Husband's Brother Destroying Their Peace

Q: My husband and I have been blissfully married for 30 years. His older brother, who made a fortune and lost it, is an alcoholic who has been a huge burden on the family, especially on my husband. The constant conference calls between my husband's elderly parents and his sister and new husband and my husband over "what are we going to do with Steven" are emotionally draining, frequently turning into arguments centered on the enabling vs. the tough love approach. But my brother-in-law can only help himself regardless of how much money is thrown at him.

My problem is how to extricate my husband from this abyss. He's totally aware of all the dynamics, is a healthy thinker, but has a sense of obligation to his family. Do I threaten divorce knowing I would never leave my true love and partner? If I did, he would know I meant business. — Sharon, 53

Dr. Susan: A loving partner ought never to threaten to abandon the relationship. I see a similarity between your desire to extricate your husband from this crazy-making situation and your husband's family's desire to extricate your brother-in-law from his own mess. You said you know that no matter what you all do, alcoholic Steven will have to help himself. All the rest is an unhelpful co-dependency that keeps you all embroiled in his drama.

Same goes for your urge to save your husband from his fruitless efforts to help his family. Too many family members only frustrate themselves dealing with a troublesome sibling. My suggestion is that you announce to your husband that you will no longer participate in the madness, and that he may not share details with you anymore. Put your marriage's survival above your brother-in-law's problems. He is obviously old enough to get real help. Otherwise, he'll be taking the whole family down with him.

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