Hi, Carolyn: My brother and his partner of six years have rented a beach house for a week this summer and invited some family and friends along. I happily accepted.
He has since confided that his partner has cheated, repeatedly, with men he met online, once in their shared home. He considered leaving the first two times, but now, the fifth time, he is looking the other way – which is his right.
I used to really like his partner, but now the thought of him makes my skin crawl. Can I back out of the trip without looking judgmental or alienating my brother? The beach house is fully paid for by my brother’s partner, who is wealthy and, by the way, also pays for pretty much everything major in my brother’s life since he is finishing up medical school. Spending time somewhere on the partner’s dime is not something I want to do. I also do not want to offend my brother … help! – Torn big sis
You have several good reasons to cancel, with the most powerful being, I believe, your reluctance to essentially spend the partner’s money while quietly despising him. While hurtful, canceling would be a principled stand motivated by your affection for your brother, so the foundation for reconciliation would be built into your actions.
You also have several good reasons to go as planned – they’re a couple, so the house is as much your brother’s as it is his partner’s – but you didn’t mention the most persuasive one.
Your brother didn’t get into this hole overnight; he’s been digging slowly for years. Where you see an acute problem, he likely just sees day-to-day life. To him, it’s familiar, routine.
For better or worse, family visits remind us of who we used to be – and if this situation with his partner has been chipping away at your brother’s integrity and self-worth, then your presence might help him see how much he has lost. A discreet “I’m worried about you” can give that reckoning a push.