't mention anything, then set that issue aside and be done with it.

They're going to potentially make some suboptimal choices here or there, but I'd suggest you focus on the big thing of keeping them on schedule to move out. Good luck!
posted by 99percentfake at 6:09 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thanks for all the advice. I think it's important to clarify, as many of you have, that this is more about a marriage breakdown and much less to do (if anything) with my feelings on homosexuality and I'm not sure I was clear with that (I 100% support my SIL and applaud her for coming out and very much understand she is going through a lot right now). As far as I know, their plan is to remain living here until/throughout their separation and to remain amicable. But yes, tension still remains and it doesn't feel like my sanctuary, let alone my house anymore. I like the advice about separating issues and putting boundaries in where it's appropriate for me to do so - ie. leaving it up to them who they tell but perhaps looking at someone moving out.
Should be interesting...
posted by katie521 at 7:37 PM on July 5, 2013


I had to deal with a similar situation (although a bit rougher) while living with my sibling and their partner. It was tremendously stressful to be asked to keep a big secret, and I understand why you resent that they didn't consider that when confiding in you. Trying to negotiate the tension between giving needed support plus necessary privacy and distance was difficult and ultimately damaging for all the relationships. Two years later, we still aren't in contact.

Also, I disagree with posters who are saying this isn't about you, when it most certainly is, at least in part. You live with them and experienced the tension as their relationship changed, and then they brought you into it while asking you to keep quiet, and now they're asking for your continued support. Plus you're family.

The best thing you can do, as others have mentioned, is to create some distance. I mean, good for them that their relationship is not so acrimonious that they can continue living together, but that doesn't mean it's good for those around them while they work the end of their marriage out. Sit them down and gently explain that while you want to be there for them, perhaps the best way to do that is for one or both of them to find another place to live. Probably your sister-in-law. Can you and your brother swing the rent, just the two of you for a while?

I wish you the best.
posted by sundaydriver at 7:45 PM on July 5, 2013


at this point I'm fairly sure I can swing my mortgage on my own. I just really don't want to look like the awful person who kicks out their family during a tough time! But yes, boundaries and space.
posted by katie521 at 7:50 PM on July 5, 2013


While there is little you can do to stop others from deciding to think that you are an 'awful person', you aren't an awful person. Nobody is awful; you're just regular people going through a difficult situation.

And each of you is responsible for making your needs known and taking care of yourselves. Compassion suggests that you be honest about how you're feeling. Perhaps they can live with each other and the tensions and emotions during this divorce, but it sounds like you very reasonably don't want to. It's not your divorce. So perhaps be honest and try to be flexible, but your brother and sister in law can figure it out and be okay, even if you tell them that for your own well being you need at least one if not both of them to move out.
posted by It's a Parasox at 8:47 PM on July 5, 2013


It's good that they intend to make this an amicable separation/divorce, but it's not fair OF THEM to expect they can both continue to stay in YOUR home while they do it..... at least one of them should move out. (Somebody upthread suggested giving them six months; considering the current situation, I'd say no more than three months.)

And honestly, a separation that includes a certain amount of space --- not just different bedrooms in the same house, but a REAL separation with them living in different residences --- will make it much, much easier for them to maintain that 'amicable' ideal. It'll reduce the tension between the two of them if they have a bit of distance between them, and that means less tension in your home. Separate residences would also mean they'd be less likely to try to drag you into the middle of it all as if you were their referee or marriage counselor.

Having one of them move out does NOT mean you are an awful person; it just means that you need YOUR space from THEIR problems.
posted by easily confused at 3:08 AM on July 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Don't sweat it if people think you're awful (and it's hard to see how someone could reasonably hold that view). When people go the extra mile or the extra five miles, no shortage of folks who think they're "awful" 'cause they didn't go the extra 15.

You're being more than reasonable if you tell the s-i-l that she needs to be out by August 6.
posted by ambient2 at 5:31 AM on July 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just really don't want to look like the awful person who kicks out their family during a tough time!

Except for certain unusual and extraordinary circumstances, STEP 1 in going through a divorce is for at least one partner, if not both, to move out into a separate living space. You should approach this like the expectation that at least your sister-in-law if not both her and her brother are going to move out is the most normal, most expected thing in the entire world.

As far as letting everyone know, generally it's regarded that these kinds of things are very personal and communicated on a need-to-know basis. Honestly, the "close friends" who know will transmit the information to the acquaintances. I have seen acquaintances quietly divorce, and I don't know exactly why or what the circumstances were-- only that they used to be married, and then now they are not, and its really none of my business exactly when or why this all happened. But that's up to the couple to decide if they want to engage in such gauche announcements of their change. Don't let them drag you into it.
posted by deanc at 7:33 AM on July 6, 2013


Kick them out (with adequate notice etc.). Having them live with you, in this situation, is more than you can handle. You have to look out for yourself; they can take care of themselves.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:32 AM on July 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


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