Spoiled Rotten Brother

14 Apr

Letterbalm Two ApplesDear LetterBalm: My husband’s parents have treated his older brother like royalty all his life. As a kid, he got expensive toys and trips. They’ve bought him cars and gifts over the years and paid his entire college bill – he never even had to earn pocket money. In recent years, they’ve given him many thousands of dollars when he’s overextended and paid the mortgage on his house. My husband, on the other hand, has rarely gotten gifts, money or help for anything, including college and our home. His parents say he’s dependable and doesn’t need their help. He tries to be cool with all this, but I can tell the preferential treatment hurts him. (Therapy has helped him a lot.) I can’t say anything to his folks, but I think my husband needs to talk with them about making plans for his brother after they die. I’m worried we’ll be liable for bailing him out, since he’s accustomed to having his family handle his screw-ups. How can I approach my husband?

–Married to the Reliable One

You’re wise to consider life for your favored brother-in-law after his parents pass on. But before you do that, consider the emotional damage your in-laws have inflicted on both of their sons. Their older one has never learned accountability and may suffer real self-esteem issues, and their younger one harbors legitimate animosity at being regarded as second-best (parental recognition about being the responsible one who doesn’t need their help, notwithstanding). Ms. L.B. hopes you and your husband have adopted techniques that help you deal with his family. It’s good that counseling is helping your husband work through all these issues. Talk gently and confidentially to him thusly:

Eliot, the way your folks have favored Dexter over you over the years is something that troubles both of us. Frankly, I don’t know how you don’t hate them. Your therapy has been fantastic in helping you cope. But now I want to raise a new issue. Dexter is so dependent on them, we know he can’t take care of himself financially. I think you have to approach your parents to make legal provisions for Dexter after they pass on. You might talk with our lawyer first about what kind of arrangement makes the most sense – maybe a trust with monthly income – so you can offer a suggestion. I have no doubt you’ll be gentle with your folks and not tell them how they’ve damaged their kids. To motivate them, you might tell them you know they wouldn’t want Dexter to be without help after they’re gone. Goodness knows, it would be an absolute nightmare if you and I had to be financially responsible for Dexter or if he constantly came to us for help. Does this sound like a good idea?


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