Carolyn Hax: Brothers treated differently

Carolyn Hax
Columnist December 8, 2012

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

Is there anything that I can tell my boyfriend to comfort him about the fact that his parents have always treated him and his brother differently? Their reasoning is that the other brother has a health problem, so they’ve always tried to make the path easier for him. This health problem obviously makes his life a little harder but not enough to necessitate the level of hand-holding he has received for 15 years.

It was in my boyfriend’s best interest that his parents didn’t do this to him; he’s much more independent than his brother and has a much better relationship with them. In any case, he still feels like they love his brother more than they love him.

Anonymous


Seems to me the source of comfort has been available to him all along, and he has refused it; he doesn’t want to believe health explains his parents’ choices, or that your boyfriend is better for it. He wants to believe they love his brother more. Whether the facts point to that or his feelings do is almost irrelevant. He believes what he believes.

So, I would take it down that road for him. As in: “Okay, you have a good explanation for your parents’ behavior, and you’ve rejected it. You’re certain your parents loved your brother more.

“What now? What if we stipulated that, yes, they loved him more — what do you want to do/say/hear/accomplish now that you have this information? Does it change the way you see yourself, or do your work, or pursue your hobbies? Do you think all this makes you the better person, the lesser person — or neither because it ultimately wasn’t about anything you did? Does it change the way you see your parents? Would it matter if they did it on purpose or unwittingly?

“Finally, what do you want from them, from yourself or from the universe — do you want an apology? Justice? License to grieve?”

More combative than some people want to be, perhaps, but there’s no peace for him till he reckons with this, so why not throw some breadcrumbs along the path?

Carolyn:

It does change his work and hobbies. He works in a family business with his dad, and his parents support his brother’s very expensive hobby while not supporting his. So, I guess the answer is acceptance and recognizing it’s not his fault, and honestly not really about him.

Anonymous again

Yes — and also considering steps to remove himself from what is obviously a source of chronic frustration and disappointment. Is it time to look for a new source of income?

That’s the obvious step, but it’s not the only one; he can also adjust the amount of time he spends with family outside of work, or invest in a few sessions with a competent therapist to learn new approaches to his parents, or break any habits so strongly associated with his family that they inflame his sense of injustice.

This doesn’t fall under “comfort,” but whatever he’s waiting for isn’t coming. Please urge him to make his peace with himself.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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