Family member making sexual advances

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

My brother-in-law (married to my husband’s sister) has been discretely touching me at family or social functions. This might involve touching my foot with his foot, or discetely rubbing my leg with is finger. He never says a word, but seems to purposely set himself up in my vicinity to carry out this weird ritual. I have known him for 23 years and his wife is one of my oldest and best friends and he is my husband’s best friend.

Another one of my, and my sister-in-law’s best friends confided that he was doing the same thing with her. He was going one step further, and would go into her bedroom while we were all over for dinner, and move a sexy pair of her underwear unfolded on top of all the others. It was his way of saying he was there.

The dilemma is this. His wife if our closest and dearest friend, and our husbands are very close to him. All 6 of us and all 13 of our kids have been best friends forever. There are huge relationships at stake here. When we confided in each other, with great relief I might add, we both thought that there was a big control or power issue here. It was as if he knew that we wouldn’t say anything or react, because the stakes are so high. It was safe for him to behave this way.

We’re are all approaching 50, and are having tremendous difficulty figuring out a way to approach this issue without involving his wife. Oddly enough, we both believe that his wife knows, at some level, what he’s is up to but is aware of the stakes as well. I don’t know if this is relavent, but he is a well known personality in our community so he has to be very careful who he trusts and wouldn’t try this on anyone who doesn’t have anything to lose. I would really appreciate some expert advice on how to end this behaviour without hurting anyone in the process.

A:This fellow is already hurting you and your friend and is probably hurting his wife. He is getting off on taking risks with the family relationships and his own reputation.

I think you and your friend might be able to stop the immediate problem by going together to his office and letting him know that you won’t tolerate it any longer. You could tell him that you won’t share it with other members of the family as long as he stops and, this is most important, doesn’t start doing it with others. He’ll probably deny it. He might laugh it off as no big deal. He might try to make you think you’re crazy for even thinking he is doing something on purpose. You shouldn’t let him get you into a conversation or debate. Just tell him the facts and leave.

The problem with this approach is that it leaves other people vulnerable. He is likely to start the behavior with someone else but be sneakier about it. He might start making advances to younger members of the family who would be more confused about what to do and say.

That’s why my vote would be for you and your friend to confide in your husbands and then for the 4 of you to call a meeting with him and his wife to talk about what is happening. If you frame the conversation as an effort to help him stop behavior that could cost him and the family enormously, you may be able to contain the situation and keep everyone safe.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 4 Mar 2009

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2009). Family member making sexual advances. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 23, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2009/03/04/family-member-making-sexual-advances/