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Advice | Carolyn Hax: Note the middle of brother and cousin estrangement


Dear Caroline: My cousin is estranged from his father, my brother, and most likely for false reasons. Be that as it may, our family is close-knit and wants to continue to include him in family gatherings. He won’t come unless he’s sure my brother won’t be there.

He is now engaged and excludes his father from all marriage-related festivities. My brother has offered to do anything his son wants to resolve this such as family therapy but to no avail. Earlier, my cousin asked his father to do some things to show he meant business, but when his father complied with the request, my cousin raised the bar again.

My problem is that I love them dearly, and I keep pretending (with my nephew) that I can do this crazy dance. Earlier we had discussions about it with my cousin, but if we do now, we are closed.

On the one hand, I’m tired of pretending, and on the other, I’m devastated that one misstep will alienate my cousin and his new family. My brother encourages all of us to continue our relationship with his son. I feel torn. Is there a solution here?

Anonymously: I’ll start with a small thing, because it can be huge: the reasons are not bogus by “all accounts”. Presumably your cousin believes they are valid, and that counts as an account.

You probably believe that too he believes in his own reasons, even if you don’t. If he didn’t, he would do so in a whimsical way to hurt his father – which would be indefensible, wouldn’t it?

As I said, this could be something minor – a mental typo on your part – or the biggest, that one of them knowingly harmed the other, but to maintain a good reputation with the “close” family, don’t get to it. So decisions to “side” with one, neither, or both family members are worth as fair a reckoning as you can give them using the information you have. Sometimes we have no choice but to raise our hands and say, “I don’t know who to blame,” and sometimes that’s a massive, even crime-enabled way out – and it’s always up to us to be honest. to be against ourselves which is true.

When you’re really caught between two decent souls at odds with each other, it’s tough and exhausting, yes.

But the solution is actually quite simple.

1. Keep inviting both cousin and brother openly and let each of them decide whether to come.

2. Don’t talk about your brother to your cousin. There are ways to make that easier: for example, centering discussions about his life. (There’s nothing like a wedding there.) Or talk about non-family stuff. Or follow his moderator.

3. If you slip up, apologize and move on. If your cousin doesn’t want to move on, so be it. If he has zero tolerance for vulnerability in the well-meaning uninvolved people who do their best to respect his boundaries, plug that information in and revisit your solution.

Just because these boundaries are emotionally tough on the family doesn’t mean they’re technically hard to respect.

In fact, the best way to respect boundaries is to have them yourself – and refusing to do a “crazy dance” in front of anyone, for any reason, is one of the best you can ask.

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