By Carolyn Hax
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
My brother "Jim" is engaged to "Jessica." He and Jessica recently moved into a home very close to her parents. When I speak with my brother, he immediately complains about his circumstances -- at length. He clearly loves Jessica and her family, but he shares that this family makes decisions that affect his life without his input, everything from trying to find him a better-paying job to home-improvement projects that will monopolize his time. Jessica does not appear to advocate for him when her mother assigns him another project. My brother sees himself as the "victim" and has difficulty being assertive.
Why does he want to go through with the wedding? Does he want me to ask the unspeakable question? Do I offer advice (and what would that be)? Do I try to help him see the positive aspects of his situation since he seems to have no intention of leaving it? Or do I listen empathically and say nothing? I want to make sure I offer the support he is seeking.
What you can do is limited, what you should do is debatable, but the disastrous choice is clear: Please, please do not "try to help him see the positive aspects of his situation."
You don't see them yourself, so it would be insincere. That alone rules it out.
But there's another, more compelling reason. If you were to become a lobbyist for the bright side, then you'd be increasing the pressure -- or worse, giving your tacit permission -- for him to embrace victimhood, to shut up and take whatever Jessica's family decides he should.
That's a recipe for quiet desperation, of going along to get along, the benefits of which are dubious and strictly short-term. Not even Jessica would be better for a compliant and miserable Jim.
No matter how many decisions his future in-laws make for him, your brother is choosing his fate. The only good outcome here will result from his conscious participation in this fate. So don't tell him what to think, ask him: "How do you feel about this?" "What do you wish had happened instead?" "What do you think you should do?" "What are you going to do?"
He's confiding in you; you have the opportunity to lead him to consciousness. After that, however, it's a matter of hoping the horse has the sense to drink.
I have a friend whom I really enjoy, and our sons like each other, so we often take turns hosting play dates and sleepovers. The only problem is that her husband is a real blowhard -- only into material things, and always has a loud opinion. We shy away from seeing both of them together. Is there any way to keep her friendship and avoid his?
Befriending only half of a couple requires two things: your ability to give a subtle hint, and their ability to take one. You seem to be doing your part, so now you just hope they do theirs.
If not, then you weigh her benefits against his cost. For what it's worth, blowhards tend to be insecure, not mean, which would mean less bluster the better you know him. Your good friend did marry the guy; it never hurts to try to see why.
Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or firstname.lastname@example.org.