Sylvia Says: Relationship Q & A

Relationship Q & A

Dear Sylvia: My fiancée and I have been together for two years and are getting married in June. Although we agree on most things, there’s one source conflict that has been constant throughout our relationship—her parent’s financial dependence on her. My future in-laws do not work, my father-in-law can’t because of a disability, but my mother-in-law just elects not to. My wife gives them almost half of her take home pay every month.

I’ve told her that when we get married this has to stop. I want to build a life for ourselves and our future family and we can’t do that when she’s supporting her parents. She refuses to stop giving them money and says she can’t just “cut them off.” I’m afraid this issue will eventually ruin our relationship. How do I help her cut the financial cord?

Financially Frustrated Fiancé

Dear Financially: People often say you don’t just marry the woman (or man) you marry the family. You’re learning first-hand the truth of this adage. You mention that this has been a constant source of conflict between you two, so you can’t realistically think things will change the moment you say “I do.”

As your fiancée has noted, she isn’t going to cut her parents off completely. However, since she is electing to start a new life and family with you, she needs to make you, not her parents her number one priority. As a result, she needs to compromise and make changes and you need to back down from your rigid demand.

Try to reach a compromise that allows her to help her parents to a degree and simultaneously allows you two to build a strong financial foundation—together.  Maybe she can setup a separate bank account that she uses to help support her parents. This way, you won’t feel like your money is going to support them, which can lead to resentment. Then instead of funneling 50% of her take home pay into that account, she cuts down to 25% or less. The rest of her money then goes toward building your life together.

Additionally (and this may be the hardest part), she is going to need to set new boundaries with her parents. Perhaps she can help her mom get a part-time job and look into ways her Dad can bring home additional cash (If she has siblings they need to be chipping in too, this burden can’t rest entirely on her shoulders). She is going to have to be firm and let her parents know that you are her top priority. If she can’t (or refuses to) do that then you may want to think twice before walking down the aisle.

Dear Sylvia: My close friend of 15-years and I have recently drifted apart since we are at different stages in our lives. After not seeing each other for several months, we finally planned a lunch date. When I was on my way to meet her, she texted me and told me that one of her friends, who I had never met and that she sees daily, would be joining us.

Lunch was fine and we had a good time, but I was hurt that she made plans for her friend to join without asking me.  Plus, her presence made it so my friend and I couldn’t connect the way we would have had it just been the two of us. The debacle has made me not want to make any future plans with her.  Did she feel like she had to bring a buffer because she feels distance between us too?  Should I say something to her or just let it go?  Should I not be bothered by this?

Ruined Reunion

Dear Reunion: Although people often say “the more the merrier,” in this case that couldn’t be farther from the truth. You were looking forward to a reunion with your friend and she ruined it by bringing a third wheel. I can understand your hurt, but it’s possible there was no ill-will behind the extra invite. In fact, maybe she wanted her friend to meet one of her oldest and dearest pals. On the other hand, like you said, she may have felt awkward about the lunch given the distance that has grown between you.

Regardless,  a 15-year friendship is no small feat, and although her behavior makes you want to push her away, I think you owe it to yourself and your friendship to have a conversation not just about the lunch, but about your relationship. Set aside a time to talk either in person or over the phone (don’t do email!). Start by letting your friend know how much you value her and her friendship, but feel that you’ve grown apart recently. Then tell her how much you were looking forward to catching up and were hurt and disappointed when she brought her friend along. Next, let her speak. It’s important to get her perspective on the situation. She may feel the same way and be grateful for the opportunity to talk about things and reignite your friendship, or she may have no idea that she hurt you and quickly apologize. But if you don’t talk to her, you’ll never know and resentment and negativity will fester.

Friendships ebb and flow. Sometimes life circumstances bring us closer and others push us apart. One reason we may distance ourselves is because we don’t know what our role is in our friend’s new life. By talking, you can reaffirm your commitment to your friendship and renegotiate your ongoing roles in one another’s lives. Remember, sometimes the most difficult conversations to have are the most important ones.


Have a relationship question? Submit it to Sylvia Says.


Maintaining the Peace and Your Sanity: Boundaries with Your In-Laws


Although I’ve written about it before, over the past several weeks people have been directed to my blog by searching terms such as “in-laws don’t respect boundaries,” “maintaining boundaries with in-laws,” or “mother-in-law disrespects my boundaries.” So, I figured it was probably a good idea to revisit this topic.

Creating boundaries with in-laws can be tough, but it is absolutely necessary! If you don’t establish boundaries with your in-laws they’ll continue to intrude in your life, offer up unsolicited advice, and meddle in your business to the point that you welcome a slow and painful death over time together. Well, hopefully it doesn’t get that extreme, but you get the point!

Additionally, my research shows that dissatisfaction with your in-laws is linked to decreased marital satisfaction. In other words, if you’ve got a problem with your in-laws, your marriage is going to pay the price.

Boundary violations can come in a variety of shapes and sizes, ranging from unsolicited advice, uninvited visits (complete with no knocking or doorbell ringing), constant meddling, or sharing your private information with others, just to name a few!

Regardless of the violation, it’s important that you set firm boundaries with your in-laws if their behavior makes you uncomfortable. However, going this alone is not the best route. Although it can work (and we’ll talk about that later), your most valuable and important tool in this task is the person whose parents are causing the mayhem: Your honey bunny.

You need to enlist your sweetie pie because (a) regardless of how much your in-laws love you, they love their child more and will be more inclined to please him/her, (b) you don’t know the intricacies of your spouse’s family communication patterns (even if you’ve been together for ages!), and (c) most in-laws react better to mediated communication than direct confrontation with the other in-law.

Now, before you ask your spouse to make his/her parents all but disappear, really consider the boundary infraction. You don’t want to set so many and such rigid boundaries that it makes having a relationship with your in-laws next to impossible.

Additionally, there are some things you just have to grin and bear. Hearing that your partner prefers his/her meat cooked medium rare rather than rare (the way you prepare it) may be the only way your in-law has to feel relevant in his/her adult child’s life. So, maybe you just take one for the team and let mama-bear or papa-bear feel like they know best (even if you know they don’t).

However, if your in-law consistently barges into your house uninvited, tells you how to parent or manage finances, and uses your personal information as fodder for gossip, well then it’s time to take a stand.

How to Take a Stand without Setting off a Family Feud

1| Start by kindly and calmly telling your spouse what your grievance is.

You know how it’s okay to talk smack about your own parents, but you get really defensive when other’s do, even if you know they’re right? You’re spouse feels the same way. So, it’s best to use what researcher John Gottman calls a soft “start up.”

Don’t begin the conversation harshly or aggressively (e.g., “Your Mom is such an opinionated bitch!” or “Your Dad is an inconsiderate asshole!”).  Instead, focus on the specific behavior and why it upsets you. For example, “Honey, it really bothers me when your mom comes over unannounced and doesn’t even knock. It makes me feel like she doesn’t respect us or our personal space.”

Now, it’s highly likely that your spouse may not see his/her parent’s behavior as problematic. In fact, he/she will probably say “That’s just how she/he is,” or “She/he doesn’t mean anything by it.” Remember, your partner has dealt with his/her parents behavior for a lifetime.

2| If/when this happens it’s important to acknowledge what your partner said, but reiterate that it makes you uncomfortable and you would appreciate it if your partner addressed the issue.

“Honey, I know she probably doesn’t mean anything by it, but it makes me uncomfortable in my own house because I never know when she’s going to show up. It would really mean a lot to me if you talked to her about this.”

Now, hopefully your love muffin respects your feelings enough to address the issue.

However, he may dig in his heels and not want to say anything to Mom or Dad because (a) his family doesn’t talk about these types of things, (b) he doesn’t want to start a conflict, or (c) he’s just plain scared (This is a bigger issue and I’ll address this in the next blog post).

For now, let’s pretend your sweetie says, “Sure thing, anything for you dumpling.” Before he/she goes off to defend your honor there are several tips to guide that conversation.

First, your partner needs to frame the request as an issue he is having with his parents, not you. If he says you’re having a problem they may wonder why you’re not talking to them directly (although this is generally not preferred, nor does it yield a positive outcome) or be less likely to change.

So, your honey should say, “Mom, it really bothers me when you come over unannounced and just walk through the door. I’m an adult and married now and would really appreciate if you respected my privacy by calling before you come over.”

Or, “Dad, it really hurts my feelings when you don’t include Bob in your annual guys fishing trip. He’s my husband and I want him to feel part of the family.”

Second, if your sweetie’s parent retorts “Oh, are you sure you feel this way, and this isn’t Jean talking?” your spouse needs to present a united front while still taking responsibility for the complaint/request.

Yes mom, it is how I feel and I don’t appreciate what you’re implying. I know this isn’t how things were in the past, but it’s different now and I’d like you to respect my boundaries.”

Third, set the precedent in daily conversation. Your honey dumpling doesn’t always have to have a “come to Jesus” talk with his or her parent to set boundaries. Instead, lay the groundwork in everyday conversation.

For example, if his mom says, “Oh, I’m going to stop by today on my way home for the gym.” He can reply, “Well, let me check with Jean to see if tonight works for us.”

Or, my personal favorite, “let me check with the boss.” This is what my husband says when a family member makes a suggestion or request. It’s light and funny, yet sends a subtle message.

Incorporating these types of requests into daily conversation will let your parent-in-law know that boundaries must be re-negotiated and that you are your spouse’s priority, which is key when setting limits with your in-laws.


Although setting boundaries can be intimidating, it’s essential to a happy marriage and happy in-law relationships! And remember, your honey plays a crucial if not the crucial role in this process. So make sure he or she is on board and has your back, like any good teammate!

But Sylvia, what if my honey is reluctant to stand up to his/her mom and dad? Don’t fret, next time I’ll share some tips for making sure your sweetie is a team player!

Until then,


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Sylvia Says: Relationship Q & A

Relationship Q & A

Dear Sylvia: My husband and I have been married for a year. We are both forty-four and this is our first marriage. All my life I’ve wanted to be a mom and was so happy to finally make my dream come true when I met my husband. Knowing it would be difficult, given my age, we began trying to conceive before the wedding. After having no luck for several months, we turned to IVF. We’ve gone through four cycles and haven’t had any success.

Due to the financial, physical, and emotional stress this process has put us through my husband doesn’t want to try anymore. My doctor suggested we consider pursuing other options, like using a donor egg or adoption. Neither of these possibilities are appealing to me. Should I end my marriage and pursue parenthood on my own or listen to my husband and doctor?

Yearning for Mommyhood

Dear Yearning: As someone who has struggled with fertility issues, I can appreciate and relate to your heartache. Realizing that a long held dream may not come to fruition is devastatingly  heartbreaking. With that said, I encourage you to seriously consider your husband’s and doctor’s point of view for your own physical and emotional wellbeing, and your marriage’s wellbeing. As I’m sure you know, the chances of having a successful pregnancy and live-birth at your age are extremely low. Additionally, as you get older, the chance of a positive outcome continues to decrease, but the emotional, financial, and relational turmoil will continue to increase.

There are two issues in your question that stand out to me. Addressing these, with assistance, may help you figure out what direction you should take.  First, I can hear and almost feel your strong desire to be a mother. Second, it is clear that your identity and life-script is highly linked to fulfilling this dream. I fully understand your strong desire to be a mother. However, pregnancy (and being the biological mother of your child) is just one of the many ways you can become a mom. As your doctor noted, a donor egg could be a viable option for you and your husband. I understand that there are questions and concerns that go along with this and I encourage you to talk to your doctor more fully about this option.

Additionally, adoption and foster parenting are options as well. You can also be a “mother” in other ways by volunteering, or taking an active role in the lives of friends and family members’ children. If these are not acceptable options to you, then it may be time to tackle the second issue—redefining your identity and life path.

When we’re young, we often create a life-script that outlines the path we hope our life will take. More often than not, however, our dreams and reality don’t converge (for better or worse). That presents us with a challenge—do we redefine who we are, or do we continue to try to fit a round peg into a square hole? Although it may be extremely difficult, emotionally and psychologically, it may be time to mourn the life you thought you’d have and redefine who you are and develop a new life script, with your husband, that doesn’t include being parents.

This is a complex and difficult process and I encourage you and your husband to seek out a therapist who will help you both negotiate this change in direction. This is challenge not only for you, but your marriage. I urge you to not abandon your marriage in pursuit of this dream, but instead, use this as an opportunity to enhance your relationship and build a dream life for the two of you. It may not be the one you originally envisioned, but I guarantee you, you can still have your happily ever after.

Dear Sylvia: I have developed a crush on my sister-in-law. I think she may have feelings for me too. She seems to go out of her way to talk to me and is very affectionate. Should I pursue my feelings or not ruffle the family feathers?

Smitten Brother-in-law

Dear Smitten: Although you may be hoping for an ending like the one in the movie, The Family Stone, when brothers happily swap love-interests, your situation will not end that way. This is your sister-in-law. Not only is she family, but she’s also YOUR BROTHER’S wife.

It seems that you may be misinterpreting her behavior. She’s likely trying to develop a family relationship with you by talking and being demonstrative with her feelings. Even if she did have feelings for you, she’s a married woman, to one of your family members no less.

So, put any romantic thoughts out of your head and work on establishing a friendship with her. If that proves too much, distance yourself until the feelings subside.

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Love & Money: Yours, Mine, & Ours


Last time, we chatted about managing money with your in-laws. This week, we’re going to focus on managing money with your honey. Despite the fact that your marriage is, hopefully, your most intimate relationship, many couples find talking about money difficult.

Couples grapple with different spending styles, decisions about whether or not to combine finances, and determining financial assistance to one another’s families. In fact, research by Papp, Cummings, and Goeke-Morey found that conflicts over money tend to be the most pervasive and troublesome issue of marital conflict and often go unresolved. As a result, couples may avoid discussing money with one another altogether. Although that may seem like a good short-term fix, it’s going to cost you a lot more than cash in the long run.

It’s important to note that having a calm, open, and respectful conversation will help you achieve the best results. Don’t start the conversation right after you open an astronomical credit card bill, or see a new designer bag sitting on the counter. Schedule a time, in advance, to discuss your finances. Then, both of you should come to the table with questions, comments, and concerns (or as I like to call them, QCCs).

Also, listen to where your partner is coming from and try to understand the root of his/her financial perspective. Often times, we repeat the past and spend or save the way our parents did. But, if that doesn’t jibe with your sweetie, then you need to work toward finding a mutually agreeable solution. Finances need to be a win-win situation and the first step to getting there is talking.

Below are some common situations couples experience and how to tackle them.

Situation 1: Spender vs. Saver

In a magical universe filled with rainbows and butterflies, partners agree 100% on how to spend and how to save their money. In reality, couples often have differing expectations. One partner may want to sock away all of the money, while the other partner likes to spend money on extravagant things, even if it means living paycheck to paycheck. These discrepancies are particularly problematic when finances are combined. Additionally, these habits are highly ingrained and hard to break. But just because they’re hard to break doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

First, if you’re committed to making your relationship work, you need to be committed to getting your finances in order. Make a budget and a long-term financial game plan that is (a) realistic, and (b) meets both partners’ needs. If only one person “wins” it’s less likely that the other partner will stick to the plan. Thus, it’s important that both partners are involved in the financial decisions.

If one partner is a compulsive saver, for instance, agree on a percent of your monthly take home pay that will go directly into savings. If the other partners love to eat out, come up with a realistic entertainment budget. This way, both partners get their needs met.

Also, you may want to consider each having a “fun money” fund to spend as you see fit. For instance, each partner gets $100/month to spend on lattes, shoes, gossip magazines, or whatever his/her heart desires. No questions asked. But, when it’s gone, it’s gone. This will allow each partner to feel like they have some financial independence, but also that they’re working as a team to meet their larger goals.

Finally, have monthly financial summits. Alright, it doesn’t need to be that intense, but set aside a time to chat each month about your budget, where things went right, or where things went wrong. Discuss any changes either of you want to make and check in to make sure your headed in the right direction to meet your long-term goals.

Situation 2: To Combine, or Not to Combine

Another issue couples struggle with is whether or not to combine finances. Although some sources say that joint-account couples are more satisfied, others suggest that separate is the way to go. In actuality, there is no “right” way to manage your finances. Only you and your sweetie can determine what’s best for you. However, there are two “must-dos” when determining whether to pool your resources or swim in separate financial waters.

First, it’s important to think and talk about why you want to keep your money separate. Do you want separate accounts because you don’t trust your partner? Do you just want to have a little freedom to spend as you please? Or, do you have a unique financial situation, such as remarrying in later life or having stepchildren that make it easier to keep things separate? It’s important to look at the reason for your decision and address any underlying issues that are affecting not only your finances, but your relationship as well.

If you find that bigger issues, such as lack of commitment or trust, are guiding your financial decisions than it’s important to have an open discussion about your concerns. It’s likely that these issues are impacting more than your finances, but the overall health of your relationship as well.

Second, you both need to agree on how your money is divided. For example, if you decide to keep separate “mad money” accounts and maintain joint checking account and savings accounts, you need to be in complete agreement over what comes out of what account. Do all joint activities (e.g., dinners out or vacations) and expenses, such as mortgage and groceries, come out of the joint account or does some of that have to come out of your personal account?

Additionally, if you do decide to have personal accounts in addition to joint accounts, it’s important to keep things as equitable as possible. If one partner makes more money, that person shouldn’t necessarily have more “fun money” or be able to do more activities because they earn more.  Also, it’s important that the priority be your joint accounts, not individual finances. Marriage and committed partnerships are team sports and financial inequality will eventually lead to resentment in the relationship.

Situation 3: Spreading the Wealth?

Couples may also grapple with differing opinions about if, and how, to give (or loan) money to extended family members. Some of these differences might be rooted in culture. Perhaps in your honey’s culture, children help support their parents and other siblings, even into adulthood; whereas in your culture, children may not be expected to provide financial aid to their parents or siblings.

Again, it’s important to listen to where your sweetie is coming from and come to a consensus regarding if (and how) you provide financial aid to family. Perhaps you agree to only give money to siblings as a “loan” and not a “gift” with concrete terms of repayment. Or, perhaps you both agree to give money to family freely.

The same type of agreement is needed when it comes to gift giving as well. Maybe it’s easiest to agree to spend $XX amount per family member for birthdays and holidays, this number may be influenced by the number of members you each have in your family. Or, maybe you have carte blanche when it comes to gifts. Either way, it’s important to talk about what you’re comfortable with and make sure that you and your love muffin agree.


Although talking about finances may seem like a daunting relational task, it doesn’t have to be. Putting your cards on the table will help you and your honey set short- and long-term goals that will help you build a financial future together, which is a crucial step on the path to happily ever after.

Until Next Time,


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Sylvia Says: Relationship Q & A

Relationship Q & A

Dear Sylvia: For several weeks, my wife had been distant. When I finally got her to admit what was wrong, she told me I needed to be more “romantic.” Even though I think I’m a thoughtful guy, it apparently isn’t enough. The next day I brought her flowers, which made her mad. She said I only did that because she told me to. I’m damned if I do, damned if I don’t. How do I fulfill my wife’s needs without her thinking it’s a chore?

–Romantic Romeo

Dear Romeo: You’re wife put you in a double-bind. She asked you to be romantic, but then chastised you when you were. Although it’s frustrating, don’t let it deter you. In fact, use it as motivation to be romantic more frequently and in unexpected ways. If you mix it up a bit, she won’t feel that the behavior is forced and you’ll enjoy being romantic because you want to, not because you have to.

However, if you’re unsure about what your wife thinks is “romantic” find out how she defines romance. Does she want a spontaneous date planned or would she be content with you bringing her coffee in bed in the morning? If you don’t know what she wants, all of your efforts will be for naught.

If she gripes that you “should know what she wants” tell her that the belief that partners should read each other’s minds is one of the biggest (and most dangerous) relationship myths. Relationships are built on communication and we have to tell our partners what our needs are if we ever want them met. So, figure out what she wants and get going Casanova.

And don’t forget, romance doesn’t mean extravagance; love is built on the little things, not grand gestures. Often, little gestures, like holding her hand while watching a movie or saying you look beautiful, have the biggest impact.

Dear Sylvia: I’m six months pregnant with my first baby. Since I’ve told my best-friend about the baby she’s completely ditched me. I feel that she doesn’t want to hang out with me anymore because I can’t go to the bars and party with her. Anytime we do talk, she doesn’t even ask me about the baby. Should I cut my losses and focus my energy on my growing family instead of my dwindling friendship?

Forgotten Friend

Dear Forgotten: I’m sorry your friend is being a flake when you need her support and encouragement most. Friendships are like books filled with lots of pages and chapters. Sometimes you’re on the same page, while other times you’re in different chapters.  Maybe your friend is overwhelmed and freaked out about how your relationship is going to change as a result of your impending mommy-hood. Or, maybe your pregnancy makes her question whether or not she wants to become a mom. Or, maybe she feels that you don’t want to hang out with her in non-party situations.

The only way to really know what’s going on is to talk to her. Bring up your concerns in a non-accusatory way. Ask her if anything is bothering her because you’ve noticed she seems a bit distance since you’ve announced your pregnancy. If she’s a true friend, you’ll be able to have a conversation about what’s bothering both of you.

But, if you find out that she doesn’t want to deal with anything too deep and prefers partying to having a real friendship, drop the dead weight, you’ve got more important things on the horizon!

Dear Sylvia: My husband recently admitted to a one-night stand while on a business trip. We’ve been married for 8 years and I never once questioned our relationship. We have three children together and many memories. He says this is the only time this has happened. I’m deeply hurt and betrayed. Should I try to save our marriage or save myself and kids from future pain and call it quits?

Stunned Spouse

Dear Stunned: I am so sorry for the hurt and betrayal you’re experiencing. Trust is the basis of all relationships and being betrayed, especially through infidelity, not only rocks but ruins relationships. With that said, although it seems impossible now, you can come back from this if you both want to.

As you noted, you’ve been together for a long time and have invested a lot into this marriage. Throwing it all away for a one-time lapse in judgment may be a hasty decision. However, only you can decide if you stay or if you go. You know your husband best and only you know if this is something you and your relationship can overcome.

If you do decide to give your marriage a second chance, I believe that going to couples and individual counseling is a must. Both you and your husband are experiencing an array of emotions and a trained therapist will help you sift through them all and provide you with the skills needed to rebuild the trust in your relationship.

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Love & Money: Managing Money & Your In-Laws


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!


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,


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

Looking Back and Looking Forward: Goodbye 2012, Hello 2013


It’s been less than two weeks since we rang in the New Year and already the beginning of the New Year hubbub has died down.  Resolutions have likely been broken and many are back to their old ways. This is one of the many reasons I don’t make resolutions. Instead, I like to reflect on the previous year, warts and all, and see how it can guide me as I move forward into a new year full of possibilities.

Looking back on 2012 I am able to glean some important insights that will undoubtedly help me in 2013. 2012  was by far my hardest year since 2008 (the year my mom passed away). Although I had some exciting highs, such as completing my PhD, I also faced some devastating lows such losing our baby in August and another pregnancy loss which resulted in having surgery to remove one of my fallopian tubes right before Christmas. Also, my husband and I moved to a new state and started new jobs, which has been both exciting and frustrating.

Despite these less than ideal situations, I still have a rather optimistic and positive outlook. The main reason for this is that when I take stock of my life and reflect back on 2012, I realize that the shadows and the brightness of 2012 have taught me a lot and will be an invaluable resource as I move forward into 2013.

In 2013, I will continue to be optimistic about the future and appreciate of what I do have rather than what I don’t.

What I’ve Learned in 2012…

Shit happens | Or as Forest Gump would say “It happens.” Sometimes bad stuff happens, sometimes really bad stuff happens, and regardless of where it is on the “bad stuff” continuum a lot of the time it happens for no reason. In my opinion, it’s not “god’s plan” or “for the better.” No, sometimes crappy stuff just happens and is completely out of our control (unless you’re doing bad stuff that is likely to have negative consequences! In that case, stop (if you can)!)

We can’t always control the lemons life hands us, but we can control how we react to them. In fact, our perception of events and the resources we employ to cope with them determine whether or not we experience stress or plummet into full-blown crisis mode.

Yes, when bad stuff happens it’s easy to throw yourself a pity party and have a fatalistic view of events and feel that nothing ever goes right for you. However, this mind set will get you nowhere fast. I’m not saying to sugarcoat reality, but after giving yourself time to grieve it’s important to glean lessons from your loss and develop a positive plan and outlook as you move forward.

Sure, my heart still breaks when I think about how badly I miss my mom or that I should be holding a baby in my arms in the next few weeks, but I don’t let that stop me from moving forward or appreciating the other wonderful things in my life.

It may be hard at times, but trust me, positive thinking is worth its weight in gold when it comes to your mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing.

Friendship matters| As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize just how critical good friendships are. The importance of quality friendships was highlighted during 2012.

Throughout the year, I experienced the wonderful generosity, love, and selflessness of good friends; the disinterest, self-centeredness, and disappointment of fair-weather friends; and the joy of connecting with new friends over both highs and lows.

These experiences have taught me that strong friendships are essential. True friends are there for you in the good times and, especially, in the bad times. Good friends sit with you when you cry, ask the tough questions, and are there when life is anything but fun.

Sometimes friends disappoint us and sometimes friends surprise us. I’ve learned to take the disappointing friendships at face value. I no longer try to force a superficial friendship to morph into a meaningful one or to even continue. But more importantly, I’ve learned to cherish the beautiful, strong, and surprising friendships that I have. These friends have made life wonderful, even when I’ve been in the depths of despair. These friends have given me strength, courage, and endless amounts of joy.

In 2013, I will take the wonderful lessons I’ve learned from my treasured friends and let them guide me to being a better friend myself. Thank you, friends.

A good partner makes all the difference | When I started dating my husband I knew I got a good one, and over the years he’s continued to show me just what a great catch he is.

For a couple our age, we’ve been through a lot. However, we always seem to come through the storms as a stronger unit. If we can make it through all we’ve been through, I don’t have a shred of doubt that we’re in this to win it.

In fact, all we’ve been through in 2012 continued to affirm my beliefs about the importance of nurturing both your romance and your friendship. It’s important to make sure the romance doesn’t fade and that you never have to bring sexy back because it’s always been there. As important as maintaining a romantic and affectionate connection with your partner is, it’s also essential to nurture your friendship, because let’s face it, life gets in the way and you better have something more than great bedroom tricks to bring you two together. Although great tricks don’t hurt 😉

In 2012, I learned that true love is the partner you want to make-out with 24/7, the partner who makes you frustrated beyond belief, and the partner who puts his money where his mouth by taking excellent care of you after surgery, including sitting on the toilet talking to you when you take your first post-op shower. Oh, and bonus, this person still wants to make out with you even when they’ve seen you at your worst!

In 2013, I will continue to nurture and maintain my relationships and friendship with my amazing husband.

Enjoy every minute| Although people may say to do it, and although it’s hard to do when we’re in the midst of turmoil,  it is important to appreciate the delicate treasure that is life.

You wake up, you breathe, and you are, hopefully, surrounded by people who love and support you. That is what matters in life. Not the car you drive, the purse you carry, or how many facebook friends you have.

Life is about the everyday moments—the laughter you share with a friend, the kiss from your loved one, the “I love you” from your parent, the little lick from your dog, or the snuggle of from your child—which go by in the blink of an eye.

Relish your days, relish your relationship, relish your life. You only have one, so make it count.

In 2013, you bet your booty I’m making life count!


We all have probably experienced our share of both joy and heartbreak in 2012. Although sometimes the mountain seems insurmountable, it’s not. You may not climb it in a day or a week, but you can get over those humps (cue Miley Cyrus).

2012 taught me to make sure I take time to appreciate my husband, my friends, and my life.

I’d love to hear what you learned in 2012 and how it will help you as you move forward in 2013. Leave a comment above or send me an email.

Until next time,


JustASquirrel_180RedCircleLogo (2)

In-Law Relationships: A Holiday Survival Guide

When Irving Berlin wrote Happy Holiday(s) he must not have had a job, financial stress, or in-laws! As we’re all aware, the holidays provide us with a time to reflect on and celebrate our relationships, but they also can be extremely stressful. We stress over finances, hectic work and social schedules, holiday weight gain, and our family relationships.

One of the most contentious relationships come holiday time tends to be ties with our in-laws (and our own parents). We struggle over adapting rituals, being included in traditions, and splitting time between our family-in-law, our family-of-origin, and our nuclear family.

Holidays with in-laws (and parents) are stressful for several reasons. First, loyalties are often implicitly tested during the holiday season. Spending a holiday with the “in-laws” may be seen as a betrayal to the family-of-origin. Second, holidays with extended family members require change. Rituals and traditions, which reflect a family’s identity, often have to be modified to accommodate new family members. Third, deviations to holiday norms may elicit uncertainty, which can be detrimental to in-law and marital relationships.

It’s important to manage in-law issues effectively because research consistently shows a direct link between the climate of in-law relationships and marital satisfaction. In fact, a recent project my colleagues and I worked on demonstrated that children-in-law’s uncertainty and dissatisfaction within the in-law relationship is linked to dissatisfaction within their marital relationship.

Additionally, a recent study which followed married couples for 26 years found that couples were less likely to divorce if husbands had close bonds with their in-laws. Conversely, wives that were close to their in-laws had a 20% greater chance of divorce. This doesn’t mean that wives can get away with keeping their distance, but does suggest that we need to be mindful of how we negotiate our in-law ties.

Collectively, these results demonstrate the importance of managing our in-law relationships. The holidays are a great place to start establishing boundaries, creating new rituals, and fostering the development and maintenance of strong in-law bonds. The tips below may help you ensure that your holiday season is merry and bright!

Stop: When we feel uncertain or that someone, such as our in-laws, is interfering with our goals, rituals, and routines we tend to be more reactive. As a result, we may say and/or do things that we later regret.

If you feel overwhelmed or upset over a holiday issue with your in-laws (or your own parents), stop and take a personal time out. Take a moment to collect your thoughts and gain control of your emotions. Pressing pause will also allow you to reflect on what is really bothering you, rather than lashing out at your spouse, in-laws, or parents.

Once you’ve had a moment to cool down you have some perspective on the issue and will be able to more calmly communicate what upset you and why.

Collaborate: Traditions are one of the best things about the holiday season. However, the moment we say “I do” we are merging our families and our traditions. It’s important to be open-minded and have a collaborative rather than self-centered attitude when it comes to holiday traditions.

Be open-minded to trying new rituals that mean something to your sweetie pie and his/her family. Additionally, you may want to introduce your in-laws to traditions that are important to you and your family. They’ll get to know you better and feel included, which in turn may make them more eager to have you join the family fold.

It’s also important to make sure that your parents are open to including your honey bunch in family traditions (and in-laws, if you so desire). If they’re hesitant, stay firm and let them know that you’re a package deal now. You can’t include one without the other. This may end certain family traditions or force them to modify existing ones, but your loyalty lies with your spouse now and you have to present a united front.

Listen: You may have heard the phrase “read between the lines,” but it’s equally important to “listen between the lines.” If your sweetheart or in-law brings up an issue he/she is having, try to listen to what he/she is really getting at.

What is the real reason your mother-in-law is upset that you’re not coming for Christmas? Is it that she may feel like she’s losing her child or that she just doesn’t want to change? Is your wife’s dismissal of your family’s traditions really just a reflection of her hurt feelings at not being included in them?

When you engage in perspective checking and paraphrasing (e.g., “What I hear you saying is…” or “You seem upset that my family…”) you not only make sure that you’re on the same page as your relational partner, but also show that you genuinely care.

Build: Although it’s nice to be inclusive and try to accommodate all family members, sometimes you have to establish boundaries. If driving to four holiday dinners or spending two-weeks with your in-laws is not your idea of a good time, don’t let your family guilt you in to doing that.

Instead, acknowledge their feelings, explain your perspective, and then offer alternative options. Perhaps you celebrate the holiday a few days early or a few days late, or make a one-week rather than two-week trip. But provide multiple options and try to reach a compromise.

If you don’t establish boundaries, you’ll never be rockin’ around the Christmas tree.

Celebrate: With all the holiday hub-bub it’s important to not lose sight of your own nuclear family. Whether you’re a two-some or a family with children, it’s important to create your own traditions and rituals and take time to celebrate with one another.

Wine: Not whine, but wine, vino, the good stuff! If all else fails pour yourself a glass, or two, or heck just take the whole bottle. Everything is better when you’re sitting by a fire, sipping some wine, and thinking of your happy place!


The holidays can be stressful, but they don’t necessarily have to be. Following the tips above will help you want to deck the halls and not each other!

I’d love to hear how you handle your in-laws at the holidays! Tell me your thoughts in the comments!!

Until next time,


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.


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,



I Want Your Sex: Sexual Communication



When I was five-years-old George Michael’s “I Want Your Sex” was my jam. I loved that song and just couldn’t get enough of it. I would spend far too long in the shower listening to our shower radio (yeah, I know what you’re thinking, “Whoa, a shower radio?! So cool.” And it was, until I submerged it under water to test how waterproof it was. Answer, not very.) so I could rock out to my favorite song in private, because every time we were in the car and the song came on my mom would promptly switch the station. And although I was over ten years away from even coming close to truly understanding the song, something about the lyrics “Sex is natural, sex is fun, sex is best when it’s one on one,” resonated with me then and now.

From an early age I was intrigued by sex. In line for a ride at Disney World I asked my Mom, “I know where babies come from, but how do they get there?” I had to wait until we returned home for my mom to take out a book with pictures and tell me about what really happened between a penis and a vagina. That lesson opened the floodgates and I was constantly asking my mom questions about sex, even into adulthood.

Despite society’s aversion to talk about sex, my mom always had an open dialog with me which helped me develop a healthy relationship with sex. She never gave me the “wait until marriage speech,” but instead told me to wait until I felt in loved, respected, and valued. And, most importantly, practice safe sex and make sure you have a good time too. So, when I lost my virginity years later, I finally experienced what good old GM was talking: Sex IS fun.

Although sex is fun and plays a big role in cultivating intimacy in a romantic relationship, many people are hesitant to talk about it. As a result, people’s wishes, desires, and needs go unrecognized and unfulfilled. In addition, being uncomfortable talking about sex leads people to forgo safe sex practices. In addition, couples communication about their sexual desires and needs is associated with relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction. Therefore, it’s important to learn how to talk about sex not only for your physical health, but for your psychological, emotional, and relational well-being too.

However, talking about sex isn’t as easy as talking about the weather. First, it’s a taboo topic in U.S. culture. For some reason we’re not supposed to talk about this natural thing that we do. Second, sex is a sensitive topic and people might feel embarrassed talking about certain topics, even with their partner.

So, how can you talk to your honey about knockin’ the boots?

Speak up: I am a firm believer that if you can’t have an adult conversation about sex, then you shouldn’t be having sex. If your genitals are aligning and engaging than your minds and words should too. This is especially true when it comes to safe sex practices. It is far better to ask a partner to use a condom or get tested for STI’s than to end up with a mysterious sore or a baby you’re not prepared for.

Don’t think that asking someone about their sexual health history, to get tested for STI’s, or to use a condom suggests that you’re “dirty.” Being in charge of your sexual health is sexy and knowing you’re safe is the ultimate aphrodisiac.

Once you’re in a monogamous relationship, then things can change. But until you know where those parts have been or still are visiting, keep it under wraps.          

In addition, if you do have an STI tell your partner. Although you may think that this is your private information or no one needs to know, it is your responsibility to tell your partner and let him/her decide how to proceed.

Speaking up also goes for your wants and desires. Don’t just go with the flow because you don’t want to hurt your partner’s feelings, sex is a team sport and both of you should be having fun.

Be sensitive: If your honey is rubbing you the wrong way (literally) don’t be afraid to speak up, but do so in a sensitive manner. Screaming “Gosh, what the hell are you doing?!” mid-session may make things grind to a halt. Instead, redirect in a gentle way such as “I love when you touch me softly here,” or “it really turns me on when you…” This gives gentle direction and encouragement, simultaneously. Then when your partner hits the right spot, sing his/her praises to reinforce this behavior.

Timing is everything: If there is a larger issue going on, not just a few wrong moves, you may need to have a more in-depth conversation with your partner. However, it’s important that you do this outside of the bedroom. Don’t wait until your underwear are on the floor to tell your partner you’re just not digging what he/she is bringing to the table these days.

Instead, pick a time when you can both dedicate some time to talk about the issue. Have a soft start-up by letting your partner know how much you love being intimate with him or her, then frame your specific concern by giving a few concrete examples. Don’t make blanket statements like “You never…” or “You always…” Then talk about how you can work together to make this satisfying and fun for both of you.

Most partners want their sweetie to have fun in the boudoir and will be grateful that you brought this matter to their attention.

Start slow: If you want to spice things up in the bedroom, whether it’s leaving the lights on or go all out like Khloe and Lamar (did she really think that sex swing would hold with one hook?!), it’s best to start slow.

Try starting a dialogue and gauging interest outside of the bedroom. Tell your partner you just read an article about INSERT FANTASY HERE and see what his or her response is. If he seems interested discuss the possibility of trying that out next time.

Then proceed with caution. If you want to role play, try inserting some “character dialogue” into your next romp. If that goes well, then bring on the costumes and props!

Make sure to create a “safe word” or code that will put an end to things if one of you gets uncomfortable at any point. Fantasies should be mutually agreed upon and participation should be voluntary.

Compromise: Even though fantasies should be agreed upon and voluntary, it is important to try to listen to one another’s wishes, desires, or fantasies, and come up with a mutually satisfying compromise. If your sweetie is showing interest in S&M but you’re terrified of the idea, try a compromise of maybe just gently tying your hands with a ribbon to a bed post rather than being handcuffed. Work together to make sure you’re both comfortable and satisfied.

Don’t judge: Finally, don’t judge your partner whether he or she reveals an STI or a fantasy. Respond neuturally, if you’re unsure, or enthusiastically if you’re on board. Sharing sexual information is a big risk and if you react negatively your partner may become defensive and refrain from being open in the future. Thank them for sharing the information with you and work together to integrate it into your relationship in a way that is meaningful and mutually satisfying.


Remember, “Sex is natural, Sex is Fun!..” so talk to your partner today to make the most of your next sexcapade!

Until next time



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