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Family ignores the tension in the room
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Dear Carolyn • I've written before, but in a much elongated version. Yet the problem persists: My brother-in-law, husband to my husband's sister, has been verbally abusing my husband for over a year now (well, actually, through email to him and rants to other relatives). His sister will not intervene, since her husband has proceeded with her knowledge and approval. This mess is entirely the result of a family business situation, not of either of their making. The dilemma: We are often invited to celebratory family events that these two will surely attend. Our non-attendance is noted. So, how to handle these situations? Parents-in-law say not going would be "politically" loathsome; ignoring bro-in-law seems childish; small-talk seems abhorrent — unless it's to call him out as the ass he is, which would be rude. I am in a quandary. Suggestions? This is still too long.

Anonymous

Dear Anonymous • No, it's just right. There's a lot going on here. And it all adds up to a classic bullying scene. Your brother-in-law is the bully, your sister-in-law is his validation — mean people generally think they're justified, not mean — your husband is the victim, their parents and other relatives are the under-outraged bystanders, and you're the one watching it all and saying, "Um, isn't anyone going to do anything?" To answer your question: Whoever thinks to ask it is the one stuck with acting on it. So talk to your husband about how you and he can handle this in a way less reminiscent of rolling helplessly onto your backs. You can, for example, explain to his parents this has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with decency. Skipping encounters with the brother and sister-in-law is your right, and if the rest of the family misses you, then they can take it up with the brother. If they don't like that, then you can say you'll gladly take your place at family gatherings, but do so feeling no obligation to pretend all is peachy just to maintain appearances. If your husband refuses to rock the boat — steady it, I say — then please remind him that everything he does or doesn't do at this point is a statement; it might as well state what he wants to say.

Carolyn Hax's column runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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