Dear Annie: I am looking for some help in dealing with my alcoholic, grossly overweight brother-in-law. He is 53 years old and has been an alcoholic since high school. Over the past 15 years, he has lost his wife, house and more jobs than you can count. He lives with his mother, and she supports him and his food and alcohol habits.
As a family, we have supported him through all the losses and several attempts at rehab and AA, but he chooses to continue to drink, and my mother-in-law won't kick him out. We have set up boundaries of when he can participate in family functions, such as, "If you drink, you cannot come." This has worked for the past few years. The problem is that when he does come to our home, he either breaks chairs or puts so much pressure on them that they dent our new wood floors. I have asked him not to sit in certain chairs because they have a weight limit of 250 pounds, and he is well over 400. He just laughs and takes it as a challenge. In the summer we can sit outside, and he has an extra-large lawn chair. This summer we have a new pool and deck, and he is constantly calling to come use it. I am afraid the ladder will break (another 250 pound limit), or, if he has to use the sides of the pool to yank himself out, he will pull the sides off, as it is an aboveground pool. My husband has trouble saying no, so he tells him we won't be home or we have company. These are excuses that won't last too much longer. This is causing a ton of stress in our house. I get it; it's his brother. But we've worked really hard to have some nice things, and I don't want them destroyed by someone who doesn't care about anyone but himself. How can I get my husband to tell him the truth? -- More Like Bother-in-Law
Dear Bother-in-Law: Judging from the tone of your letter, I'm not sure how much you get it that this is your husband's brother. Clearly, your brother-in-law is having a very difficult time. His laughter and making the chair breaking a challenge is no doubt a cover-up for his embarrassment. No one wants to be so overweight that they break furniture. Calling him "grossly overweight" is not very nice either. Your mother-in-law enabling him to drink alcoholically and live with her is not doing him any favors either. If your husband truly loves his brother, he needs to speak with his mom about getting him help for his drinking and obesity. Start with help for his alcohol problems. Hopefully as he gets sober he will start to feel better about himself and want to start exercising and eating healthy. A good therapist could also do wonders for your brother-in-law and perhaps the entire family. On a practical level, it sounds like you are already upfront with him about which chairs he can sit on. As far as the pool is concerned, if you are truly concerned that it will break, then perhaps you could meet at a park or sit in a different area of your house.
"Ask Me Anything: A Year of Advice From Dear Annie" is out now! Annie Lane's debut book -- featuring favorite columns on love, friendship, family and etiquette -- is available as a paperback and e-book. Visit http://www.creatorspublishing.com for more information. Send your questions for Annie Lane firstname.lastname@example.org.