My brother-in-law made a big deal this weekend about a family reunion photo hanging in our home that included his ex-wife among 40 other family members. We offered to remove the photo when he visits. He was very adamant that we "burn" the photo and get it out of our house. He left us with an ultimatum. He told my wife (his sister) that she had a choice to make: "Choose between the picture or her brother."
As a psychologist and a relationship expert, I find the world of people and emotions so intriguing. I am certain that this incident really took your wife and you by surprise and made no sense to the two of you whatsoever. And rightly so, because more often then not emotions cannot be defined by a single instance.
I do appreciate you raising this concern because, though the particular situation may be different than those others experience, it really typifies many emotional reactions people have in general to a situation such as this one.
Emotions make you vulnerable and there is no absolute reality to them. By that I mean that what is upsetting for one person may not be bothersome at all for another. The only way to really "get" what troubles someone is to see it from their perspective.
Clearly, your brother-in-law still has lots of hurt and pain when it comes to his ex-wife. This may be for many reasons. It may just be the sight of her or it could be the fact that she is included in a family picture.
Whatever the reason may be, he’s not ok with it and is obviously upset. Often, when someone has such a quick, intense reaction they cannot let go of, it could mean that it is setting off something from their past. Without more detail, the exact reason is hard to pinpoint.
Though you made a very good offer by saying you would remove the photo when he comes, clearly knowing it exists was not satisfying enough for his feelings to be justified.
The main thing to remember in all of this is that emotions are not rational and to keep in mind that what it comes down to is you accepting the fact that this is obviously something very bothersome to him. You, or more appropriately your wife (his sister), might gently want to suggest he speak with someone about these feelings in the future, or even get together and ask why he has these feelings. His answers may provide a better prospective and a bridge to a better understanding of the situation. But for now, a picture might not be worth the loss of a sibling.
Karen Sherman, Ph.D., (www.drkarensherman.com) is a practicing psychologist in relationships and lifestyle issues for over 20 years. She offers teleseminars and is the author of "Mindfulness and the Art of Choice: Transform Your Life" and co-author of "Marriage Magic! Find It, Keep It, and Make it Last." You can sign up for her free monthly newsletter with relationship tips at www.ChoiceRelationships.com