The Ethical Dilemma: My Brother-in-Law, the Horrible Houseguest

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Home Invasion: My wife and I are very fortunate to have been able to build a $2 million modern, steel and glass, 5000 sq. ft. beach house on one of the prime beaches here in Ontario. We’ve had many wonderful and grateful friends visit who were very gracious and appreciative to spend a weekend or just the night.

However, my wife’s brother is quite different.

When he arrives with his girlfriend he’s usually hungry, so my wife will always fix them something to eat. He earns a decent living so there is no reason he could not invite us out for dinner once in a while to show some appreciation for having a vacation every time they’re here, but he never offers. They basically drop their bags and pretend they’re on vacation at an all-inclusive 5-star hotel, although they do bring their own alcohol (though when he puts his beer in my beer fridge he is sure to always take home what he doesn’t drink… he would never think of leaving a couple beers in the fridge to say ‘thanks’ like most others). They never offer to do dishes and only once did they offer to cook for us, but as you know, someone else cooking in our kitchen does not work and is certainly no treat for my wife. They use our bicycles and kayaks and just about anything else they can find. Oh, and did I mention they usually leave their room a mess?

One thing that really bothers both of us is that he takes thirty-minute showers every single day he’s here, sometimes twice a day. I take a ten-minute shower and have never in my life taken showers as long as his—especially in someone else’s home. To top things off, he does something that I find very disrespectful. The last time he was here he told me to “be quiet!” when I tried to debate one of his crazy ideas. I was offended at the tone. Then when I continued to speak up against his views, he said, “You gotta get off you high horse!” I went to bed after that comment. He left the next morning after, of course, another thirty-minute shower and a huge meal. He rarely texts to thank us for hosting him.

I told my wife that this is ridiculous having him stay in our home and suggested it stop. She agrees with me completely that he is a user and the most ungrateful of houseguests. However, he’s still her brother.

What should we do?

—Hate Being Used

Dear Used,

So what if he’s her brother? That doesn’t give him a free pass for boorish behavior. And since he’ll always be her brother (whereas friends might not always be friends), all the more reason to tick off the complaints that are ticking you off, and inform him he can either start behaving like a good houseguest or vacate your vacation home, but he’s no longer welcome to repeat his past performances. I’m wondering if you get to enjoy any quality time with him and his girlfriend, but it sounds as though they just treat you like the help (and nice people don’t even treat the help that way).

There’s probably a history of this dynamic between your wife and her brother dating back to whenever the second one was born, but that doesn’t mean the two of you have to tolerate it one minute longer. You didn’t sign on for this when you married your wife, or when you built your lovely beach house. Sometimes even the most well-meaning guests need to be gently reminded about chipping in on expenses, or putting their linens in the laundry room and their dishes in the dishwasher, or not to tidy the kitchen by stashing everything in secret hiding places and scouring the daylights out of your perfectly seasoned cast iron pan.

But your brother-in-law sounds like he’s in another category entirely. So the only recourse is to spell it all out for him. I suspect that the long showers would escape your notice if you weren’t already hypersensitive from all the other things rubbing you the wrong way, and I wouldn’t necessarily even bring up that particular point (you probably have other showers, and can afford the water—unless you’re in a drought area). If he apologizes and asks for another chance (and perhaps mentions he has a medical condition that requires long and frequent showers)—and you think he’s sincere—give him one more shot, but let him know you’ll be monitoring. If he still fails to mend his ways sufficiently, ask him to leave, or at least inform him that he won’t be coming back. And if he takes offense at your “high horse” standards, inform him that you’re withdrawing your welcome mat—because you and your wife are not doormats or beasts of burden.