Relationship Connection: Dealing with a rude brother-in-law

Image by Michal Zacharzewski


I was at a family reunion recently and I noticed that my little sister’s husband is a real jerk to her. Some of the stuff he said to her in front of everyone was so rude and demanding. I know I wasn’t the only one shocked at his behavior, but nobody said anything to him during the reunion. I couldn’t tell if it bugged her, but it sure bugged me. I hope he doesn’t treat her worse than that in private, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. I’m concerned about her and hate to see someone as sweet as her treated so poorly. I’m sure he’s not beating her, but no one should be treated so disrespectfully, especially when she’s just trying to do her best. Anything I can do besides worry?


I can see why you’re worried. That must be so difficult to watch your little sister get treated so poorly by her own husband who is supposed to protect her, not lead the assault on her self-esteem. Naturally, you’re going to be protective and long to rescue her from pain and distress.

I’m sure everything in you wants to pull him aside and tell him what you think of his mistreatment of his wife. Perhaps you fantasize that your directness will cause him to see the error of his ways and he’ll begin to act like a decent husband? Unfortunately, that approach rarely, if ever, works to change behavior.

Instead, I would start by building up your sister, especially in front of him. Be polite to her, compliment her, and support her. Make it clear that she’s an important person worthy of respect and attention. Since you don’t live too close to her, make extra efforts to reach out to her to let her know she’s important to you.

Although this will most likely be difficult, I encourage you to find ways to build a relationship with your brother-in-law. He’s obviously not very good at relating to other people and could benefit from a good experience with another human being.

I don’t know how you’ll start that relationship, but it’s worth doing something. Perhaps you might make a trip to go out and visit them in their home. Maybe you shoot him a text occasionally to share a photo or something that’s going on in your life. Even Facebook could count as a way to start connecting with him. Chances are, he’s never had anyone ever pay much attention to him or regard him as a person. We learn how to treat others from the way we’re treated.

You care about her and should work to support her when you’re together. However, she made the choice to marry him and it’s not your place to determine whether or not she has a good marriage. Marriages, even unhealthy ones, have good and bad parts and they’re too complex for outsiders to fully understand.

Obviously, if he becomes abusive and she reaches out for help, do your best to support and encourage them to get professional help. But, if he’s just struggling to know how to have a healthy relationship, show him what it looks like with her and gently move toward showing him what it’s like to have someone care.

Stay connected!

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

Copyright 2012 St. George News.

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  • Anne V Williams July 24, 2012 at 3:42 pm

    Over the years, I’ve seen many marriages like this one. I can’t think of any where the couple is still together. On several occasions, I’ve seen the dominant spouses (in two cases it was the woman) in company with friends, relatives or co-workers, and I’ve noticed that they always hang around with others who behave the same way they do. They brag about how good they are in spite of being stuck with an incompetent, stupid slob (or whatever), evaluations which are not accurate. They encourage one another, egg each other on, and make a joke of it. It makes it more difficult to deal with the problem.

  • Murat July 25, 2012 at 9:23 am

    In life it is important to dominate in situations, especially in marriage. As the man of the house, don’t be afraid of occasionally knocking your wife down a peg or two to make sure she knows her place.

    • Roy J January 25, 2013 at 7:00 pm

      Oh your back! I missed you!

  • kris January 25, 2013 at 6:04 pm

    Murat, there are many issues that you have with yourself.

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