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'AITA for not sticking up for my brother after my boyfriend called him out?' UPDATED 3X

'AITA for not sticking up for my brother after my boyfriend called him out?' UPDATED 3X

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We often hear about "fight or flight," but freeze is an equally common response to a stressful situation.

"AITA for not sticking up for my brother after my boyfriend called him out?"

I'm in a really tough spot and could use some perspective. I (28F) have been dating my boyfriend, Alex (31M), for about a year now. He’s been wonderful and supportive, especially through some difficult times. One of those difficult times involves my relationship with my older brother, Tom (33M). Tom and I have always had a complicated relationship.

Growing up, he was the golden child and I often felt like the family doormat. He would tease me mercilessly, make fun of my interests, and generally treat me like I was beneath him. Our parents rarely intervened, often brushing it off as typical sibling behavior or even enabling it by saying things like "boys will be boys" or "he's just joking, don’t be so sensitive."

This dynamic continued into adulthood. Tom still makes condescending comments, dismisses my achievements, and often expects me to drop everything to help him out, all without any gratitude or reciprocation. I've tried to talk to him about it before, but he just laughs it off or accuses me of overreacting.

For context, I work at a museum in our city, a job I’m really passionate about but Tom often belittles. He thinks it’s a waste of time and constantly tells me I could do something more “useful” with my life. Last weekend, Alex and I were at a family gathering. Tom was in rare form, belittling me in front of everyone about my job. I was trying to brush it off as usual, but Alex wasn’t having it.

He stepped in and told Tom to stop treating me like a doormat and to start respecting me as an equal. Things escalated quickly. Tom got defensive and the situation turned into a heated argument. Alex called Tom out on all the times he’s treated me poorly and accused him of being a b*lly. Tom fired back, saying Alex didn’t know what he was talking about and should mind his own business.

Our parents tried to diffuse the situation but ended up taking Tom's side, saying Alex was overstepping and causing unnecessary drama. Now, Tom is furious with me. He says I should have stuck up for him and defended him against Alex. He claims that by not doing so, I’ve betrayed our family and humiliated him in front of everyone.

My parents are also disappointed, feeling like I should have controlled the situation better. Alex feels bad that things got so heated but stands by his actions, saying someone needed to finally call Tom out on his behavior. I’m torn.

On one hand, I appreciate Alex standing up for me, but on the other hand, I feel guilty for not defending my brother in that moment. AITA for not sticking up for my brother? Should I have done something to defuse this situation?

Not long after posting, OP posted two updates.

ETA: I wanted to add that part of why I didn’t defend Alex more strongly is because, whenever I did try to say something in his defense, my parents just bulldozed over me. Every time I tried to speak they'd yell over me, which brought back all the feelings of clamming up like I did when I was younger.

It made me freeze up and just stand there, especially since it seemed to only make Tom even angrier. I felt trapped, not knowing how to diffuse the tension as it got worse and worse. I’m working on it but it's not easy, especially in situations like this.

By the end of the entire thing I was just standing there crying and Alex took me to our car to go home. I've been fielding phone calls from my parents and brother since last weekend. I know I'm not responding to people but I just posted this on a whim and just put it away.

ETA 2: Hi all, I just woke up to more comments. I'm just writing this edit to say I'm going to visit my Aunt Amy tonight to discuss what happened. She hosted the get-together and has always been someone I can turn to for help or advice when I need it. She and my uncle usually do step in to diffuse these situations when they're around but they were both in the kitchen when this happened.

Aunt Amy understands the family dynamics better than anyone so I'm hoping she can give me some clarity. Also, please stop DMing me saying that Alex should leave me. Alex has been incredibly supportive and we’re handling this together.

I appreciate everyone’s concern and I understand people not liking that I froze but it's what happened. I love Alex, and he's been amazing for my self-confidence but I still struggle with it around my parents and brother.

The internet had a lot to say in response.

NoKidding1305 wrote:

Um, lemme see…on one side, ah brother belittling you and ah parents backing the golden child. On the other, caring boyfriend who refuses to allow you to be disrespected. The scales don’t even BEGIN to match. NTA, OP, but you will be to yourself if you don’t start demanding simple respect and basic courtesy.

Illustrious-Law-1853 wrote:

YTA not for not backing Tom but for not standing with Alex. You hung him out to dry, How is he supposed to respect you when you flake on him at the worst time. He was willing to stand up for you against your whole family and you backed off. He's a keeper, you, I'm not to sure.

False_Ad435 responded:

OP: I've lived with this mentally draining situation with people who do not stand up for me ever. The first time someone did stand up for me I was shocked and froze.

You: YOU'RE A BAD PERSON!!!!!!!!! ALEX DESERVES BETTER THAN SOMEONE LIKE YOU!!!!!!

Dry-Reception2388 wrote:

NTA. Your boyfriend’s a keeper.

Ugh I grew up with the same relationship even now that I’m best friends with his wife he still does it. I ask my husband not to get involved and he holds his tongue very begrudgingly.

When my brother starts on every holiday it’s always a mess and I’m always the one in trouble because I defended myself and “he was just joking” “it’s how he is” “you’re so sensitive." We leave at the end and my husband is angrier about it each time. I always ask him “did I do something wrong” and his response is always “no. Your brother is just awful."

I love that your boyfriend finally had it. Only thing you did wrong was kind of hang him out to dry but I also know I wouldn’t have the balls to stand up to anyone in my family like that. I can anywhere else but those situations sting. I’m sorry, I don’t wish that on anyone else. It sucks. It’s constantly walking on eggshells.

MaeQueenofFae wrote:

NTA- I grew up with a similar family dynamic. Just because your brother enjoys verbally ab#sing you, and your parents allow him to do so does not make it acceptable. You might want to ask yourself why is your brother's comfort more important than your own?

Why are HIS feelings so much more delicate than yours, that he can’t handle a dose of what he has dished out to you, and you have had to endure his crap with a smile on your face? From the sounds of it your brother is a b*lly, and he has been t*rrorizing you for far too long. If your parents can’t see that, and won’t stand up for you also, maybe you need a bit of a break from the whole lot of them.

jacquelineslee wrote:

NTA your brother is a jerk and it’s about time someone called him out. He has no problem embarrassing/humiliating you in front of others. Your parents need to be called out as well. They have allowed this t*xic behavior to go on entirely too long. If this crap continues I’d go LC with all of them. Glad you have a guy who has your back. Good for Alex!

Three days later, OP shared another update.

Hi again everyone, I wanted to write a quick update now that Sunday is over.

I ended up talking to my Aunt Amy and Uncle Joe last night when I went over for dinner as I mentioned.

They have always been a safe haven for me, and it was really comforting to hear their perspective. Amy and Joe told me that my parents have always been wrong in how they treated me and that the way they let Tom belittle me is not okay. They said that whenever they tried to stand up for me, my parents would not let them see me and Tom.

One instance they brought up really hit home for me. I remember not getting to see Aunt Amy and Uncle Joe for a few months after my mom and Amy got into an argument. This happened after Tom ruined some of my favorite books, and Aunt Amy tried to defend me.

She told my mom that it wasn't fair for Tom to face no consequences and that I deserved better. My mom got so furious at Amy's interference that she decided to cut off contact for a while. I think I was 7, I didn't fully understand why I suddenly couldn't visit them anymore, but I remember being upset and even more isolated.

Joe explained that this is why they always tried to take me on outings whenever they could. It was their way of giving me a break from the environment at home. It hit just seemed to hit me all at once while we were talking. They’re the ones who took me to the zoo, a movie, or just a walk in the park, all my happy memories as a kid were never with my parents.

Honestly, they’re who I think of when I think of what a parent should be.

After our talk, I've decided to go no contact with my parents and Tom for the time being. I need to focus on what I want and what’s good for me. My aunt and uncle also promised they’d run interference for me so I don’t have to deal with them.

Also, Alex proposed to me yesterday morning. I honestly didn’t expect it, but I’m so happy. We’re going to be visiting his family over the long weekend to celebrate and my aunt and uncle are going to go with us. I don’t know what’s going to come of cutting my parents and brother out but I’m glad I’m doing it. This will be the only update I give here. Anything else will remain between myself and my family.

The internet was quick to respond.

Immontes wrote:

Congratulations and keep thriving in this more positive environment you are in now. So happy your aunt and uncle always saw your parents and brother for the AHs they are.

Informal-Witness-444 wrote:

NTA. Congrats on your engagement! It sounds like you’ve made the right decision to cut out the t*xic influences in your life. Your Aunt Amy and Uncle Joe seem like wonderful, supportive people, and it’s great that you have them in your corner.

Focusing on your happiness and well-being is the best thing you can do right now. Enjoy your time with Alex and his family. You deserve all the joy and peace that comes your way.

taorthoaita wrote:

Your aunt and uncle are real ones. They’re your real family. Cutting off your parents and brother might be hard at first, but I guarantee you’ll be able to breathe easier the longer they’re out of your life.

NiceRat123 wrote:

Be honest with yourself OP. You HAVE a family...it's just not who you thought it was. It's not your mom, dad and Tom. It's your Aunt, Uncle and fiance. Just remember that.

In the end, you didn't betray your family. At best you "betrayed" a bunch of b*llies. They don't give two f#$ks until the b*llying, anger and drama is squarely pointed at them. When it is, they bulldoze or go scorched earth adn keep you from your real family.

Sources: Reddit
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