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‘My divorced brother is ‘living his best life’, and there are now local rumours about his behaviour’

Tell Me About It: ‘I’m worried my brother’s behaviour will impact his health and his life’

Question: I live in a small village with my husband and teenage children. We built a house on the site of my parents' farm.

My brother has returned to live in the empty farmhouse. He lived abroad for more than two decades and is recently divorced. The problem is that he is living what he calls his "best life" and it is quite embarrassing and a very poor example to my children, who all adore him. There are numerous local rumours about his behaviour – none of which he denies. He seems to have slept with half of the women in the locality over the age of 25, some of them being either married or engaged. He has parties in the house all the time, and on several occasions during the Covid restrictions I thought that he was going to be arrested for hosting very large gatherings.

I am also aware that he is drinking a lot and using a copious amount of drugs and on some occasions supplying them to younger people in the area. I do know that he has had a very hard time accepting the breakdown of his marriage. I also know that his activities are really none of my business. But I do worry that this midlife crisis could have a serious impact on his health and life.

To be honest I am also worried that this behaviour could damage my reputation and our small family business, which he is now a partner in.

I really don’t know what I can do.

Answer: This is really a difficult situation for you as it seems you love your brother and can understand his behaviour as a response to the pain of separation, but you also have his influence on your teenagers, plus he is your business partner where reputation is paramount.

He will need to address his underlying emotions if he is to recover and you can be there for him when he wants to really talk about his hurt and rejection

It may be that your brother’s behaviour led to his divorce and if so, might be more difficult to address – however, you still have two areas of possibility to create an intervention: as a sister and as a business partner. You are genuine in your empathy at his loss and he may have patterns of dealing with loss or setbacks that can be identified in his behaviour now and he may not be fully aware of these. He may not realise that he is regressing to an earlier age and we often do this when we are traumatised – think of how a toddler regresses to a baby stage (demanding attention) when a new baby comes into the house.

However, he will need to address his underlying emotions if he is to recover and you can be there for him when he wants to really talk about his hurt and rejection. However, this is complicated because you are in business with him and he is putting that at risk, and this needs to be addressed if the business is to survive.

Many family businesses face relational struggles, and it is hugely difficult to deal with the many conflicting roles and issues that arise. If you behave as a sister in the business context you will make decisions that might hamper the business so clear boundaries need to be established and roles and responsibilities defined and discussed by all. Engaging with a small business consultant to help with this might take the personal out of it and help everyone to participate in useful discussions.

Messy and complicated

The reason that so few family businesses make it through to second generation success is because of the often messy and complicated emotions that go unresolved, so as a business owner take the reins and call for consultation and a strategic plan (including the topic of reputation). If your brother is supplying drugs to younger people and it is known, it will not take long for gardaí, or a jilted lover of one of his dalliances, to make this public and the consequences could be severe. In the same way that you would challenge one of your teenagers if they were putting themselves at risk, you need to face this issue and not use avoidance as a tactic and hope it will resolve itself.

If you can, keep asking questions as this will keep your judgments at bay and do not try to resolve things in one conversation

Tell him that you need to have a serious conversation and ask him for a time and place that will work for him. Then when he agrees, tell him that your concern about having this conversation is that your relationship with him will be under threat and also that you have a fear that you won’t speak with complete honesty. Only when these concerns (including any he may have, for example being treated like a child) are addressed can you continue to be patient.

Bigger picture

Then ask him what he thinks you need to discuss and what issues are there for both of you. Always refer to the bigger picture – in this situation it is for the sake of the business, the family, the young adults and it is likely that he too wants success for all. If you can, keep asking questions as this will keep your judgments at bay and do not try to resolve things in one conversation. Always organise to meet again, saying let’s both think about this and see where we are in a few days or a week.

You do not mention your husband in this story or other family members so they may (or may not) be a resource to you – but if your brother gets on well with someone else, they may be a source of support for him. Silence is no longer an option for you, so ask for that first conversation now and know that you have permission on many grounds to request this.