q-100Dear Dr. Rhoberta,

When I was 25, I had an affair with my 40 year old single boss. We later broke up acrimoniously and I moved on. I blocked him from Facebook and all social media later.

Now I am happily married, with children, to another man for the past 12 years. My problem is that, my brother in law is now employed by my ex-boss ( ex-lover). My ex-boss has no idea that my brother in law and I are related. However, I told my brother in law about this man and cautioned him that he is not to mention to my ex-boss that he knows me.

My problem now is my brother in law. He is now using this information to irritate me. He will send me messages saying he saw my ex-boss today and will keep giving me updates on my ex-boss’ life. I am not interested in this at all and I even told my brother in law that he needs to grow up and stop acting silly. My ex-boss is a psychotic person and has a reputation for being a womanizer and a generally unpleasant person. I am afraid of him and have had no contact with him for over 14 years. My brother in law knows this and he constantly uses my ex-boss’s name to intimidate me.

Of late, he has been befriending my ex-colleagues ( who knew about my affair with this man) and keeps sending me teasing messages saying he spoke to “so and so about me”.

I have always brushed this kind of taunting off lightly and have pretended to not take it seriously. I do not want to give my brother in law the pleasure of knowing that he gets to me or has any power over me. The way I see it, it is a power struggle and he is doing this to scare me ( what kind of perverse pleasure he derives out of this, I don’t understand).

I have no secrets from my husband and he knows about my ex-boss and why I am afraid of him. My husband is really mad at his brother and wants to give him a talking to. However, I have not let him do this since I don’t want my brother-in-law to think that I am weak and that i have gone running to my husband like a weakling. I don’t want to feel like a victim.

I want to handle this myself and in an effective and dignified manner. I know that if I show irritation or signs of being affected, my brother-in-law will get some kicks out of it.

Since he is my extended family, there is no way I can cut him off from my life. But I do know that this is a toxic relationship. This kind of behavior has now been continuing on and off for about 12 years.

How do I stop this childish person from investigating my past, digging up dirt on me and making my life difficult emotionally?

Please help me!




a-100Hello, N;

You have some very good insights about the relationship with your brother-in-law, and the perceived power structure.

Your brother-in-law is not just childish, he is a toxic bully who enjoys the power of manipulation. It’s likely that the entire family as well as every other person he knows would benefit from him changing his behavior. He’d feel better, too. What he is looking for is power and significance. It would be wise if he found it in more positive ways.

There is a disconnect for me, though, in that you know how toxic and manipulative this fellow is, yet you gave him information that makes you so vulnerable. I invite you to examine why you did that, because you, no doubt, knew that it was risky. Your brother-in-law is more of a bother-in-law.

Your husband is willing to speak up on your behalf, and that is protective. You may be seeing it as weak to let your husband talk to him, and I understand that you don’t want to give too much power to your brother-in-law, but it is worth considering that your husband would be teaching your brother-in-law something important. It might also put an end to your bullying brother-in-law.

We women are caught a bit in the sense that we want equitable partnerships, and the opportunity and respect to interact powerfully in the world. We sometimes confuse that in our personal intimate relationships: there, power is shared. Your husband is kindly acknowledging your perception of the situation and behaving accordingly. Unless you know your husband is a bull in a china shop, and you don’t trust him, let him take his brother aside and set some boundaries. Your whole family will benefit, although it may take a while to see positive results because he might be reactionary initially.

I wish you well.
Dr. Shaler

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