Thursday 17 October 2019

Ask Allison: My brother doesn't want me at his kids' weddings


My brother doesn't want me at his kids' weddings - what should I do?
My brother doesn't want me at his kids' weddings - what should I do?

Allison Keating

Q: I am a married man with no family and am retired. I have one brother who is married with three children. I am the godfather to the eldest child.

The middle child is married and the other two are engaged. I was not invited to the first wedding and the youngest child is getting married this year. I do not anticipate getting an invitation to this wedding either. I will be extremely put out if I am not asked to my godchild's wedding whenever that happens. My sister-in-law invited her two brothers to the first wedding, but not me.

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What should I do if I do not get an invitation? The crux of the matter lies with my wife. My brother and his wife were opposed to my marriage, whereas my late parents approved.

Allison replies:  Families are complicated and complex. This is the messy truth but one we often forget. Perhaps this oversight happens as the message we receive is that families stick together and get along. This message leaves many adults feeling sad and isolated when dealing with fractious adult sibling relationships often compounded by partners and parents, alive and passed on.

Let's work backwards. Your parents were happy with your choice when you got married but your brother and his wife were not. Who you married was, and is, your choice. This leaves me wondering how healthy the boundaries are within your family of origin. Your brother and his wife asked you to be their eldest child's godfather so I'm not sure when or how the timeline changed from being excluded from family events.

How have you gotten on with your brother? How did you get on with your parents? What was the dynamic in your family between your parents and you and your brother? Was there any favouritism? The sibling relationship is the oldest and most influential relationship you will have in your life so it is very understandable as to why you are feeling upset about the discord, disharmony and exclusion.

Three salient points to bring to the table about the distinct characteristics of sibling relationships are emotional power, intimacy and tone. These three set the framework for the type of relationship you have had and to the one you are having currently. As it was such an intense relationship in your childhood it can feel disjointed and at odds when this dynamic isn't there in adulthood.

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As in every relationship it requires the necessary reciprocal give-and-take to keep the relationship alive. This is dependent on two willing siblings. Quite often, there can be a mismatch where feelings range from love to hate to ambiguity and ambivalence within and about the relationship.

Mixed feelings may exist between the two of you with one side wanting a relationship and the other not - thus ending the possibility of having a relationship as adults. Add to this past hurts, unattended childhood emotional wounds, and if their partner doesn't want to have a relationship with you.

I can only imagine how distressing it must be to feel rejected by your sibling but it is imperative to recognise what you have control over and what you don't. The opening quote to my chapter about siblings in my book The Secret Lives of Adults is: 'Siblings: children of the same parents, each of whom is perfectly normal, until they get together.'

What is most significant about this is that you and your brother may have very different perceptions of your respective childhoods. This can be a useful place to start; to come at this with curiosity and openness as you broach what I call 'the conversation'.

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Before you get to that I suggest you explore the relationship past and present with your brother on your own. On paper, identify issues and patterns that have existed and caused concern over the years. Identify when or what changed your relationship. Write out and acknowledge the pain of being left out of his son's wedding. I recommend 'soften, soothe, allow' as a very helpful technique to come to terms with what that meant to you.

Bringing this back to the present and to what you can control, ask yourself what you would like to say to your brother in a conversation.

Perhaps you could look at how you felt in the past when you weren't invited to the first wedding. Then you could look at opening up a dialogue about the future.

You could set out your intent; that you are hopeful and would like to be part of the next two family weddings and that the relationships mean a lot to you; that you are seeking to understand what is going on and are hopeful that possible new beginnings could develop.

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As always, I'm placing a major reality caveat in here - not all problems are solvable, not all conversations are rational, and sometimes they may seem completely irrational. If this is the case, you have to know when to accept what feels unacceptable and unfair to you. You cannot force people to see it from your perspective.

The idea behind this constructive conversation is to heal any past unresolved issues and to build new healthier ones. However, painful as it may be, you can't force relationships. If this occurs, please don't take responsibility that is not yours to take. With kindness, I wish you the best of luck whilst reminding you that you can only play your half.

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