How do I tell my brother I'm worried about his engagement without driving him away? His fiancee badgers him constantly. This summer he moved out and indicated that the relationship was over, but he moved back in with her. He was infuriated when she wouldn't attend our parents' anniversary party because she "refuses to be at anyone's beck and call," but they were engaged soon after. He has distanced himself from friends and family. How can I make sure my kid brother isn't getting married without thinking things through?
J.A. / Chelmsford
You can't save your brother. I suspect you know that, because if you're old enough to have a kid brother who's old enough to get married, you must have ridden your own heart off a cliff once or twice by now. You know there's no amount of love or logic that can crowbar people out of those quicksand relationships before they're ready. So take that responsibility off your shoulders and focus instead on what you can do for your brother.
First off and from now on, you are the one who texts (with apologies to Walter White). And calls. And pokes and tags and messages and even knocks, if you're that old-school. You need to take the responsibility of initiating contact if you want to keep your brother in your life. Keep other friends and family in that loop as well, doing what you can to strengthen the bonds between your brother and the others. This can be as simple as starting a three-way game of Words With Friends or texting your brother when you're running errands and seeing if he's free for an impromptu coffee. Try to be generous with other kinds of practical help, too — if your brother needs a running partner or someone to look over a cover letter for his dream job, be that person. If your brother must be engaged to a horrible woman, you can at least help him be a buff debt-free guy with a good job and some cool hobbies, engaged to a horrible woman.
As far as Ms. Quicksand herself is concerned, speak your mind once to your brother and then drop it for good. Here are your talking points, written in the first person for your convenience:
1. I will say this once and never again, and I will always treat Ms. Quicksand as a member of the family.
2. I am saying this because our relationship needs to be based on honesty, not because I expect it will change your behavior.
3. You don't seem happy, and your relationship with Ms. Quicksand has been extremely mercurial. I worry about that. (J.A., you'll be tempted at this point to delineate Ms. Quicksand's many deficiencies of character in detail, but don't. If you call your brother's fiancee a bad person, he will automatically defend her. Give a few examples — fewer than you want — of your brother's unhappiness and the turbulent relationship history, and leave it at that.)
4. I will ask you for one thing, and that's to stay in better contact with me, the rest of the family, and your friends. Ms. Quicksand might be the most awesome woman in the world for you, but everyone needs friends and family, too. Don't shut us out.
5. Thank you for listening.
Now, translate that into whatever familial lingo you and your brother speak. And best of luck with whatever follows, for your brother and the rest of you.
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.
DID TROUBLE DEVELOP WITH FAMILY OVER THE HOLIDAYS? Write to Miss Conduct at firstname.lastname@example.org. And get advice live during a Boston.com chat with Robin Abrahams on Wednesday, January 8 from noon to 1 p.m.