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My wife and brother-in-law are too close to each other

  • Dear Loveawake: My 32 year old wife lost her 43 year old sister last week to cancer. My wife is naturally distraught and the month prior to her sister's death she spent all but six days at their house helping John, her brother-in-law(43), niece(21), and nephew(18) take care of her sister and provide support for them. I was home taking care of our two boys and not able to be with her and give her the support I should have. While there, my brother-in-law and my wife leaned on each other a lot for support. He is not close to his own family and since the death they have continued to support each other.

    We have been married now for over 10 years, after dating for six years. I have always been her support system for dealing with anything and our marriage is rock solid. We have had no marriage problems before, nor has my wife ever given me any reason to feel the way I do now about her becoming as close as she has to my brother-in-law. I am not only feeling mad that I am not able to give her the grieving support she needs, but I am jealous of the fact that she is getting that support from her brother-in-law. I was not feeling too bad about them leaning on each other until the day of the wake when I was trying to find her to tell her I was headed back to my hotel room (she was staying at their house) and I had to knock on my brother-in-law's bedroom door to find her. When I was told to enter she was sitting on his lap in a rocking chair and they were talking. I was raised in a house that we did not shut our doors unless we were doing something we did not want someone else to see (i.e. changing or using the bathroom), or if you were hiding something, and the fact that they had to shut the door to talk to each other really bothered me, not to mention I didn't think it necessary to be sitting on his lap to talk and cry. I know that there is nothing going on between the two of them but it's the emotional attachment that they are developing that bothers me most. She say's that when she's around him and her niece and nephew, it makes her feel closer to her sister. I know she needs to grieve and do what she needs to get through this, but at the same time I'm uncomfortable with her getting the emotional support she needs from someone else, especially another man who is also grieving. I don't know if it's the right thing for them consoling each other, because neither one is really thinking straight right now.

    My brother-in-law is a great person and I have no reason to distrust either of them, but on the other hand he is a man who had to give up his entire relationship with his wife a while ago, because of her illness, and to me it seems natural that he could see my wife as someone to fill that hole he now has. It also doesn't help my thinking this since everyone who met my wife at the wake commented on how much her sister and her looked alike.

    I'm looking for an answer one way or another to either validate my concerns or let me know that I am way off base and have nothing to worry about. I want to focus my energies on doing what's right for my wife and not let the green-eyed monster get the best of me. Right now I am not sleeping because I am so upset about these feelings I'm having and the fact that she is getting support from someone else. It also did not help when she said she was going back to my brother-in-law's house (300 miles away) in two weeks to help clean out her sister's closet. The reason for going does not bother me so much as the fact that it is Valentine's Day, which we in turn do not get to be together for, and they will be, while both my niece and nephew will be out with their significant others. That weekend is also our two son's final wrestling tournament that she will miss, and with all the time she has spent down there already she has missed almost all of their matches already. I am also just starting the busy time at my work and will have to do a lot of extra juggling with babysitters, since the kid's are also off from school on that Monday (she is too, since she's a teacher). When I expressed these concerns to her she got mad and said she would just take the kid's with her, even though she'd be disappointing her own children by making them miss their final tournament of the year. I know I've got a lot of things going on here, but any advice or direction would be greatly appreciated. - Bob

    woman standing near white wall

    Text and Image Copyright Notice. Published under copyright by Loveawake Delaware. © Copyright 2010-2021. All rights reserved.

    Dear Bob: It is absolutely devastating to watch a loved one die of cancer. I am sure that your wife and her brother-in-law must have spent hours talking, while caring for her sister. They have definitely formed a close bond.

    I, too, am pretty sure nothing physical is going on because otherwise you would have heard them scramble when they heard a knock on the door. Also, when you walked in, you would have felt their discomfort if they were doing anything else but consoling each other. However, from what you have described, I still think that you do have every reason to be concerned. It is still very inappropriate for your wife to be in your brother-in-law's bedroom sitting in his lap on a rocking chair and then choosing Valentine's Day to clean out a closet. I know she is grieving and probably not thinking straight but her this strong emotional connection to her brother-in-law could lead to a physical affair in the future. If you had a "rock solid" marriage like you describe, she would realize that she has spent a great deal of time away from you and the boys and now that her sister is gone, it is time to spend some quality time at home. Certainly Valentine's Day and your son's final tournaments would qualify as important quality times. The fact that she is not concerned about either, means she has disconnected from her family and connected to her brother-in-law.

    I know that right now your wife cannot get past her own pain and doesn't realize that you and your children are hurting as well. You must explain your feelings to your wife. Here is what you should say to her. "I know that you are having a hard time with the loss of your sister, but both sons are feeling the loss of their mother and I am feeling the loss of my wife. I know John is also going through a difficult time and therefore is welcome in this house anytime. I do not feel it is appropriate for you to be going there on Valentine's Day, especially since both our niece and nephew will be on their own dates. I really want to be with you on that day because I love you so much and I want to take you out to dinner. After all you are still my Valentine. However, I also realize that John will be alone, so why not have him come here and join us. I also know that it would mean the world for the boys to know that their mom is watching their last tournament. I'm sure they would love having their uncle attend as well. Please ask John if you could postpone going another week. Then I can go and help you in anyway I can." If she refuses to change her plans, then she is making a conscious decision that her brother-in-law's feelings of loneliness are more important than her own children and your feelings. - Loveawake