Dear Amy: My brother has always been difficult to deal with. He thinks he knows everything about everything. I have always overlooked his faults and helped him out. He has been divorced twice and only knows one of his three children. He has been fired from numerous jobs, and has lost countless friends and girlfriends because of his know-it-all attitude.
Recently on a trip to our family home upstate, our mother asked him to move to the end of our deck to smoke his cigarette. The smoke bothers me, and my mother has COPD. He refused, saying, “... get used to it.”
I couldn’t believe he wouldn’t move 15 feet away. He began screaming at me and cursing.
I responded by saying that if he continued this behavior, he would be a very lonely person.
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I haven’t spoken to my brother since, but somehow my mother is angry with me for confronting him.
My mother always sides with my brother. He helps her out, and I am also constantly there for her, but she feels sorry for him and continues to make excuses for his behavior.
I refuse to go to our upstate home if he is there and will not refrain from smoking in my presence.
Am I being unreasonable, or is this simply another case of my brother asserting control?
I need an impartial opinion.
Dear Upset: Your mother is defensive about this dynamic, because she is an important part of the dynamic. Your brother could not behave this way without her assent. She helped to create this smoke-spewing Godzilla, and now she will baby him, even at her own expense.
Regarding keeping your distance, you should do what you want to do. What you should NOT do is make heavy pronouncements. Don’t announce that you will no longer spend time at your family’s upstate home if your brother is there. Decide on a case-by-case basis what you want to do, and always build in an escape hatch so that the consequences are proportional, immediate, and in your control. For instance, your brother lights up. You ask him to move a few feet away. He refuses. You say, “Well, then, I’m going to have to say goodbye. See you soon, Mom. I’ll be in touch.”
Dear Amy: I’m at a crossroads. I sincerely love my husband but am not sure I can continue to be with him.
A few months ago I asked him to go to therapy, and he said he would. He wants me to do the legwork for him because he is way too busy and important (sarcasm intended) to do the legwork himself.
I’m an enabler and he has addiction issues. I’ve been in therapy for a number of months and have been working through my own issues, including getting a backbone.
I’m so very tired of the ups and downs of addiction. I never know when he will fall off the wagon. A few months ago, he stole some of our son’s ADHD medication (he has done this before).
I’m ready to leave him over this. He just doesn’t seem to understand how serious this is. Should I do the legwork for him or should he look into a therapist on his own?
Dear Wondering: You might start by inviting your husband to attend a therapy session with you. You already have a therapist, and the “legwork,” so to speak, has already been done. Or you could ask your therapist for a referral, write the number down on a post-it note, and hand it to your husband. Consider this as legwork, completed.
Otherwise, you need to understand that you can lead a man to therapy, but you can’t make him heal. Forcing therapy on someone removes the most important element in the therapeutic process, which is an individual’s own desire for insight and change.
Work on yourself. In addition to your individual work, you should also attend a “friends and family” addiction support group. Al-anon (alanon.org) meetings could help you to understand the difference between enabling and detachment.
Dear Amy: I really identified with “Up to Here with Gifts,” whose kids are overwhelmed with gifts at Christmastime. We had the same issue, and so we initiated a family gift exchange where people drew names from a hat and concentrated on that person.
Happy with Less
Dear Happy: My family did this, too; it worked out well. Some children have multiple sets of grandparents, and that’s when things can get crazy.
Email Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org.