“My Boyfriend’s Brother Attacked Me And My Boyfriend Didn’t Defend Me”

I have been in a relationship with “James” for three years now. James and his brother “Ross” are the closest brothers I have ever met in my twenty-three years. They are both in their 30s, and, although they have not only grown up together, they do everything together. They pursued a professional snowboard career together, they own a house together, they run a VERY successful business together, and they are simply very best friends. Since James and I started dating, Ross and I also became very close and he was one of my best friends as well. James and I were getting very close to getting engaged, and until about five months ago everything was absolutely perfect, and now everything is so messed up.

Ross has a serious drinking problem. He also is known to have major anger issues. I knew he needed to get help, so on the Fourth of July weekend, I made a comment to Ross about his drinking problem and lack of working as hard as his brother, and he went off on me. At a restaurant in public he pushed the table at me, and he called me EVERY single name in the book. Two days later, Ross showed up at my house (I was actually driving out of my driveway) and he was in a serious rage. He pushed me, threatened me, and verbally and emotionally abused me. He even kicked, punched, and jumped on my truck while I was in it trying to drive away. Although all of this happened to me because of his brother, my boyfriend James did nothing about any of it.

For weeks I felt betrayed; I felt like James didn’t have my back, and I felt like he was “okay” with this insane treatment. It really upset me. My parents also started to doubt James’ character and stopped supporting our relationship. In time, I realized that James does have my back, he is just in a very hard situation. I would NEVER ask him to disown his brother, but at the same time, I cannot have a relationship with his brother ever again, an this has torn James and me apart. Not only do my parents not support us, but his brother and mom are serious issues that we have to deal with.

So my question is: What do I do? I hurt so much knowing that James will never be able to have the relationship with his brother that he had if he is with me, but at the same time, he’s not trying to marry his brother while he claims to want to marry me. Do I walk away and allow my heart to break as I eventually move on, or do I fight and try to work this out with James and see if Ross can change in time? — Feeling Betrayed

Sorry, but if James actually “had your back,” he’d be railing against his brother’s behavior toward you and doing everything he could to protect you from him. He’s not doing that at all from the sound of it. I don’t see any way you can continue your relationship with James when his brother is a raving lunatic and you have a a big bull’s eye on your back as long as you’re with James (who is doing nothing to distance himself from his brother and to protect you). Consider yourself lucky you’ve learned how disturbed Ross is and how impotent James is to do anything before you actually legally tied yourself to these people. What a nightmare that would have been!

I’m sorry you’re hurting, and that you will likely hurt for a little while. Breakups are never fun. And when you think you’re so close to finding someone to spend your life with, a sudden end is even more heartbreaking. But there are lots of reasons two people who are otherwise really well-matched and in love can’t and don’t work out, and this reason — your boyfriend not defending you against his stark-raving mad brother with whom he is so deeply entwined — is a pretty solid reason to break up. Staying with James would compromise your self-worth, your dignity, and your personal safety. You have to move on.

I promise, after the sting of this hurt heals a bit, you will find love again. In the meantime, if you ever know someone again who has a drinking problem — or any problem you think it’s your business to address — I would advise you to find a private and sensitive way to do so. (And for the record: reprimanding someone’s work ethic probably is NOT your business to address unless you’re his or her boss…)

Years ago, my son started dating a woman with a one-year-old child from a previous relationship. We accepted both with open arms and liked them both. They visited and stayed with us every weekend and during holidays. After three years my son and his girlfriend became engaged, but six months later they broke up. The little girl is now four and we’ve basically been her grandparents since she was one and she adores us. Our question is: Clearly, the relationship is over, but do we continue to see the little girl and let her sleep over as before? At times she would stay two weeks out of the month with us. Now we are so confused as to how to move forward. We love the child as she does us, and her mom says it’s okay for her to see us and my son says it is okay. But what about going forward when he has new relationships? We don’t want her to be sad and not see us, but what is best? Any advice will help. — Pseudo Grandparents

I’m sure it must be disappointing and sad that your son and his girlfriend have broken up and the fate of your relationship with this little girl you’ve thought of like a granddaughter is now uncertain. I’m sorry for that. Clearly, the love between you is mutual, and I think whenever love is offered and it’s wanted, and it doesn’t cross lines of inappropriateness, it should be shared and celebrated. Your question is one about appropriateness, and while the situation is certainly more complicated than it was before you son and his girlfriend broke up, it’s not really as complicated as you might think. Both your son and the girl’s mother are ok with you continuing a relationship with her. So, I say, continue along. Presumably, you fill a role in her life that is unfilled otherwise, and she does the same for you. And as long as all the adults in the picture are ok with the relationship continuing, then it should.

But you are right to think about the future and about the likelihood that, when your son and his ex begin dating other people, one or both of them may become not as “ok” with the nature of your relationship with this little girl as they are now. The best way to deal with this is to keep the lines of communication open as much as you can, be respectful of boundaries, ask for clarification when you aren’t clear what or where the boundaries are, and start dialing back the frequency and the length of time you spend with this little girl (for example, maybe instead of her staying with you for two weeks at a time, you can offer to have her stay with you for an overnight or weekend visit every couple months). Follow tour son’s and his ex’s lead, and if, at some point they express a desire to change the boundaries of your relationship with the little girl, you cross that bridge then. Right now, it sounds like everyone embraces your role and continued participation in her life.


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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy​(AT)​dearwendy.com.


  1. Avatar photo Cleopatra Jones says:

    LW #1:
    Yes, she should break up with James, and Ross was a dick but her behavior wasn’t so great either. Why would she think it’s her place to call out Ross on his drinking? That has absolutely nothing to do with her. His drinking is his issue to deal with.
    Also, she’s not a partner in their business. She has no right to mention or worry about who’s working harder. Even if she were married to James, it’s still not her place to admonish his brother on his perceived shortcomings.
    She, for real, needs to stay in her lane!

    1. Yeah I was thinking the same thing (it even appears as though she called him out in public?). If I were James – and Ross for that matter – I’d be super pissed about that. Granted the aggressive behavior is a step too far.

    2. Northern Star says:

      If it was just a bad reaction at the restaurant, I might agree with you. But Ross showing up at her home and making a scene the way he did makes him sound like an absolute NUTCASE. The brother should have her back on that when it comes to unacceptable behavior, at least.

      1. I totally agree. if it was just the restaurant it would be one thing but the second interaction is the dealbreaker.

      2. Avatar photo Cleopatra Jones says:

        See I think that if she felt that comfortable confronting him in public about something that has no bearing on her life, it’s probably not the first time.
        IME, people who do stuff like this tend to constantly give unsolicited advice to others about their life choices. I’ve met people like this and they are annoying and self righteous AF.
        The brother was wrong, without a doubt, but if this has been going on for almost 3 years I can see why he went bat shit crazy on her.

      3. Ruby Thursday says:

        Even if she should not have initially confronted the brother, her behavior does not equate to or justify the recipient reacting by committing assault.

    3. ele4phant says:

      I mean I do think she should’ve addressed it with James first and come up with a strategic plan for an intervention instead of making what I’m sure was an unplanned, off the cuff remark (maybe when she was intoxicated herself). So, yes, not the best way to broach the subject at all.

      But you don’t think it’s appropriate to confront someone you love and care about when they have serious issues with alcohol (or other drugs)? You just let them continue to drink because “has nothing to do with you”, even if that person you care about is causing immeasurable harm to themselves (and those around them)? It sounds like before the fourth of July, they were very close. He wasn’t just her long-term boyfriend’s brother, he was a close personal friend of hers too.

      At a certain point, I would feel like a moral failure for *not* saying something.

      1. Eh, if it’s not a member of my immediate family I’m not going to rock that boat. I’d bring it up with my partner in private and let them deal with it.

        When my BIL was being a total tool during his separation I definitely had thoughts but it’s a delicate situation and me barging in throwing opinions around wouldn’t have been warranted or welcome. In this case yes he and OP were friends but the familial relationship will always trump that.

      2. Avatar photo Cleopatra Jones says:

        Nah, she had no business confronting him. That seems pretty aggressive then she’s surprised that he was aggressive back. If she was all that concerned, she could have broached it a different way.
        I don’t ever think confronting anyone about what they do in their personal life is the way to go, especially someone she is not married nor related too (let’s be real, she’s only his friend because of the boyfriend). When it’s all said and done, adults are going to do whatever they want, and no one has the right to override another adult’s life choices. It doesn’t matter whether you agree with them or not.

  2. Difficult family relationships are only manageable if your spouse is willing to do whatever it takes to protect you…LW1’s boyfriend may be blind to his brother’s drinking problem or may not be sure how to process/handle this. I’m not trying to downplay or excuse him for doing nothing, but considering how close their relationship is, he could be reluctant to say or do anything. Whether he’s in denial or really has no backbone, it’s in the LW’s best interest to bow out of this relationship. I also agree it’s not her place to comment on their work ethics.

  3. LisforLeslie says:

    He doesn’t have your back. He’s not in a tough position. When people, even people you love, behave shitty – you call them out. You call them out when they say racist, bigoted, hurtful things. You call them out when they physically attack people. You call them out when they destroy property.

    This is not difficult. Look at the news. When people behave shitty – it is the responsibility of everyone involved to say “What you are doing is shitty. It is unacceptable.”

    You need to move on. I’m sorry that you’re dealing with this. It sounds awful, frustrating and infuriating.

  4. Anonymous says:

    LW1: your comments to Ross were off-limits. Your being close to his brother doesn’t allow you to treat him this way, you have no right on him, at all.
    But his reaction is an assault, why don’t you report him to the police? Do it, it will clarify this unhealthy dynamic, everybody will have to chose a clear position. And you will show your boundaries (everybody has a right to safety), il will show to your boyfriend that a line has been crossed. Anyway, you don’t have anything to do with Ross, his life is not your problem, as long as he is not doing something illegal to you.
    Your rivalry about their fraternity is unhealthy anyway, and they may be in their thirties, they are not mature.

  5. “I hurt so much knowing that James will never be able to have the relationship with his brother that he had if he is with me … ”

    Spare me … Why did you sabotage their relationship? … Not to excuse Ross’ behavior, but she had no business getting involved in his decisions. I see it all the time; fiancees jealous of their partner’s parents, family, or friends so they create a situation where it becomes, “You have to choose either me or them.” Tragic … And, she admits she knew he had anger issues:

    “Ross has a serious drinking problem. He also is known to have major anger issues. I knew he needed to get help, so on the Fourth of July weekend, I made a comment to Ross about his drinking problem and lack of working as hard as his brother …” Pure sabotage …

  6. LW#1: Get out of that relationship and out of the line of fire, so to speak. Even if you “crossed a line”, Ross is volatile and dangerous. Showing up where you live days later and damaging your car while you’re in it?? That’s doesn’t even approach normal. Did you call the police? Do you know if he has weapons?

    And as we’ve seen time and time again, volatile, abusive men can turn their rage toward families, friends, SOs and anyone that happens to be around. I don’t just mean mass shootings. Those smaller incidents we might hear about and promptly forget.

    Distance yourself from this family.

  7. ele4phant says:

    They say alcoholism is a family disease. Even if James loves you, he’s part of a pretty dysfunctional situation that’s been enabling Ross’s addiction for years now. That’s not going to change overnight, and not if he’s not willing. Which it appears he’s not there yet.

    I would move on. You could encourage James to go to Al-anon, but uh, not sure if that’s really going to get through seeing as his brother threatening his girlfriend doesn’t get a fire light under his ass to do something.

    I’m very sorry you have to go through this. It’s heart breaking, I’m sure, but you have to look out for yourself here.

  8. Avatar photo Skyblossom says:

    Ross uses anger/rage for control. There is no future for you here unless James breaks free of Ross. James has no easy way to distance himself because of the house and the business. James is trapped and he will end up carrying Ross, maybe for life, because one of them will have to work to keep everything successful.

    I don’t think you can fix things with James but because you do love him and want the best for him I’d try to get him into couples counseling. Not to try to save your relationship but to save James from Ross. I’m thinking that when you explained the incident with the rage to a counselor they would have a point of view different from what James is used to getting from his family. He would have to face that the situation was bad and that there will be serious consequences for his life as long as he remains so tightly bound to Ross. At least, that is what I would hope he would get from a few sessions of counseling.

  9. Kitnkabutle says:

    Unfortunately, I agree with DW – You must break up with James. You were assaulted by his brother. Assaulted! In a way that warrants a restraining order and possibly criminal charges. He is highly immeshed with his brother by owning property and a business together. Not your circus, not your monkeys. I’m sorry and best wishes to you.

  10. Bittergaymark says:

    Well, this escalated fairly quickly to be sure. That said — LW, don’t attack someone personally in public. You should have just shut the fuck about this, really. But at the very least spoken with your boyfriend in private about what he thinks about his brother’s drinking… Instead you caused a public scene and later got one in return. This relationship is beyond repair. But… eh…. at 23… you aren’t ready to settle down anyway. Trust me — this would be ‘settling’ in every sense of the word. MTFO. (Move The Fuck On.)

  11. Autumnrose says:

    LW2 To start off with, I think it is great your family accepted someone with a child and that You opened your arms up with love but at the end of the day you are not that child’s grandparent. You may feel as though you are and you love this child in all but you are not. This women will likely find someone new along with their family. Same with your son. You need to start detaching yourself. Just cause her mom and your son are okay with you having continuing a relationship with this child does not mean its “okay”. You need to start accepting that she isnt your grandchild and putting those boundaries in place. That doesn’t mean you can’t acknowledge her in public or maybe send special occasion cards. Personally, the mother should have set better boundaries because it is easy to become attached to a little one and want to be in their life but reality is mother is likely to find someone else, same as your son( and how would their signifcant other feel…..that’s not fair for them. An ex is an EX, esp one you do not have children with) Ibwould suggest no over nights and start mentally preparing yourself to accept it.

  12. dinoceros says:

    LW1: I don’t think there’s anyway to salvage this relationship. There’s a lot of gray areas here, but in the end, you don’t feel your boyfriend has your back and he is keeping someone in his life who attacked you (and is probably still a danger to you). I do think that in the future, you need to look at your judgment though. Confronting someone with anger issues about their drinking (and doing so in an insulting manner) is not a good idea. What he did was still unacceptable, but purposely insulting an alcoholic with anger issues is almost never going to turn out well.

    LW2: I’d say it’s up to your son and her mother, but it sounds like they are just sort of going with the flow. If you are in a place to guide the conversation, I think that seeing her still is good, but I think that toning it down a little might help. Instead of staying for long stretches, shorter visits might be good. Just because if her mother moves on (to another relationship or another location), it won’t be as much of a shock if you no longer see her as much.

  13. I agree with bgm again on this one.
    And Ross may have a drinking problem and and anger problem. (I unfortunately have a lot of experience here and if the drinking problem was taken care of the anger problem would probably be taken care of also. My loved ones that drank were mild mannered when sober and angry monsters when drinking) HOWEVER, it was not your place to confront and embarrass Ross in public. You should have spoken to your bf about it privately and let him handle it.
    Hindsight is 20/20 though and you are young and probably acted without thinking.
    Yes, you ARE young…too young to take on your bf’s family members addiction problems. Your energy should be focused on yourself and your life, school, etc. MOA

  14. Ruby Thursday says:

    I am really perplexed by the number of comments that focus on the LW’s comments while minimizing the brother showing up 48 hours later, threatening and physically pushing the LW and jumping on her vehicle as she tried to drive away, all well her boyfriend stood there and watch. His reaction is so out of proportion to her comments. Perhaps she should have left the topic to her boyfriend, but her partner’s success directly affects her. I also think that her comments pale in comparison to the impact that the brother’s drinking likely has on his family. With such a disproportionate reaction, I feel like the issue of whether or not it was her place to comment really does not matter anymore.

    1. Avatar photo Skyblossom says:

      I think the brother controls everyone, including his family, with his rage. They all learned years ago to not do anything that would set him off. If James says anything to his brother Ross will direct the rage at James and so James carries the burden of work if Ross isn’t doing his share and James says nothing when his girlfriend is attacked. He’s been trained by years of experience to be passive.

    2. Avatar photo Cleopatra Jones says:

      No one on here is saying in any way that Ross was correct in his behavior. In fact, everyone has agreed with Wendy that he was abso-lutely effing wrong. Dead wrong. We also agreed that the boyfriend not intervening is just as wrong. Their atrocious behavior doesn’t mean that she didn’t have a part in how this all played out.
      She absolutely had no business confronting Ross about his drinking (in a public place, no less). It is NOT her business!! Knowing that he has anger issues, why would she think it was OK to do that? Then she’s surprised that he flipped his shit on her? Knowing what we know about Ross, I’m hardly surprised at his reaction. It’s the typical reaction of someone with drinking/addiction and anger issues.
      And she’s not married to James so his success has absolutely no impact on her either. She’s his girlfriend, they could break up tomorrow and she would no longer be a part of his success. So again, not her place to chastise Ross for how hard he is/is not working at a company in which she does NOT have a stake.

    3. Ruby Thursday —
      The brother was not there when Ross pushed her (she was inside her truck ?) shouted at her and assaulted the truck. She thinks he after the fact has to have her back.

      He is not her partner; he is her bf. They are neither engaged nor living together.

      I don’t think Ross uses rage as a weapon of control. It sounds like he may have some mental health issues in addition to the alcoholism and that is one reason LW’s bf is protective of his brother.

      LW made to big errors here. First, it was not at all her place to decide to correct Ross’s behavior. It does not sound like spur of the moment. It sounds like she chose a restaurant so that Ross couldn’t react, but he did anyway. If her bf had a problem with his brother, then it was his issue to handle. She says that the brothers’ business is very successful. That being the case, it is between the two of them how they run it, including division of work load. Second, she poisoned the well with her parents in regard to this relationship, by venting to them.

      I think the relationship is doomed and she just needs to MOA. Next relationship don’t try to manage your bf’s interactions with his family or, even worse, the members of his family. That is a huge boundary crossing.

      And I agree that Ross shouldn’t have come to her house. It seems Ross is Ross and Ross lacks self control. This everyone in family to walk on eggshells around him. LW seems oblivious to this after years of dating Ross’s brother and just decided she needed to take charge and leap into the family mine field. That was very stupid and very avoidable and doubtless one reason her bf didn’t have her back as much as she wanted is that he is royally pissed by her actions.

      1. Bittergaymark says:

        Yeah, I took it to mean that the fiancé was NOT there at the other altercation. And while Ross is out of control — so was the LW. Way out of line. When you attack somebody personally and publicly — you can’t exactly be surprised when they feel attacked at thus (over)react accordingly…

    4. dinoceros says:

      There’s no excuse for someone behaving like Ross did. It’s terrible. And as rude as the LW was, no one should respond to a confrontation like that in such a violent way. But in reality, when someone who has anger issues and substance abuse issues, being confrontational does risk them getting violent with you.

      For me, I have doubts over how genuine the LW is being when she says she was trying to help. Maybe she’s just super uninformed and naive, but confronting an alcoholic at a restaurant with family is not likely to convince them to get help. Especially when that person has anger issues and you insult them. Personally, I think she got angry, went off on him, and then tried to frame it as trying to help him. If that’s the case, I have a lot less empathy for her.

      1. Avatar photo Cleopatra Jones says:

        I’m trying to figure out what she thought the interaction was going to achieve? Did she just think that Ross was going to have a come-to-Jesus moment, and was going to stop drinking and ‘fix’ his life?
        Ross was wrong in his reaction but I’m not sure that LW’s alcohol ‘intervention’ was done with good intentions.

      2. Ruby Thursday says:

        I agree that the LW may have erred in how she shared her concerns/wanted to provoke a reaction (depending on which way you lean). But to say that his success has no impact on her? They’ve been together for three years. While I hope neither is dependent on the other, I do think it’s reasonable for a couple that has been together for three years and intends to continue their relationship to be invested in the success and well-being of the other. I also was not aware that the definition of partner is limited to engaged and cohabitating couples. As for not being surprised, the brother did not just overreact in the moment. He committed a premeditated assault.

      3. Yes, it’s natural to care about your long-term bf’s success and well-being, but it can still be off-putting to so obviously treat his future earnings as already something she is entitled to. That’s what she was doing here. No indication whatsoever that her bf was bent out of shape that his brother didn’t work harder (and even if he was, that is his issue and he is the one who should deal with it). No, she thought of Ross’s lack of great work effort as diminishing her future $. But… that is jumping the gun and presuming a lot. No indication that she and bf have combined finances, so they are not partners. Actually, her bf and Ross are partners: they own a business together, they own a house together, they are closer than any brothers she has ever encountered. She resents this.
        She and Ross may have begun as friends, but as she sees herself closer to being engaged she has come to see her bf’s business as ‘hers’ and Ross as cheating her financially. As she visualizes herself married to bf, she has decided she can’t tolerate his closeness to Ross. She deliberately threw a bomb. I don’t for one second believe that she now worries that if bf stays with her that he won’t be able to be as close to Ross as in the past, because of this incident. That was the game plan.

      4. dinoceros says:

        Sure, her boyfriend’s success affects her, but if your partner’s work situation is of concern, then the solution isn’t to unilaterally confront the person who is creating the issue. You can talk to your partner about it and express concern. If they choose to fix it, then good. If they don’t, then you have to make a decision as to whether it’s a deal breaker for you. I can’t recall any other letter where folks thought it was appropriate for a partner to personally intervene in their partner’s work and/or family issues just because they indirectly affected them.

  15. strawberrygurl says:

    LW1- You get the drift from the responses.

    LW2- If the whole family is fine with the arrangement, please continue. Love is not blood only. Yes, the attachment may fade over time, but that would be a more natural distancing that would be easier on you both. As for the next gen relationships for your son and the child’s mother, well, to me, if a new gf/bf cannot handle the idea that you have this relationship, then THEIR insecurity should be a red flag to everyone involved. “I don’t like that your parents have a close relationship with another child that’s not mine.”…?? How immature. How petty. Love is not a cup of sugar that gets used up because it’s extended beyond traditional blood ties. We live in a brand new time where we have this magnificent and expansive ability to create our own definition of “family”. Go do it!

  16. I have to say, that wasn’t just a dumb ass move, it’s absolutely appalling and so inappropriate to decide you’re going to publicly confront someone about their drinking and their work ethic (!!!!!), basically how they live their life, on the fourth of fucking July. What on earth were you thinking? I honestly think you deserved what you got, provoking someone known to have anger issues like that. Not so much the damage to your truck, that’s out of line, but probably everything he said to you. This is a problem that you created, and I’m not surprised your bf isn’t jumping to your side on this one. He’s probably hoping it just blows over.

    1. Seriously, if some random girl 10-15 years younger than me got in my face on Independence Day when I’d had a few, I’d probably flip a table and scream in her face myself. Maybe even kick a bitch. Would I go over to her house 2 days later and throw a nutty? No, but nor am I KNOWN TO HAVE ANGER ISSUES!!! Seriously, wtf.

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