The Humanist Dilemma: Has My Brother-In-Law Overstayed His Welcome?

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Rules for In-Laws: After our child was born a year and half ago, my wife and I went through some really difficult adjustments and even came close to separation and divorce. We were supposed to travel together in the summer and chose not to as the situation was such that we agreed space was for the best. When she got back things started to take an upturn and have gotten a lot better.

Subsequently, my wife’s brother had a nasty break-up and he wanted to leave the city he was living in to start fresh. My wife and I decided to invite him to stay with us while he got back on his feet.

I helped get him a job with the company I work for and made sure he received the pay increase he was promised after a short employment probation. I told him that we would give him a month rent-free so that he could collect himself and find a place. When the month ran out and hadn’t secured an apartment, we let it go. It’s now been four months. He’s been chipping in several hundred dollars a month but that’s it. He doesn’t even get off the couch to help with the dishes. I have talked to him a few times about issues that bother me but haven’t seen a change. I feel like at times he intentionally tries to get my goat. My wife isn’t good at confrontation and I feel like it really stresses her out when I talk to her about how I feel, so I don’t bring it up until I reach my limit. I’d be less frustrated if he took on cooking once a week or jumped on dinner clean-up or cleaned his washroom or didn’t make me consistently late for work as I am waiting for him in the truck in the morning while he goes in and out of the house waking our son up.

I am at my wits end. I need advice from a non-biased party because I feel paralyzed. I don’t want to rock the boat too much with my wife. I did enough of that before and will do anything to keep us on an even keel. Maybe she wants him in the house indefinitely and doesn’t want to say so? If it were my brother (which it would never be as we were raised not to impose), I would have told him clearly after the second month you are always welcome here but you’ve got to get out on your own now.

If this is reaching anyone who has advice for me, I am all ears.  Please tell me where I have gone wrong. I’ll digest any feedback and make adjustments. Any suggestions would be great.

—On Eggshells


Dear Eggshells,

Why is it I get questions about freeloading brothers-in-law every few months? Why is it never sisters-in-law, or brothers or sisters, or cousins?

Whatever the reason brothers-in-law have a particular tendency to become “the man who came to visit—and never left,” it’s time for you to stop walking on eggshells and break some eggs. First you must have a real talk with your wife, no matter how stressful it may be. You need to determine whether she is secretly hoping you’ll take charge and get her brother to shape up or ship out—or hoping her brother will stay indefinitely, as you fear. Tell her you’ve had enough of him taking advantage of both of you, and that you’re going to give him specific requirements and deadlines and enforce them.

Certainly those will include being ready to leave for work at the time you specify, or you will drive off without him—and then really drive off without him if he isn’t there. Very likely your requirements will also include having him take over dinner and clean-up once or twice a week, and include not only picking up but paying for his share of the groceries, cleaning his washroom, being quiet so your little one can sleep, and so forth. And not just chip in a few hundred bucks a month, but pay rent and utilities proportional to his occupancy. Inform him you are willing to try that for a month (if you are willing), and that if he fails to live up to your standards, he’ll have to leave at the end of that same month.

Or you could just tell him he has to leave in a month no matter what. He’s already been warned, and has exceeded your extended deadlines and ignored your requests. Enough already. No more extensions, no more entreaties.

If, however, you learn your wife wants him to stay as long as he likes—and you are willing to accept that (which is a very big question you alone can answer)—you need to be explicit and firm about setting and enforcing ground rules. A formal lease would be a good idea, including things like cost of living and repair/renovation increases. You (and your wife) are in charge here.

Whatever you and your wife conclude, first and foremost you must protect yourself. If you lose your job because this guy keeps making you late, you’ll have much bigger problems. Being stressed out at home will carry over into your work and personal relationships, particularly with your wife and child. You indicate that your brother-in-law’s presence is undoing all your efforts to save your marriage. It’s painful to recognize that sometimes a marriage can’t be saved, but if your wife can’t or won’t support you in shaping up or evicting her brother, you may have to face that.

Please check with an attorney ASAP to find out if there are any laws that would give your interloper the right to remain in your house after a certain period of time, and take that into account in structuring your requirements (i.e., make sure he’s out before he’s locked in). You would also be wise to talk to a lawyer as well as a therapist about your marriage. You married only your wife, not her brother, and you’ve already been exceedingly generous. His ex apparently got rid of him—it sounds as though you need to too.

Readers, any suggestions?