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Frayed family relationship due to domestic violence

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  • #843375 Reply

    About 1.5 years ago, a bomb went off in my family. My sister-in-law left my brother after it came out that he had assaulted her one night a few months prior. They were having an argument and he held her down on the floor and wrapped his hands around her throat. She was able to fight him off and escape, but when she returned later that night, he did the same thing a second time. I’d always been very close to both of them (though less so in recent years) and felt devastated when I learned about all this. My sister-in-law stayed with my wife and I for a few months in the aftermath, and they’re now in the process of getting a divorce.

    Since then, my issues with my brother have been less about that night, and more about how his actions following it. Namely: he didn’t tell anyone about that night until she left and he couldn’t hide it anymore; he didn’t seek help from a counselor or some other mental health professional; he didn’t curb his drinking or, again, seek out a professional help; he continued to shift blame by implying his wife might have had an affair (which is, to me, beside the point, even if it were true); he subsequently broke things around the house in anger; he told me he’d “laugh” if his wife lost her job; he told his wife she was “a horrible person” in front of their two daughters, the day after her dad’s funeral; he told his wife he “fucked” someone else, solely to hurt her, a few months after she moved out; he got into a serious relationship less than three months after she moved out, and didn’t tell anyone about it; and that he still hasn’t gotten a job or made any plans for the future, while his soon-to-be-ex-wife continues to support him.

    I know that they both have problems and their relationship was far from perfect. I know there’s two sides to every story, but even if they both took turns driving to the cliff, he’s the one that mashed on the gas and ran them off the edge.

    I’ve let him know that I’m hurt by his actions and that, while I love him and want the best for him, I just need some time and space right now. (Ergo: I can’t be his moral support or confidante when he’s navigating his anger with his wife or problems in his new relationship.) In truth, I know that if the situation were swapped, and he were my brother-in-law, and she were my sister, I almost certainly wouldn’t have a relationship with him anymore. I would have told her, “I will support you leaving him .” But he is my brother. I love him…but I don’t like him right now.

    The issues have spread across my family. Both my father and my older sister are natural fixers, and the strongest personalities in the family. They fought to keep them together and when that didn’t work, they’ve implied that she didn’t want to make things work, and placed their support behind my brother while welcoming his new girlfriend into the fold. They’re also placing pressure on me to do the same for my brother, but I’m just not there yet. Truthfully, I’m not sure we’ll ever have a close relationship again. He can be a very difficult and immature person and I’ve come to realize that our tie was straining in recent years, and our connection was based more upon my and my spouse’s relationship with his wife than it was with him.

    I don’t know how to forge a pathway forward in my family. I feel like I’m swimming upstream, explaining and reexplaining why my relationship with him is changed, why I need time, why this is such a big deal, why family dinners are awkward or half-attended, all the while wondering, “Why am I the one offering an explanation?”

    Any advice?

    #843376 Reply

    I should clarify: I did tell her I’d support her, unconditionally, if she decided to leave him. And I told her I’d tell my family that too, as she worried the family would blame her if she made that decision. I also told him that she had every right to leave him – he later told me that he found this incredibly hurtful on my part, but I still feel like it needed to be said.

    #843380 Reply

    Cudos to you for doing the right thing. You family is nuts for supporting your bully of a brother.

    I suggest you act incredulous with your family if they suggest reconciliation. Tell them you are shocked by their support of a would be murderer. And also what you said here – that if it was your brother in law who did this to your sister, you would never forgive him. And just because they can turn a blind eye to his bullying and criminal behavior, it does not mean you can do the same.

    #843385 Reply

    Strangulation is the single strongest predictor that an abuser will escalate to murder. Your ex sister in law absolutely, 100% needed to leave your brother. Her life literally depended on it.

    Thank you for supporting her. You are doing the right thing, and your instinct that you need to distance yourself from your brother is correct. Honestly I would not be able to trust him around my family, ever.

    Please read what the national domestic violence hotline has to say on the matter, and the next time someone in your family questions why you aren’t supporting him or implies his spouse did something wrong you can share some choice facts. A possible script: “Brother strangled Ex multiple times, among other serious offenses. Women frequently die, sometimes weeks later, after being strangled, and are 10 times more likely to be murdered by the partner who strangled them. This is absolutely horrifying to me, and has made me extremely worried for Brother’s mental state. We are so lucky he is facing a divorce instead of a murder charge. I simply cannot and will not support him until he agrees to get help and make serious changes.” Once you have said this, stick to that script. “I have already explained my position on this”, “strangling a partner means something is very, very wrong with Brother”, “I don’t want to keep rehashing this”, “I need brother to make serious changes before i can have him in my life again”, “I’m disturbed by your support for Brother given his extreme violence towards Ex”, “given that strangulation is the single biggest predictor that a spouse will kill you, what exactly did you want Ex to do?” Be armed with some facts about domestic violence and please stick to your guns with your brother.

    The Dangers of Strangulation | The National Domestic Violence Hotline

    #843388 Reply

    Eeeeeek. I was just about to say nobody can make excuses for what your brother did only —- whoops! Your whole family is doing just that. Yikes. Hold fast, LW. You alone are right on this. The rest of your family is out to lunch. Reconciliation post violence is always unwise. As it can be deadly. Support your former SIL.

    #843390 Reply

    Has she filed criminal charges? I mean, he’s strangled her twice. I wouldn’t even trust him with his children. She absolutely should divorce him immediately and stop supporting him. But I know that’s not what you’ve asked advice about.

    Your family-boundaries. Think about what you can handle and can’t. For me, in your situation, I’d probably tell whichever family member starts in on what you should be doing- stop them, say “I am appalled at what my brother has done. He’s lucky he isn’t serving jail time for attempted murder right now. If he was in any way remorseful, he’d be in counseling or anger management. He is not. Think of how his behavior will affect his daughters. He won’t attempt to better himself, so I have nothing left to give him. Furthermore, I do not want to discuss this with you. If we can’t move on to another subject I will leave, hang up…” whatever.

    And then stick with it. It’s hard, but effective. Leave when you need to.

    #843398 Reply

    My heart goes out to you my friend. Doing the right thing sometimes sucks. Your are doing everything correctly. Give yourself space from the rest of the family also if they push the issue further.

    #843426 Reply

    Thanks, all. I have read the statistics about choking/strangulation in domestic abuse cases and they’re absolutely frightening. I’ve told my family this but they also come from a religious/evangelical background and, at least for my father, it tends to come back to “forgiveness” and “I think you’re judging your brother.” I’ve said that those statements are sidestepping the point; it really is about my having boundaries around our relationship and, more importantly, my fear that he is doing little to nothing to make sure it never happens again (which, according to the statistics, will likely mean a homicide or attempted homicide). Many of you said I should simply restate my position and say that if they can’t respect that, then we can’t have a conversation about it. I think that’s probably what I need to do.

    #843430 Reply

    Sometimes “judging” is just “exercising good judgment”. If you can’t judge somebody for strangling their wife, what CAN you judge them for? Know that you are ENTIRELY in the right here. I really hope that their daughters are not minor children still living in a house with a man who tried to murder their mother.

    #843432 Reply

    So your family is saying that if someone stole their wallet, never said “sorry”, instead said “well they shouldn’t have left their wallet where I could take it.”, flashed their new expensive purchase made with said stolen money, your family would not only forgive the thief, they would continue to leave their wallet out in the open.

    Because forgiveness.

    Your family is doing this because your brother didn’t physically threaten / harm them.

    I would start going over and stealing their stuff, knowing that they would just keep forgiving me and apply no consequences.

    #843434 Reply

    I think this is less about forgiveness and judgement than it is about your family’s inability to deal with the fact that your brother has done appalling things. It’s easier to pretend it didn’t happen, or that it’s his wife’s fault, and then you just say oh, well, God forgives him so we will too. Then there aren’t any uncomfortable thoughts about what they might have to do, or might have done differently in the past.

    And anyway, you can forgive him and still not want to be around him, and not feel safe having your family around him. There’s the spiritual, and then there’s the practical reality that he’s tried to kill someone, twice.

    You’re doing the right thing in a very difficult and painful situation, and I give you huge credit for that.

    #843436 Reply

    Oh man. It’s so very disappointing your family is supporting and excusing your brother’s behavior. You can love someone but absolutely hold them accountable for their behavior, which is what you are doing.

    If your family gives you crap – you don’t have to explain or defend yourself. It may be blunt but “Hey CHOKED sil. She could have died. There’s no ambiguity about this – it happened. He’s refusing to take responsibility for that, or make changes to his life. It’s crazy that I have to say this out loud, that it’s not just a given.”

    I’m sure that’ll kill the mood in the room – but you know what? That’s not on you.

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