Dear Wayne and Wanda,
My husband’s younger brother separated from his wife six months ago and has been staying with us. Just last week, they decided they’re going ahead with divorce. Initially, when my husband asked if his brother “Jeff” could stay, it was supposed to be “for just a little while.” Naively, I did not ask what “a little while” meant. Jeff, after all, is family. They are close and it meant a lot to my husband to be there for him.
Jeff has shown no signs of moving out. He has progressively brought more clothing and personal items into our home and his bedroom looks entirely his own, different from the neutrally decorated guest room it once was. He has showed signs of moving on romantically though: almost upon arrival, he’s been out actively dating, and he has brought the occasional houseguest home. He’s attempted to be discreet, but I’ve heard comings, goings, and other things I’d rather I had not, and once I ran into a woman in my kitchen in the middle of the night while up to get water. So awkward.
Now that the divorce is a go, I feel like Jeff needs to move out soon. As in, now. My husband says I’m rushing things and that Jeff is family and we have extra room and it’s rude to urge him to get on with it. I think as far as he’s concerned, Jeff could stay indefinitely. He clearly has much more patience with this situation and frankly I think he likes having his brother here.
What should I do?
Well you’ve already done quite a lot: letting anyone into our homes for a prolonged period is an interruption, even when it’s our most beloved family member or friend. Having a third party present for days or weeks on end can become more jarring, stressful, and unpleasant the longer it lasts, even when we care for that person and know we are doing a kind thing.
You have done a very kind thing, and you’ve done it for a while now. Six months to be exact! It was gracious of you to open your household at a time when Jeff’s life was in flux and his future was in question. Those questions have been answered: Jeff is getting divorced and Jeff is moving forward with his active dating life! Good for Jeff. And it’s also time for Jeff to move forward in finding a permanent residence — not your guest room.
It seems like half my friends these days have become real estate agents. Know any? Offer to take Jeff to lunch and introduce him to a neutral — and financially motivated — third party who can help him find a landing pad. Or offer to help Jeff look at potential apartments or properties. You can tell your husband this is how you’re proceeding, versus asking permission. This approach demonstrates you want Jeff to land on his feet and care about him, but you also need to reclaim your domestic space.
Now, just to be clear, little brother-in-law lost his wife, not his job, right? Then why does he need to live with you any longer than it takes to get a rebound rental? I know the housing market is crazy, but hey, so is life.
Take, for instance, the breakup of a marriage. It’s messy, discombobulating, depressing. And Jeff is fortunate to have close, caring family to lean on — like seriously lean on — in the wake of his break. But breakups happen every day, and many are a lot more devastating than what Jeff is going through. In fact, it seems he’s doing pretty well.
You and your husband have been beyond loving, understanding and generous. Unfortunately, Jeff doesn’t have the grasp, gratitude or grace to appreciate what you’ve provided and sacrificed, to thank you both profusely, and to move out and move on. Since he won’t, it’s time to do some of the not-so-fun work of a true family: being honest and giving some tough love.
You and your husband, united, need to tell little bro that it’s time for him to move out. That you are not going to further compromise your home, lifestyle and marriage to soften his rebound. There are plenty of storage units for his stuff, plenty of real estate agents and property managers to find him a place, plenty of therapists to guide him through this transition, and clearly plenty of other shoulders for him to cry on. If Jeff isn’t immediately and eternally grateful for your hospitality and honesty, then he needs to rethink more than just his romantic relationships. And if your husband isn’t onboard with all of this, maybe his brother can give him the names of some decent divorce lawyers.