Love & Money: Managing Money & Your In-Laws

money

Over the past few weeks, I’ve received emails and relationship questions from readers who are frustrated with their financial situations, either with their parents, their in-laws, or their own partner. Therefore, the next couple of blog posts are going to focus on “Love & Money.” To kick things off, we’re going to take a look at managing finances and your in-law relationships.

Research suggests that in-laws can be a big source of support, including financial support. Some in-laws are able to give generously and expect nothing in return. Others may not have the money to give, but lend support in different ways. And others still may not only keep track of every gift or small loan, but expect to have a say in your money matters. Readers have expressed several concerns ranging from monetary “gifts” that came with strings attached, financial dependence so great that it’s hard to get out from under your in-laws thumbs, or in-laws that never loosen the purse strings.

Today we’ll look at how to manage these thorny issues with your in-laws without starting a family feud!

Situation 1: The Financial “Gift”

Imagine that you’re buying your first home, a new car, or your new nursery needs decorating and out of nowhere your parents-in-law offer to give you a down payment, or offer to help you deck out the baby’s room. They say that it’s a gift, they’re happy to do it, and it makes them happy. You graciously accept, excited and appreciative.

Fast forward a few weeks, months, or years and you are wishing you never accepted this “gift” because it’s more trouble than it’s worth. Perhaps your in-laws constantly remind you of the “help” they gave you, especially when they want you to do something for them.

Or, maybe they feel that since they helped you with your house or car, they can comment on or dictate what you can and can’t do with it. “Oohhh, you really shouldn’t paint the living room that color, we’d hate it to affect the resale value.”

The Fix: You could bite your tongue, let your blood pressure skyrocket, and slowly lose your mind, or you can face it head on.  Enlist your sweetie pie to talk to his/her parents. It is important that your spouse does the talking, because even if you have a close relationship with your in-laws, they may be more sensitive to straight talk coming from you. Your partner needs to let your in-laws know that although you appreciate the generous gift they gave (stress that part, regardless if it was $5 or $5000), you do not appreciate feeling like there are strings attached to it. They may not even be aware that they’re acting like this, or calling them out may stop them in their tracks.

If this doesn’t work, then you need to come up with a plan to repay them so you don’t “owe” them anymore, or they don’t “own” you. I know it’s an unforeseen expense, but the price of being indebted to your in-laws forever is far greater.

Situation 2: You Need Financial Help

Sure, the economy is bouncing back, but not as quickly as you hoped. As a result, you may have found yourself needing to rely on your in-laws for some assistance to make ends meet. In addition to this being a difficult favor to ask, not setting proper boundaries and developing a concrete “pay back” plan can turn this arrangement into a hot mess before you can say “We need to borrow money.”

When you’re on someone’s pay roll, you tend to have to answer to the boss. Soon you may feel that your parents-in-law are monitoring (and commenting on) all of your behaviors and purchases. “Oh, more beer, great,” or “Wow, you bought a new TV? How did you manage to pay for that?” Soon, your life is not yours anymore and you’re beholden to your in-laws.

The Fix: Treat this like a business deal. Don’t nickel and dime them, or piecemeal small loans together. Instead, ask for a realistic lump sum or a monthly loan amount. Next, establish terms of repayment, in writing. Will payments start as soon as you or your honey find a job? What is time frame of repayment 6 months, 6 years? Will interest be charged? Can you take out another “loan” or is this a one-time deal?

Additionally, you may want to consider including a “no meddling” clause. Seriously, you should explicitly state that since this is a loan, your in-laws cannot question or comment on how you spend your loan money.

Although you may wish your parents-in-law would just give you the money free and clear (and some may), be warned that this has issues too (see Situation 1).

Situation 3: Your Never Get ANY Help

Your in-laws bankroll your sibling-in-laws’ lifestyles, or give them lavish presents while you and your family walk away empty-handed.

The Fix: Although it may hurt or infuriate you that your family gets short-changed, consider it a blessing. Given the potentially sticky situations that can arise, it is better to not have to rely on your in-laws financially. However, if they want to give a true gift, then go for it, but be proud of your ability to stand on your own two financial feet.

Your in-laws may be thinking the same thing. In fact, the lack of financial aid is likely a result of your in-laws’ confidence in you and pride of your financial independence, rather than a dislike or picking favorites (although, this can happen!).

And, don’t overlook the things they do to support you that aren’t financial: help moving, babysitting, or a shoulder to lean on. Those things are worth their weight in gold!

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Money and in-laws doesn’t have to go together like oil and vinegar. Although it can be tricky, with the right communication negotiating financial terms with your in-laws can be done without harming your relationship!

Until next time,

Sylvia

JustASquirrel_180RedCircleLogo (2)Don’t miss the next post in the Love & Money series: Mine, Yours, and Ours? Managing Finances in Marriage

I Do, Until I Don’t?: Is Your Marriage Divorce-Proof

Commitment. If you follow celebrity gossip, which I’m ashamed to admit I do, then you may think that marriage and commitment are a thing of the past. Every week it seems some celebrity couple is divorcing due to falling out of love, growing apart, or catching their partner in a three-way (the problems of celebrity!). But as I’m sure most of you know firsthand, divorce isn’t confined to the rich and famous, it happens in real life too. It happens to your friends, your parents, your siblings, and, maybe even you.

Divorce, however, isn’t inevitable. Despite the fact that the U.S. divorce rate hovers around 50% (which actually is in line with historical and cross-cultural divorce rates), scholar Stephanie Coontz, a Family Studies Professor at Evergreen State College, found that many Americans still place a high value on marriage and think it’s unacceptable to cheat, lie, or keep secrets within a marriage. So that’s good news!

However, our views of marriage and what a “good” marriage is may make it easier to press the “eject” button the moment things get rough. In fact, Coontz suggests that the notion of romantic love is one of the causes of modern divorce. The notion that marriage should be a loving and fulfilling institution is a relatively modern idea. And it’s this very notion that makes some people scram when the butterflies stop fluttering.

Journalist Rachel Combe interviewed Professor and therapist William Doherty and found that often people divorce for “soft reasons” such as losing that “butterfly” feeling and other seemingly superficial reasons. Although losing that loving feeling or seeing the world differently based on maturity can be cause for concern, in general, soft reasons are fixable. Even reasons for divorce deemed as “hard reasons” like infidelity or substance abuse are fixable. The key is, you’ve got to want to put in the work.

Thus, how we think, behave, and communicate in our marriages is crucial to maintaining a satisfying and stable marriage. Now, I’m not saying that divorce is always the wrong choice. Sometimes we simply marry the wrong people and it’s better for both parties to go their separate ways and meet someone they will live happily ever after with. What I am saying is that in a lot of instances marriages can be saved by taking proactive steps, not just when you reach a critical point, but throughout your relationship. In other words, there are some simple steps you can take to help divorce-proof your marriage:

Love and appreciate your partner: We often take our spouses for granted. We think that once we put a ring on it he/she knows how we feel about him/her. However, it’s important to let your partner know you love him and you appreciate her. A simple “I love you” and a little snuggle while watching TV can go a long way. So can a “thank you.” Also, compliment your partner and appreciate his or her beauty. The longer we’re with someone the more we may worry that they don’t find us as attractive as they did in the beginning or when we were younger. Let your spouse know you’ve still got the hots for him or her.

You don’t have to do a grand gesture to let your partner know you care, something simple, nice, and free can pay dividends.

Have positive illusions: See the best in your partner, even when they’re at their worst, seriously! Research shows that couples who see the best in their partner are more satisfied. So go ahead and think that you have the most amazing, beautiful, kind, funny, and intelligent spouse on the planet and that everyone else should be envious, it will help you in the long run. But don’t post these thoughts to facebook, outside of your marriage it’s just plain annoying.

In addition, attribute your spouse’s untoward behavior to an external not internal source. If your wife snaps at you because or your husband does something thoughtless, remember the things you love about your partner and attribute this behavior to the situation, not your spouse. For example, if you normally think “He’s such a crabby jerk during the week” instead think, “My honey is crabby because he worked late today and sat in traffic for hours.” Attributing the undesirable behavior to an external rather than internal factor helps us maintain a positive illusion and buffers our relationship.

Try new things: Although we like predictability in our relationships, studies show we also like novelty. Whether it’s going on a vacation or trying a new restaurant for “date night” explore new adventures together. In fact, studies show that when we experience novel activities, we attribute the excitement and thrill from these new adventures to the person we’re with, not the activity itself. So, don’t get stuck in a rut, get out there and try new things, your marriage will thank you!

Stay out of harm’s way: It may seem obvious or simple, but don’t put yourself in situations where you’ll be tempted to stray or engage in other activities that your spouse may not approve of. If you think the new hire in accounting is a hottie, it’s probably not a good idea to hang out just the two of you well after happy hour ends. A good rule of thumb is if you wouldn’t do it with your partner there, it’s probably not a good idea to do it.

Communicate: Talk about the big stuff and talk about the small stuff. Research shows that engaging in “mundane talk” or that everyday banter, such as what went on in your day, who you talked to, or even what you ate is important for fostering closeness and intimacy. So spend some time each day checking in with one another, this way you’ll feel connected and know what is going on with each other when you’re apart.

Also, talk about the big stuff. If you’re unhappy with something, speak up. Don’t let it fester and then become a bigger problem than it needed to be. Have an ongoing dialog with your spouse about your life and relationship goals. Getting in to a habit of communicating will make it easier to tackle challenges as they arise.

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Marriage is a contract and it’s important to work together to honor that agreement. With a little work and a lot of communication, you can take steps to make sure that your marriage lasts through better or worse.

Until next time,

Sylvia

 

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