My sister-in-law and I have different ideas on how to handle our brother

Dear Meredith,

As far as I’m concerned, my brother, Eric, is a total jerk. I’m closer to him than his parents are, and frankly, I don’t think I’d be able to live with myself if I was the one he was fighting with every other day. Our parents aren’t the best and most patient people in the world, and I fear they’d have trouble forgiving him. I don’t want to cause any disruption to my family, or potentially make me appear irrational or crazy for agreeing with Eric’s parents.

I’ve known Eric for 25 years, and I’ve never seen anything but good in him. He’s the only sibling I have outside of a stepbrother, who I also love very much. As someone who is protective of the good ones in our families, I’ve tried to push him toward helping other people in some way, like volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club or participating in a yearly church counseling group for male and female groups. I know he’s interested in doing these things, but he does not show that he’s been seeking help or that he wants to change his ways.

Eric frequently fights with me (and it’s usually some immature behavior he ends up getting me into a tizzy about). For example, when we argue, I’ll ask him what his excuse is for his behavior, and he’ll respond: “I just don’t want you to take the bad out on me.” No one seems to understand how much of his demeanor is based on him just not wanting me to take the good out on him, or how much of it is because he’s chronically defensive and attacks even when I don’t deserve it. He says he doesn’t want to be treated like he’s a “total jerk,” but if he really does not want to be treated that way, why does he act the way he does? I’m on my own financially and I feel like I can’t stop trying to do good in his life and to the world, and I don’t want him to either.

Should I find a way to persuade Eric to stop acting like a jerk, or keep trying to do good in his life, or both? I think there’s a point where I have to stop wasting my time and have him leave the situation. It would be OK if I were sent packing in a huff, but it would definitely be a huge relief to me if Eric were to decide not to alienate me, and not to embarrass me in front of his parents, his in-laws, his kids, and in public settings.

— In Tough Spot

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