Brotherly discord
February 5, 2018 6:25 PM   Subscribe

I'm a sjw and my brother's an asshole. Do I keep in contact with his wife and children, despite a non-functioning relationship?

My brother lashes out at me and my wife on Facebook. He calls us names (hippie circle jerk, sjw, etc...). When called on it, he apologies but in the same sentence blames us for making him mad. This occurred about 5 years ago with my wife, and we distanced ourselves from him for about 4 years, when we somewhat normalized relations last Christmas (2016) to get our families together for Christmas morning. It happened again a few months ago. I've now unfriended him on Facebook, as has my wife (a long time ago now).

I really like his wife, and his children are my kids' only cousins. They live on another continent, so we see each other rarely. His wife occasionally messages me (innocuous topics, usually about kids), and wishes me happy birthday and such.

If it weren't for his wife and children, I'd have no problem having zero contact with him for the foreseeable future. I don't want to be his punching bag, however, his wife has always been kind to me, and is not responsible for his behaviour.

He doesn't have the emotional intelligence to apologize on his own for this most recent volley of verbal diarrhea. I don't care to ask him for an apology. Do I maintain a relationship with his wife and children? How do I move forward without making this her problem?
posted by Amity to Human Relations (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Yes, maintain a relationship with the wife and children. No sense depriving your kids of what might be perfectly nice relationships with cousins just because your brother is a jerk and no sense punishing your niece/nephew for having a father you don't get on with. That really is the point of family in a way; there are bonds here that can go on in the network despite one person being difficult, offensive, etc. Of course, if your brother's kids start to be insulting or aggressive towards your kids, that is another story. But you don't have to be great friends with your brother to have a non-estranged extended family, you don't even have to talk to your brother about real things or be FB friends to have occasional family gatherings where the kids can form bonds. The wife, if she's nice enough, is important mainly as the parent of your kids' cousins and your niece and nephew. I think everyone has extended family situations where one person is very annoying.
posted by velveeta underground at 6:38 PM on February 5, 2018 [4 favorites]

Sure, why not? She is not him. They are not him.
posted by sageleaf at 6:40 PM on February 5, 2018 [4 favorites]

If you want. My brother is the same way and I had to cut off contact with him and everyone who enables him -- which included the rest of my family -- after some violence happened. So I don't know, I don't think that we are obligated to be in contact with people who enable others to abuse us, but that's just me.
posted by sockermom at 6:45 PM on February 5, 2018 [12 favorites]

His wife and children are not him. Unless they are proactively doing something to enable him, I would stay in contact with them. Why not? To spite your brother? As for your children and their cousins, when you are all in the same country in the same area at the same time, have your wife and his wife get the cousins together. You and your brother stay away from each other and from the cousins club gathering.
posted by AugustWest at 6:49 PM on February 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

It sounds like his wife is still making an active effort to stay in contact with you...if I were you and your wife, I'd focus my energy on his wife and kids. They will probably appreciate the relationship with people who are kinder and more thoughtful than your brother.

I wouldn't back down on having unfriended your brother, but still send/return messages to him wife if she's amenable. Check in every once in a while to see how the family is doing.

I'm specifically thinking of the long game here for your niece/nephew/s. Good relationships with a loving uncle, auntie, and cousins can go some ways to making up for having an asshole for a dad. And when they (hopefully) turn away from his assholery, it'll be nice for them to have progressive role models to look to (you and your wife).
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:59 PM on February 5, 2018 [27 favorites]

It seems pretty clear to me that it's already her problem and that she is aware of that. Personally I am the sort of person to make the subtext literal and so I would ask her how she's doing, how their relationship is going, and how the kids are, in the context of the asshole you both know your brother to be.

She may be taking steps to right his path, or she may be taking steps to isolate him from the kids, but you won't know that, and you won't be able to offer her any support, unless you ask.
posted by fedward at 7:10 PM on February 5, 2018 [4 favorites]

Your brother's kids are really going to need role models of sanity. If any of them turn out to be, e.g., gender-nonconforming, they may even need more than that from you. Being a sane, approachable adult relative for a child who has an awful parent is one of the kindest things you can do.
posted by praemunire at 7:31 PM on February 5, 2018 [12 favorites]

Without defending him, some people just can’t handle the internet. Keep him unfreiended, stay in contact with her, have IRL contact with both your families and see if he’s better IRL.
posted by Iteki at 10:09 PM on February 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

You can have relationships and friendships that are actually functional person-to-person, in the real world, that translate poorly to social media. It seems like a necessary component but it's really not, it's like having coworkers that you'd invite out for lunch but not befriend online, or the friends where you meet up for a coffee but you'd never write them an email or carry on a long phone conversation. Or relatives who have very different opinions so you ignore them online but enjoy talking with them about your kids at a holiday gathering.

It should be on him to realize he's not productively interacting on social media (or possibly in person) in a functional manner, but he's probably never going to get it. If his wife is the communicator it'll be fine to talk to her. If he's a jerk to her about it, she can figure out those boundaries herself.

I have close relatives that I had trouble relating to on social media! We're not connected on there. We get along just fine.
posted by mikeh at 8:09 AM on February 6, 2018

I had no relationship with my cousin and it never bothered me at all. I don't think those secondary relationships are as crucial as primary ones like sisters, brothers, moms, dads. If its easier on your emotions and stress level to just cut off any contact with your brother's family I would say do it and dont be detered by feelings of duty or worrying it's not the wife's fault he is a terrible person. If his wife is as nice as you think she is, she will understand and not hold it against you. If the wife notifies you that they will be in town and you feel up to meeting in a neutral place like a park or restaurant or something, by all means do it, but you definitely dont need to be in regular, close contact with them. Your kids wont suffer from a lack of contact with their cousins.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 12:06 PM on February 6, 2018

Are you able to stay in contact with them in a way that doesn't involve your brother?
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:15 PM on February 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

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