The Ethical Dilemma: Brother’s Keeper

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Brother’s Keeper: I have a problem. My husband allowed his brother to move in with us. At first I did not agree with it, but I accepted that he stay only eight months. His time is almost up, but my husband says he is not going to tell him to leave. He says he has nowhere to go. But that is not our problem—we agreed and told him that he had only eight months. His brother pays no rent, has free wi-fi, water, cable, electricity, gas, his own restroom, and even uses our washer and dryer. I think he should be able to find his own place, but he just wants it the easy way. And he leaves his kid so my husband can babysit her. My husband even stops doing what he has to do to take care of her. Last time, he missed his class to take care of the baby. I don’t think it is right, and his brother does not pay him either.

I want him to move out already. I am pregnant, and I want to have my own space and be free around my own house. Sometimes I feel like I’m the one who feels uncomfortable, instead of him. I cannot live like this anymore. My husband even left one night and did not come home to sleep. How am I supposed to feel? It seems that he is leaning more towards his brother than me. My husband says that wants his brother to leave on his own, supposedly when he has found a place to stay. I know that won’t happen, because he has so much for free. Why would he even bother look for a place? Help please.

—Forced to Share with the Brother I Didn’t Marry

Dear Forced,

I’m sorry to have to point this out, but buried in your complaint about your brother-in-law is another, more crucial problem: Your husband seems to be abandoning you, emotionally and even physically. Staying out all night with no explanation is a huge red flag. He’s choosing to do whatever he pleases, whether you like it or not. The things going on with his brother may be the result of his turning away from you, rather than the other way around.

You don’t say anything about your relationship with his brother before or since he moved in, but I suspect it wasn’t good before and is worse now. It’s possible his brother is encouraging your husband to trample your wishes. On the other hand, maybe your husband feels you have been cold and uncharitable toward his brother and toward his perceived responsibility to help him out, and that’s undermining his regard for you. Family responsibility is defined by each individual family and even by each individual family member. It’s not for me—or you—to say what your husband should or shouldn’t do for his brother. You can only decide what you are willing to accept, along with the consequences. It is said that when you marry someone, you marry their entire family—and in some cases that can be close to literally true.

You also don’t say much about your finances, but apparently your husband feels he can support his brother indefinitely and is happy to do so. You don’t mention whether you contribute to your family income, but if you don’t, your husband may feel you have no say in how he allots the family resources—even though that should not be the case.

Regardless of the backstory, the way you are feeling makes this a bad situation for you to stay in and to bring your expected child into. There can be no happiness in a union where you are so disregarded. You need help—ideally a professional marriage counselor and very likely a lawyer. Even if your husband agrees to kick his brother out, the brother may have grounds to fight eviction. And if it turns out that you are the one who must go, do you have friends or relatives who could assist you with shelter, finances, and childcare if you need to leave your husband, temporarily or permanently?

Try to line up a minimal safety net before you confront your husband with how unhappy you are, which he probably already knows. Also make clear to him that you are unwilling to continue living this way, especially with a baby on the way. He may need to hear this, whether it spurs him to make amends or to show you the door. In the best case scenario, he may decide you are important enough to make some acceptable accommodations. Conversely, maybe you can come around to accepting that what he feels is right —to help his brother. You may decide that you love him for that loyalty and that you can accept or even embrace the situation. But if you can’t or won’t tolerate your guests much longer and your husband is not willing to do anything to make your home more hospitable to you, you need to be prepared to take the next step—even if that means it’s not your brother-in-law but you who has to go.