My brother seems to have taken the opposite approach. Ever since his marriage, he has moved further and further apart from us, participating in family rituals — birthdays, holidays, etc. — but being completely silent otherwise, not returning phone calls and texts.
I understand he is allowed to choose who he wants to associate with, and if his path to healing means not seeing us, then that is his decision. But it hurts me and it hurts my parents, and I wonder if it is okay for me to say something to him — and, if so, what I should say. I want to have him in my life but I also accept it if he does not want to be. What should I do?
C.: It appears you’re doing a lot right. Respecting that your brother is entitled to his own impressions, feelings and choices is foremost, and showing him that kind of respect is your best path to preserving your connection to him.
Your rallying through doubts to embrace his now-wife is an important element of that. You’ve also taken a mature position on your parents and their frailties. In general, by your account, you’ve adopted a forgiveness-based attitude toward your family where no shortage of people turn combative instead. Great.
In two four-word phrases, however, you reveal yourself as being at two different crossroads where the wrong choice could undermine everything you hope to achieve.
The first: “ever since his marriage.” Again, you’re embracing his wife as family, rightly. But if you let yourself ooze around that firewall into blaming her for his absence, then you’ll wake up one day as her antagonist — and he’ll sense that, guaranteed. If he hasn’t already caught the same hint I did.
So please keep this in mind: Sometimes partners drive wedges into families, yes. But people also choose partners who help them act on their own impulses to distance from family. It’s not a subtle distinction; the former makes it the wife’s idea, and the latter your brother’s. Let this possibility keep you neutral.
The second: “it hurts my parents.” Of course it does. But aligning yourself with them as their spokeschild — making their pain your cause and taking it up with your brother — forces your brother to treat you and your parents as a unit. That not only includes you in any further estrangement he chooses, but also increases the likelihood he’ll choose it. Just watching a Team Parents coalition form could be enough to convince him that the family dysfunction is too entrenched to deal with.
So, recognize these crossroads and pick wisely: Your brother speaks for himself, you speak for you — just saying you miss him, perhaps — and you nurture whatever connection is left. Best chance, no guarantees. Good luck.