Miss Conduct

After a falling out with a family member, should you tell the others?

For a long time, distance helped with family diplomatic relations. But now her offensive brother is moving nearby.

For many years I have kept in touch with my offensive brother only because I wanted a relationship with my grown nieces. Now he and his wife and stepdaughter will be moving near where I live. I don’t want to have anything to do with him and have no problem telling him so (although, oblivious, he’ll call about getting together as soon as they’re here). My nieces, in their early 30s, will want to visit both of us, and I’ve got to figure out how to handle this. I’ve thus far chosen not to tell them that I can’t stand their father. I don’t want to put them in a terribly awkward place or lose them.

M.S. / Northampton

Ugh, I’m sorry. It sounds as though distance has done the job of diplomacy for you for many years, and I wish it could continue to do so. But the time for tactful evasions is over, and you need to be explicit with everyone that your brother is not part of your life. You sound firm in your conviction to do this with Brother Horrible, for which you receive an April shower of Miss Conduct kudos. Tell him your boundaries: He’s not welcome in your home, and you will not be taking his calls, period. Don’t let him drag you into a pointless go-round — and don’t let yourself be tempted to dredge up all your old grievances against him. He’s not in your life. That’s it.

And that’s all your nieces need to know as well: Aunt Letterwriter and their father aren’t on speaking terms, but Aunt Letterwriter loves them and enjoys spending time with them. They don’t need to know how much you hate Brother Horrible, or why. What they do need to know is that your lack of a relationship with your brother is not a problem to be fixed — and certainly not a problem to be fixed by them — but the solution to a problem.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.

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