I have a brother who has been a toxic presence in my life—emotionally manipulative, condescending, and occasionally very cruel. With the help of therapy, I’ve intentionally distanced myself from him over the past few years. We have a cordial relationship when we do occasionally see each other, but we are not close. My therapist has recommended I explain how I feel, but I believe this would do irreparable damage to our relationship and larger family dynamic. I’m not willing to risk that, and I’m fine with our distant, polite relationship.
The problem is that he always wants to know why I’m keeping him at arm’s length. He sends me long (often very hurtful) messages about how sad he is that we aren’t closer and how it’s my fault because I’m not making an effort. I recently tried to set a boundary by saying that I need space and I hope he can respect that, and he completely flew off the handle. How do I get him to understand I’m not interested in a closer relationship with him without also sacrificing the cordial relationship we do have? I’m tempted to be forthright with him but believe that will cost me not only my relationship with him but also with my parents.
—Not Your Keeper