Bossy Brother-in-Law

30 Jan

Letterbalm No TravelDear LetterBalm: I have three sisters. We want to plan a big trip to Australia and New Zealand next year with our husbands. We all get along except for husband of one of us. He’s argumentative, a know-it-all, and he verbally abuses our sister. We put up with his loudmouth behavior at family events, but traveling with him for several weeks will be tortuous and disruptive and ruin the trip for everyone. Frankly, we’re trying to figure out how we can include his wife without him. We’re thinking of not telling them about the trip or telling her she can come but he can’t. Of course, this means a family riot. How do we get out of this and still have a nice trip?

–Family Footloose

Ms. L.B. wants you to know that this is the sort of problem that encourages feuds or duels. Tread carefully. Don’t complicate matters by lying. Be honest, even if you hurt your sister’s feelings. And, you must be truthful because anything you say will remind your sister that she married a jerk (who may well get angry and take it out on her when he finds out about being excluded from the planned vacation). Several steps to take: First, stop discussing this with those not directly involved in the trip. Second, arrange to meet your sister in a way that recalls happy times for her. Coffee around the kitchen table? An afternoon along a hiking trail? Cooking together in a sister’s kitchen? If you think she won’t feel ganged up on, all of her sisters can be there; otherwise, pick the one with whom she’s the closest:

Emilia, I/we love you very much – please, don’t forget that. But I/we have to say something that probably will hurt your feelings. We’re planning a trip next year to Australia and New Zealand with our husbands. As you know, it’s a part of the world we’ve all wanted to see, and we plan to be there for a month, which makes it a big commitment in time and money. We want you with us, but, Honey, Alvin really complicates things. I’ll/we’ll come right out and say it: He isn’t a good traveling companion. He’s difficult, overbearing, and he’ll disrupt things in a big way. You’re welcome, he isn’t, and we’re firm on this. It wouldn’t have been fair to keep the trip from you – we never would do that. If you want to talk about this, I’m/we’re here to listen. And, if you want all of us to talk with Alvin, we will. The guys are willing to do it, even though he may argue and try to convince us to include him. Please don’t be angry. Let’s talk about all this.

Small Minds

29 Jan

Dear LetterBalm: Our daughter’s marriage broke up after only six months. Her husband was arrested and accused of molesting several children years before she met him. She was divorced quickly and met someone during that time. They’re planning to marry next month. All this has taken place over a short time – less than 18 months. We live in a small town, and everybody knows the details. Unfortunately, some insensitive people think it’s their business to ask very personal questions. Is there anything we can say to stop the intrusiveness without getting angry?


Your daughter has been through an ordeal, and, while Ms. L.B. might have advised her to take things more slowly after her breakup, she is moving on with her life. Some counseling is in order to help her process what happened to her and understand that none of it was her fault. It is hoped that she and her fiancé are planning a small wedding with only family and close friends in attendance. You and your family owe nothing to the tactless folks who insert themselves into peoples’ private business. Work up a few neutral responses along these lines:

  • Yes, Dulcie is getting married on Valentine’s Day. We’re so fortunate to be able to welcome Bill into our family. He’s a wonderful person.
  • We’re so happy for Dulcie and Bill. They’re going to make a new life together.
  • Oh, we don’t dwell on Dulcie’s first marriage. It’s in the past and the subject is closed.
  • Yes, it was horrible what happened, and I’m sure you understand that I’d prefer not to discuss it further.
  • May I ask, why would you want to know?
  • My goodness, for the life of me, why would you ask such a question?


Life on the Clock

28 Jan

Letterbalm Time for SexDear LetterBalm: My partner and I have been together three years and are raising three children from our previous marriages. We get along very well – we laugh and cry together and agree on the important stuff. Our kids are happier and more secure than they’ve ever been. Both of us feel the other is the best person we’ve ever known. But we have one big timing problem now. My partner recently began working for a software company based in Asia. It’s a great job – he works from home and the pay is excellent. But because of the time difference, he comes to bed when I’m almost ready to get up for my day job. He wants to have sex then, but I’m sound asleep. He gets angry, we have words and everybody in the house sulks. And, we’re finding it difficult to co-parent when we’re on opposite schedules. What can I do to restore harmony?


Presumably, your partner is not teleconferencing in real time all night long with his colleagues. Sometimes he must be on the computer working solo. It seems to Ms. L.B.  that since he has more room to maneuver, it is up to him to approach his colleagues/bosses and see if his work schedule can be more flexible. Approach your partner and talk with him thusly:

Stan, I want to talk about a way we might resolve some of the recent tension in the house. You and I miss the intimacy and our private time together, the kids miss us. Your job is something you love, and it brings in good money. I’d never ask you to give it up. But the schedule is eating away at our lives. I have a couple of suggestions. Is it possible for you to talk with your colleagues to see if a work plan might be feasible? You might propose hours or days that you work alone and other hours or days designated to work with others. This will enable you to budget your time to allow for more work during daytime hours on your own. If we have the weekends and, say, two days a week when you have a schedule that matches mine, we can make things work. I know this will wreak havoc with your sleeping habits – and, we’ll all try to help. Can we talk about this and work up something together?  


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