Maintaining a relationship with an unlikeable family member?
September 26, 2011 8:02 PM   Subscribe

My brother wants us to be close and I don't...What do I do? I feel terrible, but he is so UNLIKEABLE!

I have a half-brother who is several years older than I am. We have the same father. We only lived together for a short time when I was a baby. Once he graduated high school, he moved far away but always wrote to me and made it a point to spend time with me when he was in town (I was still a child for most of those years).

My childhood is now quite a bit behind me, and he moved back to the area a little over 10 yrs ago. Since then, there have been a few periods of a couple years at a time when we didn't speak. Apparently he stops speaking to me when he feels that I'm not putting forth as much effort into our relationship as he is.

Right now, we're on speaking terms and he drives me CRAZY. I feel so bad because he wants to have a relationship with me...but honestly I find him unlikeable, and it becomes worse as we get older. His personality reminds me a lot of our father (who I absolutely loathe), making it really tough for me to be around him. Although he's nice to me, I have seen him treat his girlfriends very poorly. He's a bitter person who always thinks everyone is out to get him. He sues people on a regular basis for perceived injustices committed against him. He makes rude, sarcastic remarks (although they have only been directed at me once or twice). He is very pushy; if I mention that I'm going somewhere with my friends or family (not his family, as we don't have the same mother), he'll invite himself along. If I see him on Saturday, he tries to make plans with me for Sunday too, and the weekend after that, and the weekend after that, etc etc.

He's very high-maintenance. Everything he does has to be a huge production. He can never do anything low-key, and this aspect of his personality just seemed to develop in the past few years. I could not be more opposite!

Just last month I drove for over an hour, alone at night, to attend his birthday party. It was a big hassle for me as it was a costume party and I had to search for an outfit, then spend money on it that I didn't really have, plus his bday present, which he never even acknowledged/thanked me for. He hung out with his other friends the whole night and ignored me; I don't know them well and they're not friendly at all towards me. It really got under my skin because I had gone to a lot of trouble for another one of his productions that I didn't really want to be a part of, and didn't even get an acknowledgment for it.

He is also getting married for the FIFTH time on New Year's Eve (to a great woman who he treats like crap) my New Year's Eve is shot now. I think this is so inconsiderate of him to tie everyone up on a holiday!

I dread being around him or calling him. He drains me of my energy since he is so negative, overbearing and pushy. I feel really guilty about feeling this way towards him. Our father and his side of the family really suck, and while my mom and her family are great, his mom and her family suck too, except for one aunt. So I feel like, besides her, I'm the only reasonably functional family member he has. Plus, even though I've made a lot of complaints about him here, he really can be caring towards me and seems to very much want a close relationship.

I just don't know how to deal with him. I've never encountered anyone so pushy before and don't know how to respond when he invites himself along and things like that. I find myself feeling tempted to do passive-aggressive things in hopes of pissing him off so maybe we'll have another couple years of not speaking! But at the same time I feel like a rotten person not to want a close relationship with him when he clearly does.

What do you do with a well-meaning relative who is so damned unlikeable?
posted by mhm407 to Human Relations (36 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
If he ignores you if he deems you aren't "putting in as much effort" just throw it to the wind and straight-up ignore him, and soon he'll be out of your hair, which doesn't seem like you'll mind much.
posted by banannafish at 8:09 PM on September 26, 2011 [10 favorites]

What do you do? Start drawing your boundaries. Know that where family gatherings are involved, you may have to put up with him. Don't share with him your weekend plans. Politely decline all but a few tolerable invitations and don't let him guilt you into more than that. Practice saying, "sorry it's just not possible for me to attend."
posted by amanda at 8:10 PM on September 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yeah. You don't want to hang out with him? Don't.
posted by trevyn at 8:18 PM on September 26, 2011 [4 favorites]

You do not have to accomodate people just because they are pushy. You do not have to maintain close ties or do ANYTHING else for anyone just because they want it.
I wouldn't be at all surprised though if some part of your acquiescence is because he is family, and part of you really wants this to work...and then is hurt when it just doesn't.

Ignore the well-meaning, ignore the effort, and focus on the unlikeable if you want to shake this tick. Re-train contact by turning things down. Sure, it feels a bit like slapping an overenthusiastic puppy at first (or perhaps shirking your social obligations), but eventually the overtures from him will dwindle. Get it down to somewhere you feel more comfortable with, and focus on activities/interactions with him that will inhibit the more annoying aspects of interacting with him.

Also, when & where appropriate, maybe give him a dose of the truth: Bro, it's your fifth wedding & I've got plans that night; I'll be sure to send a nice gift if you promise to send me a thank you. One of the few advantages of being related to assholes is the bargain pricetag on saying what you think.

You might cut him some slack for the inconvenient wedding date though: Those sorts of things are generally the bride's bright idea. Doesn't make you any more obligated to go, of course.
posted by Ys at 8:28 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

You shouldn't feel like a rotten person. You sound like you've given it your best and it's just not working out. Family members may get second chances and a little more leeway than Joe Schmoe off the street, but being family does not obligate you to have a relationship with someone you don't want to have a relationship with. Don't feel guilty about dropping him, he sounds intolerable.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 8:30 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Honestly, I read that you have been a pretty shitty and miserable brother to someone who seems to like you a lot. The only negative thing you mention him doing to you was not treating you like a god for driving to his birthday party that one time. And if I invited you to my party and you acted like a complete complaining pissant the whole time, I'd ignore you, too.

If you don't like this person, don't hang out with him. I don't "hang out" with my sisters. We're fine. Learn to say no. It doesn't really matter if he's the best guy ever. You don't like him. You don't want to be around him. Man up.
posted by two lights above the sea at 8:38 PM on September 26, 2011 [8 favorites]

I have only one sister, same parents, and she and I are really different. She was pretty terrible to me when we were younger, and then she did a few terrible things to me, and our parents, and even my kids, as an adult drug addict. So I hated her, and figured no contact ever again would work great for me.

Well, after a few years, here's what I found: you can have a bad relationship or a good relationship with family, but you cannot have NO relationship with family -- as you would with a former friend or lover. You have a hole that doesn't close, where you know that relationship should be. So while sometimes, yeah, it has be a no-contact, bad relationship, for your own safety and mental health -- if you can ever find some terms (however limited) on which it can be a good relationship... that feels much better.

As an aside, my sister is still very different from me, but she is much healthier now, and has since come through for me in really excellent and surprising ways.

So in your case, I'd say: Figure out what you are willing to do, and do (only) that much. You don't have to like your brother, but pushing him away and feeling weird about that takes a lot more energy than doing what you are willing to do and feeling good about that. And who knows, something honest and valuable to you might develop.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 9:10 PM on September 26, 2011 [7 favorites]

He apparently feels obligated to play the role of older brother, but he doesn't sound like he much enjoys it. You apparently feel obligated to play along and adopt the role of little sister, even though you don't enjoy it.

Look, people grow apart from some of their relatives as adults sometimes, it's not unusual. You don't have to take a stand, you don't have to break up with him, you don't have to never want to see him again.

Stop letting him dictate your schedule. If you make plans with him for a Saturday and he tries to invite himself over on Sunday as well, tell him that this won't be possible because you're busy. If he presses you for details, just give him a perplexed look and tell him that you have plans. Doing what? Plans. Of your own. P-l-a-n-s. Your plans can be to hang out in your pajamas and not listen to your half-brother talk, your plans can be to sleep in, your plans can be to watch porn all day, it doesn't matter, it's none of his business.
posted by desuetude at 9:11 PM on September 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

Did everyone seem to miss that it is his 5th wedding? No normal sane person gets married that many times.

Just stop talking to him. If he asks you to do something, say you can't and that you have to go. Do not explain or validate his complaining. Say you have to go again and hang up.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 9:13 PM on September 26, 2011 [5 favorites]

Just let it go. I'm close to two of my siblings, and not as close to my third. He's family, I know I can count on him if I need to and I see him often enough, but I don't go out of my way to spend time with him.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:14 PM on September 26, 2011

Desuetude. You really have to learn to be firm and speak up for yourself.

Since you know him, it won't be hard to pre-plan when it will be necessary to say, "No, thank you" or "That won't be possible."

Practice in your head, and then put it into action.
posted by jbenben at 9:19 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @two lights by the sea:

1) I am a female
2) I assure you I did not act like a 'complaining pissant' at the party; I put on a smile and uttered not one word of complaint
3) Didn't expect to be treated 'like a god', just thought a simple 'thanks' for a bday gift would have been nice
posted by mhm407 at 9:24 PM on September 26, 2011 [22 favorites]

Best answer: Don't worry about two lights by the sea, he obviously didn't read what you actually wrote. I think you did a very clear job of explaining the problem - he's negative, so you don't want to spend a lot of time with him, and he's thoughtless (invites himself along, doesn't recognize you may want to do something else with your time, doesn't say thanks, assumes you'll do things, etc.

Sometimes part of dealing with thoughtless people is spelling out what they didn't think. So, "I'd love to come to your party but it's an hour each way and I really prefer not to drive in the dark. Why don't we get coffee next week instead?" And all the advice above about having "plans" is totally correct too. You need to grow a backbone - or at least 'fake it until you make it'. I have a friend who's pushy like that (he honestly has a hard time wrapping his mind around the idea that anyone would ever feel obligated to say yes if they didn't _want_ to do something) and it really is kind of like pushing down an overenthusiastic puppy.

You can also set up a time well in the future when you'll see him again, so that you don't feel like you're disappearing forever. So once-a-month coffee dates, or plan to meet him for lunch the weekend after Thanksgiving - and when you see him then say "Oh, I can't do anything with you this week - I'm looking forward to seeing you at the wedding though!"

There are also tricks for dealing with negativity - I'm not great at it myself, but I know there are ways to change the topic or suggest "oh, let's talk about something more cheerful - what's something that's gone well for you lately?" (and if they aren't able to do even that much, "let's talk about something more cheerful - I thought you seemed to be having a good time at your birthday party!"...) or just shrug and nod and don't encourage the conversation until it becomes something better, which has worked pretty well for me. For most people that means we don't spend as much time talking about the negative things because I'm not asking questions or pushing for information, and people who are so negative they can't talk about anything else think I'm a boring conversationalist and leave me alone.
posted by Lady Li at 9:46 PM on September 26, 2011 [8 favorites]

Your gender is irrelevant. "Sack up", then. And if you want to get specific, I mean the sac(s) that contain your eggs. Being family != friends. I apologize if this was never made obvious to you until now. And that's not a snarky apology, either. Really, I am sorry. But now you know, and now you can just treat him like he's your brother. Because he's your brother, and he always will be, even if you aren't pals. You can say no to him, and you should. I'm an aunt of three. Do you think I've ever babysat any of them? Nope! Don't want to. Don't agree with mu sisters' life choices for a number of reasons. There's no reason to judge them, and it's pointless to feel guilty about the way I feel. The point is, I know what my obligations are with my family because I set my own limits with them and stuck to them, and they got the message. I suggest you do the same. You are lucky he's your brother and not your pal. Being brutally honest with him will be easier than if he were someone you actually liked.

And sorry for the snark earlier.
posted by two lights above the sea at 10:06 PM on September 26, 2011

You don't have to spend time with him. People who are all "family is family" are people who do not have toxic families.
posted by loriginedumonde at 10:11 PM on September 26, 2011 [23 favorites]

Best answer: First off, you can absolutely blow off that wedding. His fifth? On freaking NYE? Sorry Melvin, I'm not free that night. Here's a _____ (whatever is appropriate for them.)

He does keep on showing up. That really does count for a lot, esp since in my read of it, he's not just showing up to game you, that he really is trying to maintain love/friendship/sibling closeness.

I read it and shook my head -- this one is not easy.

And as I've read the answers thus far, and considered this thing, I think that it's time for a letter, from you to Melvin. And so I've included everything you told us in that letter; all you need do is print it out and mail it. As follows:

"Dear Melvin -- Let me start here: I really do love you. No shit -- you have shown up so consistently, you have shown me real love; you are in so many ways a great sibling. Before you read any further, know this to be the case. You are loved here.

But sometimes, hey, I can't always go along with what you ask of me. I'm not always comfortable with you, in fact I am often not comfortable with you. If it was anybody *but* you, we'd not even be having this conversation, because I'd have waved you goodbye already, were you not blood."

"I know this is not your fault, Melvin, but you remind me of our father, and you know that I don't like him at all; as you might imagine, this makes it awfully difficult to breathe easy around you. You've always treated me great, but I've seen you treat others poorly, and run them down when they're not around, and I cannot help but wonder if you do the same when I'm not around -- *that* really hurts."

"And Jesus, Mel -- Do you know how pushy you are? Do you know how difficult it is to have to deal with this aspect of your personality? Ouch. If I even mention that I'm going to my mothers home or a movie with Myrtle, you invite yourself along -- it's remarkably awkward for me to have to deal with this. I have relationships with all of these people, separate from my relationship with you. And the whole bit of 'Hey, we've got to get together tomorrow, or next weekend' or blah blah blah -- no, we don't need to get together all the time."

"My point? You are to me very high maintainence, Melvin, it's tons of work to have this relationship with you. Everything's a big production, nothing is ever low-key. Fuck! The reason I am writing you about this is that I feel it's important to keep whatever pieces of this relationship that we can; again, as noted above, if I did not want to keep ties with you, I'd have been gone long ago."

"Here's the news, Melvin: you drain me of my energy since you are so negative, overbearing and pushy. I feel really guilty about feeling this way towards you. Our father and you side of the family really suck, and while my mom and her family are great, your mom and her family suck too, except for one aunt. So I feel like, besides her, I'm the only reasonably functional family member you have. What is so confusing to me is that even though I've made a lot of complaints about you in this letter, you really can be caring towards me and you seems very much want a close relationship."

"So. I don't know exactly how to deal with this. I've written this letter a number of times, wanting to cut it down, to not sound so harsh, but this is what it is. I've never encountered anyone so pushy before and don't know how to respond when you invite yourself along and things like that. I've found myself feeling tempted to do passive-aggressive things in hopes of pissing you off so maybe we'll have another couple years of not speaking! But at the same time I feel like a rotten person not to want a close relationship with you, as you clearly do also."

"Please do not just respond to this letter in a fury. Please consider carefully what I've written here; I've bled as I've written it, not wanting to do so, but knowing that this must be done if I am to continue in this relationship, other than holiday cards. I want you in my life. But not the way it is now. It's costing me too much."

Sincerely, your sister,

posted by dancestoblue at 10:20 PM on September 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

Alternately, you can take that same letter into a therapists office and have a sit-down with your brother. That way, you are supported, and he is supported.

Even a middling therapist should be able to do this, it's not rocket science, it's two people with love trying to find their way.

Good luck.
posted by dancestoblue at 10:22 PM on September 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

My brother is a lot like your brother, except the age difference between us is a lot tighter, and the distance much greater.

On occasion, he will tell our parents that he misses me, and wants to be closer, like we were five years ago. I miss the fun times we had together, but I certainly don't miss the abusive, self-centered downer he's become, so I have drawn a lot of boundaries. If he wants to see me, he can ask me himself (he doesn't) or send an email about what he's planning to be up to on one of his visits home (he doesn't). If I'm otherwise available when we're doing family stuff, I will go. If he wants to go off on a verbally abusive rant, I will leave without a word.

If you feel put out, don't make plans with him, or don't go to his events. You can be supportive (calling, sending a gift, etc), but if you're just going to be ignored, I'd say hell with it and cut bait. DO you really want to dance attendance on someone who you can't bear to be around?
posted by mornie_alantie at 11:06 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Having your wedding on NYE is so inconsiderate it just boggles the mind. He sounds like he is so needy. Come to his party and watch him be awesome with his friends. Come to his wedding on NYE, because there is nothing more awesome than this guy. He is so awesome, in fact, that he will throw a fit if you don't put forth sufficient effort to bask in his awesomeness.

If this dude wasn't related to you, would you at all have a quandary? The only reason to be friendly with him is if ignoring him would damage other family relations, which it doesn't sound like is the case.
posted by munchingzombie at 11:50 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Are you inviting judgment here? I kind of think you are -- of him -- because you devote so much time to explaining how godawful he is, when on its face your question is just what to do with a well-meaning relative whom you don't like. If you're asking whether you're an awful person (which you kind of feel like), well, no, but you do sound like a brat to me; he sounds like someone who is a bit moody and needy and pushy.

How do you deal with him? You draw whatever boundaries you want. Show some spine.

(NYE weddings are a thing people do, by the way, and not an awful horrible evil thing. It shouldn't be that big of a deal to miss out on one night of drinking at a bar or a house party with friends.)
posted by J. Wilson at 12:22 AM on September 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

mhm407 said: "But at the same time I feel like a rotten person not to want a close relationship with him when he clearly does. "

What he wants from you is of minuscule importance compared to what you want. Family is just a genetic toss of the dice - you don't owe anything to anyone simply because you share some genes with them. I get the impression that he keeps wanting things from you because you're the only person who actually comes through on a regular basis. Him wanting something from you does not mean you have to give it to him, though. This guy hasn't given you a kidney, as far as I'm aware. Even if he had, you still wouldn't have any obligations towards him.

Decide what is and isn't acceptable to you, without judging yourself for it. If you don't want this guy in your life, then you can choose to have that. It's completely OK to just walk away. Remind yourself often that you don't owe him anything. Any obligation that you feel you have is all in your own head. Which is great, because you can change your own head. Tell yourself that it's OK to not be around this guy, because it completely is.

You know this guy is going to behave in X manner (pushy, rude, caring when he wants something from you, etc) and that this behaviour is not acceptable to you. So don't be around this behaviour. Go purposefully into another period of not talking. Use the fact that he cuts you off to your advantage. That way, he can't blame you for not having anything to do with him, as it's his choice. It doesn't really sound like you're going to be missing out on a lot by having nothing to do with this guy, and that you'll stand to gain a fair bit.

Quit bothering. Treat him like you would someone you're sat next to on the bus - polite but vague, very vague. Would you explain yourself to BusPerson? I'm guessing not, so don't explain yourself to your half-brother.
posted by Solomon at 12:51 AM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Maybe I'm the only one here who is a little uneasy about this guy. He sounds very much like my cousin - a person who must be the center of everyone's world and can't imagine what's wrong with you if you don't see it that way. He's controlling, right? And you say he treats his new wife and others "like crap" - as he does you, but you're probably the only one who keeps coming back for more just because he's your (half) brother.

You need to think enough of yourself to decide that you need him in your life like you do the measles. It's one thing to be "family" to some of those family members who just don't make your life particularly exciting, but it's quite another to be playing the enabling role to someone who plays on your "sibling" status in order to run your life. At least with my cousin, if you give him an inch, he'll take a mile - and by that I mean that once his controlling and rude and aggressive behavior is tolerated and accepted albeit with grumbling, he just gets worse and worse, to the point where he can become downright mean. No one ever realized this when there were grown men who were much bigger and older than he was (and who controlled money he hoped to inherit one day), but once his father and uncle had passed away and there was no one but his elderly mother left, he began to threaten her - because she was spending "his" inheritance for caregivers, etc.

My advice would be to be "too busy" to see him often, encourage him to spend more time with his new wife, even get a strong man in your life - friend or lover, doesn't matter - because the odds are he'll back down if he can't walk all over you. And consider yourself lucky if he quits talking to you. I think your intuition is whispering in your ear to stay away from him and it's wise to listen.
posted by aryma at 1:17 AM on September 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

desuetude, at the most basic level, if you do not want to spend time with your brother, you merely say "no". Over and over again, if you have to. Despite how you're portraying him here, he is not actually forcing you to do things against your will.

At a deeper level, if he badgers you, you have the option of saying "no, I don't want to go to TGI McApplebee's with you, because you always insult the waitstaff." This may inspire him to stop insulting the waitstaff or it may not, but at least you've made your position clear. If he doesn't thank you for the gifts you give him, don't give him any more gifts. If he's rude enough to ask where his gift is, tell him he didn't seem to like the last gift you gave him so you decided not to give him any more.

Are you going to get me to agree that you don't have to go to his fifth wedding because it's on NYE and therefore obviously an attention-seeking act? Well, again, on the most basic level, you do not have to do it if you don't want to. Should the mere fact that it's your brother and it's his wedding make any difference? Actually, yes, if you ask me. Yeah, but it's his fifth wedding and he always treats his women like crap, which is probably why it's his fifth wedding. Now here is where you make your choice. You could say "no, brother, I can't attend your wedding because I don't approve of the match - of you to anybody. You have ill-treated your last four wives and I fully expect that you will ill-treat this one and I cannot pretend to give you my blessing." Perhaps nothing will make the guy change his ways, but if anything did, it would probably be the loss or the threat of loss of something he values (presence) from someone he values (you).

If you are trying to get me to say that you don't have to attend your brother's wedding on NYE because you could be doing something more important, I am going to have to disappoint you. Don't attend because you disapprove of the match, and tell him so. Don't attend because you want no relationship with your brother at all, and tell him so or don't tell him so. But don't seek my approval for treating your brother like crap in return, because two wrongs don't make a right.

You have my every sympathy because it's vexing that jerks exist and go around acting like jerks, and I wish they would change as much as you do, especially when that jerk is your brother and you very reasonably love him and want to like him into the bargain. But you can only use what influence you have, if any, and then draw a line. Sorry, it sucks.
posted by tel3path at 4:18 AM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Just realized that I started off wanting to quote desuetude and I accidentally made it look like I was calling you by desuetude's name! Please don't break up with me over this! desuetude's just a friend...

How I meant to open was this:

Listen to desuetude, at the most basic level...
posted by tel3path at 6:52 AM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

You can pick you friends, and you can pick your enemies, but with relatives it's just up to the stars. Having said that, just because you share some genetic material doesn't mean you have to share your time with him. Why set yourself up for more misery? Write a letter to him detailing all of the reasons you don't want to have a relationship with him. Be as objective as possible. You don't have to be cruel. Craft it carefully, agonize over it, revise it repeatedly, and when when you think you have it perfected put it away for a few days. If it still feels right, send it. You might have a trusted friend, who knows you well and whose judgement you trust, read it first.
posted by Daddy-O at 7:12 AM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

jbenben and tel3path, I don't have an older brother, and have no problem standing up for myself.

I wasn't even disagreeing with anyone else's advice, my point was that she can draw her own boundaries, according to her own preferences, rather than putting so much weight on her interpretation of what he seems to want.

There's no rule that says that confrontation is the only way to take control of this type of relationship. Sometimes it's not worth the energy. Sometimes it's not worth the drama. Sometimes it's feeding a troll. I don't know the guy. I don't really have an opinion on the date of his wedding or number of marriages.
posted by desuetude at 7:21 AM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sorry, desuetude, I was trying to agree with you.
posted by tel3path at 7:23 AM on September 27, 2011

Whew, tel3path, I read that as you disagreeing with me and wondered what the heck? Um, sorry for the confusion, folks. Carry on, then.
posted by desuetude at 7:25 AM on September 27, 2011

@two lights by the sea:

1) I am a female
2) I assure you I did not act like a 'complaining pissant' at the party; I put on a smile and uttered not one word of complaint
3) Didn't expect to be treated 'like a god', just thought a simple 'thanks' for a bday gift would have been nice
posted by mhm407 at 12:24 AM on September 27 [16 favorites +] [!]

You've gotten lots and lots of good, thoughtful, kind, supportive advice in this thread and in your only followup, you responded only to the single post/poster that gave you a couple of negative pokes. Not that you need to reply to everyone, but you might want to look into why you seem to be much more responsive to negative feedback than to positive feedback. It's possible that tendency plays a role in your relationship with your brother as well.
posted by headnsouth at 7:42 AM on September 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

Cutting this guy out of your life is is 100% an option. All you have to do is stop taking his calls and not returning the messages he leaves you. If he shows up at your door, don't let him is because "Now is not a good time".

The fact that he wants a close relationship is irrelevant. Blow him off consistently enough and it seems he'll leave you alone. That's what you're looking for.

He's made his bed, now he's a grown-ass man and has to lie in it. Toxic people get abandoned and left alone when people choose not to engage the toxicity. Send a card to the wedding and go out NYE. Because yeah, a big NYE wedding for the FIFTH TIME OUT is ludicrous. Why should you spend a lot of effort on celebrating this when his track record is so bad you can expect this one to fail as well?

Don't explain, because explanations only give him something to argue against.

"I'm sorry, that won't be possible."

Just because he is your half-brother in no way means he has any kind of unalienable right to be a part of your life and inflict his toxicity on you.

100% an option to not have him in your life. Family is as family does. Learn to be unavailable; physically, emotionally, and communication-wise.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:04 AM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I have relatives like that. It's up to you whether or not you want to have a relationship with him or not, but if you do, you have to put in some work too. You come across as pretty judgmental. Which, trust me, I understand. I do not agree with A LOT of my siblings' life decisions. But it doesn't help. Instead of thinking "What kind of moron gets married five times?", I try thinking "It must be really rough on Sibling X to not be able to maintain a healthy longterm relationship." Because from what you wrote, it doesn't seem like your brother is trying to upset you. He just doesn't know how to act. And I'm guessing (based on the multiple marriages, love of production, and pursuit of you, that this is someone who wants approval. Which is actually kind of easy to work with. When something goes right, a drama free dinner or whatever, say so. "This was really fun! Sometimes family dinners get kind of drama-rama you know? But this was really enjoyable. We should do this kind of relaxed thing again!" And when something goes wrong, shut it down. But shut it down calmly and quietly and resist the urge to get snipey. If they start talking smack on person X, I just say "Eh, I'm not really interested in talking smack on Person X. What are you going to plant in your garden this year?" Identify what you don't like and move on.

I still have issues with the folks in question. And they are still pretty drama prone. But, the behavior is definitely reigned in when I'm around. Which is all I ask. Everyone's human and trying to find their way. That's your job to remember. Try to be nice.

I also hang out with my family several times a year instead of several times a week. These behaviors DEFINITELY become increasingly aggravating with frequency, so there's nothing wrong with dialing it back if seeing him less often means a better time time together when you do see him.

Good luck.
posted by troublewithwolves at 8:59 AM on September 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: You've gotten lots and lots of good, thoughtful, kind, supportive advice in this thread and in your only followup, you responded only to the single post/poster that gave you a couple of negative pokes. Not that you need to reply to everyone, but you might want to look into why you seem to be much more responsive to negative feedback than to positive feedback. It's possible that tendency plays a role in your relationship with your brother as well.

I don't know if that's quite a fair characterization; the OP may simply be trying not to threadsit, and so only replied to the one negative comment (which was so bizarrely out-of-left-field in its assumptions and insulting tone) because it didn't have much to do with anything the OP stated in her question, and as such it had the potential to derail the discussion. Honestly, I think the OP responded in a perfectly appropriate, self-respecting way simply in order to keep the thread on track.

That said... OP, I agree with everyone who says that it's fine for you to draw boundaries with your brother. As the saying goes: you can't change or control him, you can only change or control your own responses to him. You have a very clear sense of who he is and how he behaves. Now, you get to decide how much you want him in your life, in terms of both social interaction and the amount of space/energy he takes up in your own head.

For example, you don't want to go to his (fifth!) wedding on New Year's Eve? Totally fine. So you politely send your regrets, you send a gift (if you wish) that costs exactly what you feel comfortable spending, and you never entertain the expectation of a thank you note in the first place. That's it. If he complains, whines, insults, wheedles, cajoles you to be at the wedding, demands a better gift, or tries to make you feel bad for not being there... you let it slide right off you. You don't get angry when the thank you note doesn't arrive, because you didn't expect it in the first place. You just observe all of this as his behavior that says nothing about you, and plenty about him. Calmly cut the conversation short, or delete the email, or whatever it takes for you to detach.

Repeat as necessary for other interactions: you decide what you're comfortable with doing, you do it, and you know ahead of time that you will let him respond however he's going to respond without getting hooked by it.

This sort of thing can certainly be tricky, but it can be done if you do some mental preparation ahead of time. If you have a good sense of how he might respond to your boundaries, then you don't have to be too surprised when he does precisely what you thought he would do. (It might help to say to yourself something like "well, that's just Josh being Josh.") This helps decrease your anger/anxiety/frustration/etc. that get triggered by his behavior, which in turn begins to put a stop to the whole push-me/pull-you dance the two of you seem to have gotten into over the years.

If you're interested in this sort of thing, Pema Chodron's Getting Unstuck has been an insightful and useful resource for me in dealing with this sort of thing. Good luck!
posted by scody at 10:36 AM on September 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

Just because someone happens to be related to you does not automatically mean that they are good for you. You have to look out for yourself first and foremost. You are responsible for your own happiness and if your brother is a liability to you after you have put forth your best effort to get along, then there is no reason why you should ever have to talk to him again if you don't want to. If he is a constant drain on your life (not just a little here and there when he is having a rough time) then that is all the reason that you need to excuse him from your social circle without guilt.

He may always be your brother. He may be the only brother that you will ever have. But that does not mean that you are responsible for him, his poor behavior, or required to silently tolerate him. You are his sister not his mother, and he is a grown ass man not a child.
posted by Shouraku at 10:53 AM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Could you stand having a brother/sister monthly date? That way he can feel like an important part of your life (because you're saving a special day for him), but you can have distance and boundaries, because you won't meet him any other day.
posted by clearlydemon at 11:14 AM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks so much everyone! Have to run now, but will post a follow-up later.
posted by mhm407 at 8:16 AM on September 28, 2011

Response by poster: I have to say I am overwhelmed by the understanding and support I've received in this thread. It's comforting to know that plenty of people understand where I'm coming from, and not everyone thinks I'm a monster for it. There was also a lot of great practical advice offered, and I really appreciate the time you guys took to give it.

Some special mentions:

@Lady Li - Your advice is seriously awesome. It's practical and immediately useful, and it's exactly what I needed--a way to point out thoughtless behavior and discourage negativity without being confrontational. I have trouble believing your statement that you're not great at dealing with negativity; sounds to me like you're pretty skilled at handling difficult people. PS - Thanks for coming to my defense regarding two lights above the sea's post.

@dancestoblue - In all honesty, I doubt I'll write my brother a letter (unless our relations become really strained in the future--for now the strain is only on my end!), and I know we won't go to therapy together. With that said...I. Loved. Your "Letter". As I read it, it dawned on me that I was enjoying one of those rare occasions when I know that someone truly *gets* me. Thank you. You did a far better job expressing my feelings than I did, and if ever I find myself in a confrontation with my brother, now I'll know what to say.

@troublewithwolves - You gave much-needed advice that I will take to heart. You're absolutely right; I am judgmental. I have noticed this tendency in myself but it didn't really occur to me that I could or should try to change it. Duh. I'm glad you pointed out what probably should have been obvious to me but wasn't--that I *can* reframe my thinking. And I appreciate that you expressed your criticism kindly and offered a solution along with it. Thank you!

@scody - Your post left me with the feeling that you had read my mind. First, thank you for defense :) You were exactly right--I usually like to let threads percolate for a while before I reply, but when I saw the post in question I responded to set the record straight. The party incident was simply a recent example of something he did to irritate me, certainly not the main focus of the thread. Although people who can't express disagreement without resorting to cursing and name-calling should not be dignified with a response, I did not want the remaining answers I received to be tainted by someone else's false assumptions or misinterpretations of my question. I appreciate your understanding of my position and feelings throughout this thread. I clicked on your link for "Getting Unstuck"...and couldn't believe what I saw when I read the summary. I have been searching high and low for a book exactly like this one--something based on Buddhist teachings that deals with this exact subject matter, but for some reason nothing I had come across online so far seemed to be quite what I was looking for. This book is it! I can't wait to read it! Thank you so much.
posted by mhm407 at 2:14 PM on September 28, 2011

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