Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole


DEAR HARRIETTE: About 10 years ago, my husband's oldest brother passed away after a short bout with cancer. My husband was devastated. They were more than brothers; they were best friends. Since then my husband, "Hubby," has dealt with depression and anxiety so bad he can no longer work. Most days are a battle for him to get out of the house. He is seeking treatment, but it's an uphill battle. Most of his family is aware of his situation, and they try to be supportive.

He has another brother, "Bro," with whom he spends a lot of time. Every time they talk or hang out together, Hubby sinks deeper into depression. You see, Bro lies about everything. If he's not lying, he's bragging. He recently came into some money from a lawsuit. So any conversation is about how much he spent on something, the latest things he bought or where he and his family spent the weekend. Bro's preteen son is rude and cocky; he was never taught to respect his elders. When the son gets into trouble at school, Bro just calls the school and yells at the staff. At one time, this little boy worshiped my husband because Hubby is good to him. But not so much anymore.

Right now we are on a fixed income until I can get a better job. So, of course, money is tight. My heart breaks when Hubby comes home and tells me Bro's latest news. I see how much it hurts him. Any progress he makes with his depression/anxiety disappears as soon as Bro calls. I want to say something to Bro about how much he is hurting his brother, but Hubby doesn't want me to. I will respect his wishes on this. But what can I do? The entire family knows the way Bro is, and it upsets them at times, but he is family. Hubby has already lost one brother. He doesn't want to lose the other over what would become a huge argument full of denial and accusations of jealousy.

Why can't Bro see what he's doing to his brother? My only wish in this world is for my husband to be happy. But with family like this, I don't see it happening anytime soon. Do you have any advice? -- Helpless in the Midwest, Chicago

DEAR HELPLESS IN THE MIDWEST: I understand that you do not want to defy your husband, but it sounds like an intervention is needed. For starters, though, limit Bro's interaction with your family. Do not invite him or his son to visit your home. Take a message when he calls your husband.

I would take it one step further and speak to him directly, letting him know how fragile your husband is right now and asking him to be more thoughtful. Tell him that some of the things he says and does are hurtful. He may not be aware of the impact of his behavior. Describe a couple of scenarios to bring his actions to light. Ask him to be more thoughtful out of respect for his own flesh and blood. If he makes the effort, your husband may benefit.