Writer and broadcaster

My husband has grown apart from his brother and they rarely see each other. The Guardian.

Dear Annalisa

My husband is a loving, gentle person, who used to be best friends with his younger brother. Since my brother-in-law met his wife, J, four years ago, they have grown apart. When I first came into my husband’s life two years ago, he would buy his nieces presents and call his brother to ask if we could call by. This was never reciprocated, and slowly we would wait until we were invited, but the call never came. 

He speaks to his brother every day when they are at work. However, they now rarely see each other. From what I have been told, they were best friends before J came along. His brother and J started to throw parties, asking all my husband’s friends along, but never my husband.

When his brother got married last year, he wasn’t asked to be best man, much to his upset. He was not invited to the “pre-wedding” party and many parties since. None of his side of the family were invited to the wedding other than us and their parents, much to the hurt of his grandparents and aunts.

This hurts him very much and is making their mother very angry too. She puts it down to his new wife. However, I am puzzled as to why his brother doesn’t say anything if this is the case. My husband just says that there is no point to saying anything, and is worried that we have done something wrong to make them not invite us. When I was pregnant with our son, my husband was so excited that our child would be partners in crime with his cousins, but he has only met them a handful of times. 

I feel sad for him but not sure what I can do to help. Should I say something to J next time I see her? Their mother is too scared to say anything in case she is prevented from seeing her granddaughters. My husband doesn’t want to make things worse. So I am the only one with nothing to lose from saying anything, and frankly, I think his brother and J need to hear that what they are doing is hurtful.

Let’s try to look at this differently. There are as many sides to a situation as there are people in it. And saying something may bring about some surprises that aren’t entirely welcome. Families are fluid. When new people join, the dynamic of a family can shift.

“I think the first thing to do,” suggests the psychotherapist Karen Holford (aft.org.uk), “is to normalise this. Families change. I wonder what your expectations of family are?”

This is a good point because we all bring our own idea of what a family should do, how it should behave, into the new family we join when we partner up with someone. I do hear that you are saying it’s not just you who finds your brother-in-law’s and his wife’s behaviour odd but I would like to know more about how things were in the time between J joining the family and you joining. Also what was your brother-in-law’s role in the family? Did he do things for people he can’t now? Did he fulfil a role in other people’s lives?

It’s entirely normal for your brother-in-law to want to make his own life now that he is married, to refocus his attentions, just as it is for your husband to do so. It seems as if the brothers’ relationship continues, albeit by phone, so I’m wondering if perhaps it’s all of you together that may be overwhelming for your brother-in-law or his wife, for reasons you just don’t know.

How many people were invited to the wedding? If it was really small then it’s not at all unusual for just very close family to be invited.

Holford was keen for J not to be scape-goated and it does seem as if she is carrying a huge burden here. “If you approach her as if she’s the problem, this may make her back off even more,” suggests Holford. “Another approach may be to say to her something like ‘let’s meet up for coffee’ – look for other ways to connect with her.”

How often do you invite them over to yours or initiate meeting up? Your letter was very much about them not inviting you to things. “When you do all meet up,” asks Holford, “who makes that happen, how does it work?”

It would be easy to cast J as the bad guy here but that’s not helpful. If you can’t approach this positively then I would leave things alone for now. You both have very young children and that can make people too exhausted to see straight. Stay in touch with each other, however loosely, busy yourself in your own life and things may yet change again. You may think you have nothing to lose but actually, it’s a short step between being the problem solver and the trouble-maker.


First published in The Guardian Family section on 21 February 2014.