How do I confront my brother about his relationship?

advice header image

How do I confront my brother about his relationship?

Mar 19, 2007 |Candice Watters
Question

My heart is troubled. My younger 23-year-old brother, whom I dearly love and admire, is in a serious relationship with a great girl. They are obviously meant for each other. When they're together, I can see the tenderness in his eyes when he encourages her or the teasing affection when they verbally spar with each other. They complement each other.

His girlfriend is wonderful ... she challenges him to be his best, isn't demanding (no diva drama here) and is very polite and sincere around our parents. My brother is so happy when he's with her. Though I haven't personally sat down and discussed her relationship with God with her, my brother has told me that before they began dating (they've been friends for several years prior to dating each other), he asked her about what she believed, and it was in line with the gospel.

Which is why what I'm about to ask is troubling me so much. How do I confront my brother and his girlfriend about their physical relationship? It breaks my heart that I even suspect my brother of crossing boundaries our parents had established years ago when we were teenagers. I don't think they're having sex, but I have seen them snuggling a bit too close while watching TV late at night.

I only know these things because we've been sharing an apartment. I confronted him a few months back about "the appearance of evil" when I went to go to work one morning and her car, purse, and shoes were still there — and his bedroom door was closed. I point-blank asked him what happened, and he said, "Nothing; she was too tired to drive home last night. She slept on the floor. Nothing happened." He doesn't usually lie, so I didn't push it any further, or tell our parents. I figured God needed to work on his conscience, not me.

Now, I'm wondering if I did the right thing. I want to follow biblical guidelines and bring another person with me if I talk to him again, but am at a loss as to whom I should tell or ask for counsel. I recently caught them "napping" on the floor next to each other, my brother with his arm around her.

This is so awkward! I want to tell them how I feel — that they are inviting temptation, but I don't want to drive them away, and I'm HORRIBLE at direct confrontation. I really do believe that they are in the right relationship, but have made some wrong choices, and I don't want our parents to assume the worst.

What should I, as his older sister, do? Is this even my place to worry about it?

Answer

Talk about going where angels fear to tread. I'm not sure I'd want to challenge my brothers' choice of music, let alone what they do with their girlfriends!

Still, I admire your love and concern for your brother. And as an older sister of two brothers, I can appreciate just how touchy the situation you're in is.

For starters, keep in mind that depending on his maturity — and yours — whatever you say, and however this turns out, it will be a subtext at every Thanksgiving dinner for the rest of your lives. That may be great, as in, he'll be ever grateful for the way your intervention saved his soul, or at least his reputation. But it may be not so great, too. If either one of you acts uncharitably, the resentment that follows could be with you a long, long time.

If this were merely a matter of you walking in on you brother while he was fooling around with his girlfriend say, in his college dorm room or even at your parents' house, it would be one thing. Assuming the relationship between the two of you is solid, and both of you have mature faith, you'd be in a position to confront him about what you saw.

But he's not just your brother. He's also your roommate. Since he's your roommate, and he's making out on your couch, under your roof, there's an added offense, one you must address. It's perfectly within your role as apartment mate to set some ground rules. Whether it's this girlfriend or another, your boyfriend or either of your closest, same-sex pals, it's only right to establish boundaries for visitors.

Your letter implies that your brother is a Christian. Presumably, when he's not in the "heat of the moment" he would agree with what Scripture says about sex outside of marriage, purity, impropriety and sin. This is not the time to mention "the boundaries (y)our parents established years ago when (you) were teenagers." Presumably you're both adults now. This is about God's boundaries.

Appeal to his belief. Let him know you're uncomfortable when he and his girlfriend act like they're married in your living space. You might go so far as to tell him you're not trying to be his conscience. After all, that's the Holy Spirit's job, not yours. Yes, you want them to follow God's plan for sex, and yes, you're praying for them to make wise decisions. You might even suggest he take our DTR assessment.

Ultimately, you must realize those decisions are theirs, not yours, to make. Still, when it comes to your shared living space, tell him you will no longer tolerate such behavior.

You may be the external influence God uses to remind him he needs to do what he already knows is right — to lead the relationship in a godly way. That would be a bonus. But at a minimum, what you're after is a home where you feel comfortable living. Even if they still sin together at her place, it's important that they know not to do it at yours.

If he's not already asking you to cover for him, I'd start there. If he resists, or refuses outright, insisting it's my place, too, and I can live however I want, then continue the process proscribed in Matthew 18:

If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

I think it's great you're already aware of the principles of confrontation these verses describe. They are part of what healthy relationships are all about. Remember, though, these verses are for fellow believers. If I've assumed wrongly about your brother's faith, then the part about bringing his sin before the church would not apply. In that case, I'd recommend J. Budziszewski's article, "Does it Matter Who You Live With?"

You've asked whom to take with you should round two be necessary. You've also mentioned that you haven't told your parents. I don't know what your brother's relationship with them is like. If it's strong, they may be the best people to take with you to confront him. But if it's strained — even if you're on the best of terms with them — I think it's wise to look to someone else he respects. Preferably someone you both do. This may be his pastor or other mentor, an older Christian couple or even a professor and his wife.

Hopefully, for the sake of your relationship, you can come to some amicable agreement on the rules you'll both abide by in your shared living space. If he's not willing to work with you on this — and that implies that you're checking to be sure you're not asking more than God requires — your best option is to move out. Get a different roommate. Let him know you love him and because you want to preserve your relationship, you think it's best to leave the situation in which he's asking you to comply with his sin.

Before I close, I'd like to make a few comments about his girlfriend and your assumptions about her faith.

Though it sounds like he and his girlfriend have the chemistry we all look for in a romantic relationship, there's another quality that's even more important: spiritual complementarity. We've talked before on Boundless about how a key question to ask yourself when dating is whether you are better able to serve God's Kingdom together or apart.

In this case, you're not even certain where she stands with the Lord. What she says, and for that matter, what your brother says about her faith and his own, may appear to be in line with the gospel, but their words are worthless if their actions don't follow.

Lots of believers do questionable things that they honestly don't think are wrong. On the Boundless DTR assessment tool, we included "falling asleep together without having sex" as one of the warning signs of a relationship that has more connection than clarity. And lots of people who've taken the test have been in that situation. Since "sleeping" together — really sleeping and nothing more — isn't expressly forbidden in the Bible, it's not hard to justify when you're in the moment. Especially when you're in the moment with someone you love.

Still, as you've mentioned, such seemingly harmless behaviors have the appearance of evil as well as the likelihood of leading to lots more.

I'm curious why you've avoided asking her about her faith yourself. This may be the start of a conversation that creates the opportunity to go deeper as friends and potentially, future sisters-in-law. If you do find common spiritual ground, she may be the one you should encourage to engage a mentor, or mentor couple, in their relationship. We've said repeatedly on Boundless that dating relationships have much to gain from the oversight of the girl's father, or if he's not available, some other trusted Christian couple or mentor (and much to lose without them). These relationships are important not only when you're looking for help finding a mate, but even more so once you think you've found him.

Whether you bring this up with your brother or his girlfriend, you should pray about making a gentle and loving suggestion that they bring their relationship under the authority of someone. They would both benefit from the accountability.

If, however, the girlfriend deflects your questions or answers in the negative, then you know your prayers for your brother are even more urgent. The article "Following My Heart" by Nathan Zacharias comes to mind. In it, he tells the story of how he deluded himself about the irrelevance of a girls' spiritual state because so much else about her — especially his wild emotions for her — felt right.

I'd love to hear back from you about how things go.

Every Blessing,
CANDICE WATTERS

Copyright 2007 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.

If you have a question you'd like us to consider for this column, please send it to editor@boundless.org. Please note that all questions we select for this column may be edited for clarity and privacy and become the property of Focus on the Family.

Donate

Like what you see?

If you’ve enjoyed this article, will you consider giving a tax-deductible gift to Boundless right now? We’re a donor-funded ministry, and we rely on friends like you to help keep us going! DONATE NOW »

References
  • .

THE BOUNDLESS BUZZ

Sign up for our weekly e-newsletter and get a free video episode from That The World May Know: The Path to the Cross. Happy Easter!