DEAR AMY: Six years ago, I saw my brother-in-law holding hands with another woman. The way I remember it, he walked out of the bar with her and his friend (male) following behind. I was absolutely shocked at what I saw. A few days later, I mentioned to him that I was at the same bar where he had been. He flinched. It’s as if his body language said, “Damn, I hope he didn’t see me.” A few weeks later, I confronted him and asked him about it. His response was that I was “reading too much into it,” and that it was a “moment of madness.” He said that the woman was drunk and after dancing with her, his friend put her in a taxi and sent her home. He said he didn’t have sex with her. I didn’t tell my sister about this because she would’ve been devastated. They have been married for 25 years and have two children. They currently seem happy. Six years later, I still feel angry toward him. We’re civil when we’re together, but I have a lot of repressed anger. Should I have told my sister? Should I tell my sister now? How do I know he hasn’t been with other women? Can I trust him? Or should I forgive him and move on? It’s not the first time he has raised my eyebrows. At his 30th birthday, I was introduced to an attractive woman who was interested in me. Because he also thought she was attractive, he jokingly said, “Can I leave your sister?” Please offer any advice you have.
DEAR UPSET: You obviously don’t like your brother-in-law. You definitely don’t trust him. But guess what — you don’t have to like or trust him. His wife does.
You do not know if your brother-in-law has been with other women. You only know what you saw, and in the absence of any other evidence pointing toward infidelity, you should definitely put this behind you and move on.
Unfortunately, you can’t seem to do that, so you should try to uncover what lies behind your anger. The key to your anger might lie in your own family history. Was your father in the picture? Was your parents’ marriage strong? Have you been cheated on?
If you are able to unwrap your own feelings and understand them, you will feel better. Then, if you must, you can say to your brother-in-law, “Dude, I really don’t trust you. I never have and I don’t now. I hope you treat my sister well.”
DEAR AMY: I am very much an introvert. Hosting house guests is quite stressful for me. I realize that hosting people is a fact of life, however, since we live far away from many of our friends and relatives. We also happen to live in a warm, sunny place. Now that I am getting ready to retire, I am wondering if there is a tactful way to ask people, up front, to limit stays to three or four days?
DEAR PROUD: You do not need to host anyone, ever, if you don’t want to. I understand that you can feel pressured by family members and friends, but you are not obligated to provide sunshine and scones for others. If people contact you wanting to visit, say, “I won’t be able to host you here at the house, but I’d love to see you.” Have a list of reasonably priced bed-and-breakfasts or motels on hand, if people are interested.
If you can tolerate a short visit, then you will have to tell people what your limits are, in advance. You say, “We’re happy to host you, but our maximum for overnight guests is three nights. I hope this works for you.”
Once you establish your solid boundaries, the people in your life should respect them. You don’t need to apologize, only to be clear.
DEAR AMY: Forty-eight years ago when I married, we had many problems with my husband’s mother. She just had to have all the attention. At that time my own mother gave me some advice that came to me many times over the years. That advice was this: “Don’t ever forget that your husband loves and feels the same way about his mother that you feel about your mother.” What a huge impact that had on our relationship.
DEAR GRATEFUL: Profound wisdom regarding a perennially challenging relationship. Thank you.