Davis

My Brother's Wife Seeks My Advice On Him

7 posts in this topic

For the sake of openness, I should begin by saying that I have another name on The Forum, and decided to post anonymously so as to not air the dirty laundry of those whose consent I do not have.

I was my brother’s best man at his wedding several months ago. We will call him David and his wife Sandra. He, Sandra, and I are close and I like both of them very much. She and I enjoy racquetball, while he does not, so each week Sandra and I play with my cousin and his wife. Several days ago, we played and I stopped by her house to get her opinion on an irrelevant manner afterward, and she asked for my advice as well about a career choice (my brother was out of the house). I advised her to quit her job due to the immorality of the nature of what she was being asked to do, reminding her that there are things more important than a paycheck, and that a person as intelligent and hardworking as she is can get a paycheck in many different ways. At this point, she began crying and told me how he worries compulsively about money (that is, regardless of the amount earned), and it would cause him a great deal of anxiety to lose her source of income, despite the fact that he earns enough for both of them. At this point, I advised her to speak with him, or perhaps with him and a marriage counselor. I felt extremely uncomfortable to discuss anything about him without him present, and so I did not speak to her problem directly, although I sympathize with her situation very much. She told me that she would discuss the issue with him.

I think that talking to someone outside the marriage about marital problems without the knowledge of their partner is a very troublesome sign; I once had a girlfriend complain to David about problems she and I were having, to which I took great offense. I plan on telling my Sandra that I feel uncomfortable discussing her problems with him, and that we can’t do it in the future. My biggest query is this: Should I tell David about this? I recall from my aforementioned relationship that I would have wanted him to tell me that my ex-girlfriend was coming to him with these issues (he didn’t mention it until after the relationship had ended). Additionally, he is somewhat jealous, and if I don’t mention anything and it comes out later, he may wonder whether or not anything else happened that I didn’t see fit to mention (of course, this implication is not plausible due to my character). Also, between being his brother, friend, and best man, it strikes me that my first loyalty should be to him; that is, if I find knowledge that he would want to know that may be pertinent to his well-being, I should tell him that knowledge since it has been imposed on me without my assurance that I would not repeat the information.

I am close with both of them, and I don’t feel good about repeating something personal someone has told me and sought advice on, but I think this may be a special case for the reasons above. How should I handle this?

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You shouldn't tell him. Feeling the way you do, you should never have allowed the conversation to go beyond the first few words; now that you have heard her, it would be a breach of her trust to reveal this. It was clearly said with the expectation that normal social norms on confidential matters would apply. You got into a fairly intimate discussion with her about work (therefore, about money), and you can't just walk away and say common decency didn't apply because you didn't specifically agreed not to say anything.

Maybe you can find a way to help your brother without breaching her trust. I would look for something to do in that direction, if you really must act. I'd stay out of it if I were you.

Think about the various possible outcomes:

- You tell him, they overcome the difficulty: she'll never trust or like you again, he's not likely to like you any better.

- You tell him, they don't overcome it: he might always resent what you did (he seems to be somewhat irrational if he's that jealous). Arguably, your telling him makes it less likely that they overcome this difficulty, and it makes it more likely that he will loose some level of trust in her. He's not likely to thank you for that.

- You don't tell him, they overcome it: you have earned her trust. You can make it clear to her that in the future you never want to be in this situation again (1).

- You don't tell him, they don't overcome it: you have nothing to reproach yourself.

You could try submit the question to Dr. Peikoff's Q&A podcast. He gets plenty of questions of this sort and he might give you some valuable advice.

(1) In my opinion, it's hard to be a real friend without having to deal with uncomfortable knowledge. If you keep a relationship at arms-length, it's likely to stay very superficial. I personally think that you are over-reacting, based on your write-up.

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Feeling the way you do, you should never have allowed the conversation to go beyond the first few words; now that you have heard her, it would be a breach of her trust to reveal this. It was clearly said with the expectation that normal social norms on confidential matters would apply.
I was mostly shocked; I'm not quick enough to decide what I should do in such a weird situation which was so short in duration.
You got into a fairly intimate discussion with her about work (therefore, about money), and you can't just walk away and say common decency didn't apply because you didn't specifically agreed not to say anything.
The context is significantly different between a "her in an extramarital conflict" and a "her in an intramarital conflict". I did not initiate this portion of the conversation, which it could have been reasonably assumed to be an uncomfortable topic, and inappropriate. And how did I imply that I would keep something from my brother? That could only be a reasonable assumption if I explicitly stated it, due to his and my close relationship, in my view. What if she'd confided that she cheated on him with a coworker out of the blue? Would it be proper that I keep that discreet as well, because we were talking about coworkers? I'm not being facetious; I just don't follow the logic here.
You could try submit the question to Dr. Peikoff's Q&A podcast. He gets plenty of questions of this sort and he might give you some valuable advice.
I would, but it takes him months to get to a new question and I want to resolve it this week, unfortunately (I would like to hear his view).
In my opinion, it's hard to be a real friend without having to deal with uncomfortable knowledge. If you keep a relationship at arms-length, it's likely to stay very superficial. I personally think that you are over-reacting, based on your write-up.
I would rather it be at "arm's length" than hear very private concens about the workings of their marriage without the consent and knowledge of both partners. And probably even then; I'm no marrage counsellor.

In what way am I over-reacting? You think that her coming to me is not a bad sign, or that my brother likely won't care that she did?

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I would send Sandra an e-mail saying that you are troubled by what she told you and are not sure what to do about it. You want to help both of them, but you feel that it is a matter you should not be involved in and that they should work it out between themselves.

Ask her if she would mind if you told her husband, because you are uncomfortable keeping something like this from your brother. Volunteer to sit down with both of them at the same time if she thinks that would help. Then see what she says and plan your next move from there.

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You think that her coming to me is not a bad sign...

Precisely. As you describe it, it's one of those many little difficulties that happen all the time in marriages. People need to be able to talk to their friends and ask counsel - within limits. Maybe they need a counselor, maybe what they need is a good argument + reconciliation. That happens all the time. Until and unless all hell breaks loose, there's no need to make it more of a drama than it is. Don't get into it. You have everything to loose and nothing to gain.

(Remember, all I have to judge is what you tell us. If your analysis, knowing all the details, is that something grave is happening, then use your best judgement.)

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Davis, with only the statements provided from your post above, I think that you are over-reacting. I am assuming that your sister-in-law knows you and your brother very well, but that does not mean that there are not certain areas of his life that you understand more indepth. It could be that aspect of his life that she does not fully understand that has lead her to ask you for guidance. It does not seem to be out of deceit that she has taken the opportunity to ask for advice, but to enhance her understanding of your brother and use that knowledge in a proper positive manner.

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Thanks everyone! I simply made it clear that I didn't want to be involved in any way with discussing problems between the two of them, and that will be it. I think I did over-react because of a superficially similar situation I had with an ex-girlfriend -- sometimes it's very useful to have people tell you to calm down, weirdo :).

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