Dear Amy:

Six months ago my wife's 50-year-old, able-bodied brother came to live with us on what my wife called a "temporary basis" because "he has no other place to go."

Despite having no valid reason for not holding down a full-time job, he refuses to seek even part-time employment, and for various reasons I am not allowed to discuss this issue with him, even though my wife and I both work full time, with my wife often working six or seven days a week.

Her brother spends his days watching television and reading the newspaper while my wife and I are at work in order to pay the mortgage.

I feel that the time has come for the issue of his refusal to seek employment to be brought out into the open, but my wife continues to consider the subject off-limits.

Any suggestions?

Enough Is Enough in Mass.

Just because your wife considers a matter off-limits doesn't mean that it is, especially when the matter at hand happens to be sitting on your couch, watching TV Land and eating your Fritos.

You might have to force the issue. Unless your wife prefers his company to yours, then you have at least some leverage.

You may need to issue an ultimatum in order to get your wife to clarify her priorities.

Your wife needs to come to the table.

It would be best to launch this conversation in the company of a neutral party. A member of the clergy or a counselor could sit down with the two of you, listen to both sides and then help you develop a plan. Your brother-in-law should be given a firm departure date, and you and your wife should devote what little energy you have left to helping him find a job, a place to live and boxes for his stuff.

Dear Amy:

From what I can gather from family members, my niece, "Betsy," is headed for a horrible marriage. Last year, Betsy got pregnant and had a child. She now wants to marry the child's father.

Amy, this guy is a loser. My niece is working hard to finish her senior year of college, earning money to support herself and the baby, with little support from her intended, who cannot hold a job and would appear to have few prospects.

Word has it that he does not treat my niece well. Neither Betsy's parents nor anyone else in the family cares to speak the ugly truth for fear that it will alienate Betsy and push her into doing something worse -- though I'm hard-pressed to imagine what would be worse.

The track records of her mother and aunt aren't great -- each of my sisters is on her second marriage, though, thankfully, these marriages seem to be working.

I, on the other hand -- a gay man -- have a wonderful, 12-year relationship with a really great guy. I want my niece to have someone as loving as he is who will treat her right.

Someone has to talk sense to this girl; should it be me? I'm willing to take the heat.

Worried

You don't seem to have any firsthand knowledge of what is going on with your niece, so you should start by getting to know her better.

I have a hard time advising you how to tell a young woman not to marry the father of her child -- I mean, having two parents who are married to each other is normally the whole idea, right?

If this guy is a bad apple (and you don't seem to know for sure one way or the other) you can try to "talk sense" to your niece, but in general, "sense talking" doesn't work unless a person asks for advice or counsel.

You should ask your niece to tell you about her dreams and goals. Give her plenty of praise for continuing with her education, and offer her your support. The more secure she feels, the less likely she is to settle into a bad relationship.

Beyond that, you and your partner can model a good relationship to her and hope that your influence makes a difference.

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