Dear Hobie & Monk,
My wife’s older brother comes to town for work every now and then, and recently he has made a habit of assuming that he can stay with us. The first time was OK, but now that we’re on the seventh or eighth “visit,” it’s getting a little old.
In addition, unlike most business travelers who head home as soon as possible after the last meeting, my brother-in-law always stays an extra day to hang around. He’s a nice enough guy, but a little odd, and he’s become increasingly estranged from the rest of the family.
So, although my wife isn’t crazy about him staying with us so much either, she feels that it’s his way of staying connected to us. He’s obviously family and we don’t want to be rude, but this arrangement is getting to be too much. Maybe he could stay with us every other time? What would you suggest and how do we broach this with him?
– Not an innkeeper
Hobie: Count yourself lucky to have an in-law who is so fond of you — or at least your free feather bed and scrambled eggs. Having said that, you should get to enjoy your extended family without feeling like involuntary innkeepers at their beck and call, and you and your wife have been very kind to house your brother-in-law on so many occasions. Something has to change, however, before your growing resentment reaches the boiling point and ruins what may be the last remaining family bond for your repeat houseguest.
It’s time for you two to talk to your brother-in-law. Get out a calendar and ask when his next four trips will be. Suggest that two of them will work well for you, but that he’ll need to stay somewhere else for the other trips. Don’t make up excuses or pretend to be out of town. Although tempting, that just cheapens the conversation and the relationship — you get to set limits without having to provide lengthy rationales for those limits.
P.S. Monk and I like scrambled eggs.
Monk: Hobie, do you recommend scotch with the talk (not the eggs)? I think yes, because embedded in the calendar conversation with this nice, odd, estranged family member are the apparently contradictory — but 100-percent legitimate — messages of “We love you” and “We would like to see less of you.” And while I completely agree with Hobie that it’s time for a talk about limits, I think a rational rationale (and scotch) might make this conversation more palatable.
You might explain to your odd B-I-L that here on the “Fun Side of the Potomac,” you get many visitors. As a family, you and your wife have decided to balance visits from out-of-town guests with time to yourselves. This decision applies to all guests, not just the odd and reoccurring ones. Your brother-in-law should accept and respect this perfectly reasonable, not personal, family policy, and you can look forward to the next visit he makes and the following one he doesn’t.
Hobie and Monk are two Alexandria women with husbands, children, dogs, jobs, mortgages, unmet New Year’s resolutions, obsessions with impractical shoes, English novels … and Ph.D.s in clinical psychology. Their advice, while fabulous, should not be construed as therapeutic within a doctor-patient context or substituted for the advice of readers’ personal advisors. To submit questions to Hobie & Monk, email firstname.lastname@example.org.