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.

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Sylvia Says: Relationship Q & A

Dear Sylvia: A few weeks ago my wife’s best-friend passed away. They had been friends since high school and were like sisters. Since her passing, my wife has fallen into a deep depression. Nothing I do or say seems to help. How can I help her cope with this loss?

Clueless Spouse

Dear Clueless: First, let me commend you for recognizing the profound loss your wife is experiencing. Too often, people overlook the loss of a friend, but for many losing a friend is the equivalent to losing a family member.

It has only been a few weeks since her passing and your wife may just be beginning to feel the reality and permanence of her loss. The best thing you can do is be there for her. Do not try to “fix” the problem, simply help her cope however she needs to. For many women, feeling heard and perceiving that their partner is there to support them is very meaningful. Additionally, given that losing a friend isn’t often recognized as the profound event it is in larger society, your wife will be grateful that you understand the gravity of her loss.

To show her she has your full support, explicitly ask her how she is feeling about losing her friend and then listen to her response. When she talks, validate and legitimize her feelings by saying things like “I can’t imagine how difficult this is for you,” or “You were friends for a long time and it must hurt not having her here.” Also, don’t underestimate the power of a hug. If she just needs to cry, be a shoulder to lean on. Although it seems almost second nature, don’t say things like “It’s going to be okay” or “You have other friends.” Simply be there. Finally, encourage your wife to share stories about her best-friend and their friendship, this will allow her to celebrate her memory and stay connected to her friend.

However, if your wife does not show any signs of improvement in a few months, I would suggest speaking with a grief counselor who can provide her with the tools to navigate this difficult transition.

Dear Sylvia: Recently, I attended by sister-in-law’s baby shower. I traveled a few hundred miles to be there and I put a lot of thought, effort, and money into the gift I selected. A few weeks later a thank-you card arrived in the mail. When I opened it, it was a maternity picture of her with a generic, pre-printed thank you message. No personal message or mention of my travels or gift.  I was stunned and hurt. Should I say something to my sister-in-law or just chalk it up to “baby brain”?

Disgruntled Gift Giver

Dear Disgruntled: You’re preaching to the choir. I also hate these types of thank you cards, but I guess you can be grateful that you even received a thank you card and in a timely fashion, I might add. However, when people take time out of their schedule to attend an event or give a gift, I think the guest of honor can be bothered to write a few sentences of gratitude, “baby brain” or not.

Although you may be hurt, I wouldn’t rain on your sister-in-law’s parade. Instead, set an example by sending thoughtful notes when you’re on the receiving end. If that doesn’t get the message across, then follow her lead on the next gift giving occasion. A card with just a signature and a generic gift card would probably do the trick.

Dear Sylvia: I recently moved across the country for a job. My significant other stayed behind, for now, because she couldn’t find a job out here. Although we’ve only been apart for a few months, our relationship is starting to feel strained. What can we do to make sure that distance makes the heart grow fonder?

Long-distance Lover

Dear Lover: Ah, the long distance relationship—a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, a physical separation affords you autonomy and the ability to pursue individual interests, which can enhance your relationship. On the other hand, the distance makes maintaining closeness and intimacy more difficult.  Thanks to new media technologies, such as Skype and text messaging, it’s easier to stay connected even when you are miles apart.

When you’re apart you miss out on the mundane things in one another’s lives, so it’s important to keep each other updated about those things. Send a quick text when something funny happens in a meeting, or send her a picture of the new lunch spot you think she’d love. Also, don’t forget to let her know you’re thinking of her throughout the day. A quick, email letting her know you’re thinking of her is sure to put a smile on her face.

Staying in contact during the day also puts less pressure on you to have a long, in-depth conversation every night. However, when you do chat, even if it’s just for a few minutes, try to use Skype or FaceTime. Seeing each other will not only help you feel connected, but will eliminate miscommunication by allowing you to see one another’s nonverbals.

Maintaining your long-distance relationship by paying attention to the little things will help you stay connected and allow you to pick up right where you left off once you’re reunited.

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Sylvia Says: Relationship Q & A

Dear Sylvia: My brother-in-law is a serial dater. The problem is that he wants me to be best-friends with every girl he dates. He expects me to hang out with them, facebook friend them, and text them on a regular basis.  I’m sick of investing time into these relationships only to have him break up with them and move on to the next girl. Is it ok to just be friendly with his flavors of the week and not “friends?”

—-Tired of Trying

Dear Tired: Breaking up is hard to do, even for friends and family members. Investing in a friendship with a family member’s significant other can be rewarding, but disappointing when things go south. Because this is a habit with your brother-in-law, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to be friendly, but not “friends” with his girlfriends right out of the gate.

Make nice conversation, be polite, but don’t accept a facebook friend request or extend a lunch invite until you know this relationship is going to stick. Once you’re confident the girl du jour may become something more then slowly get to know her and see if a friendship naturally evolves. And, you might want to suggest that your brother-in-law focus more energy on his relationships than your relationships with his girlfriends, that way one of them may actually stick.

Dear Sylvia: My buddy and I have been friends since grade school. He just got married to a woman I can’t stand. They are complete opposites; my friend is shy, considerate, and a homebody. His wife is loud, rude, and a party animal. Her actions make me not want to hang out with him anymore. I don’t want this to ruin our friendship. Should I say something to him or just say goodbye?

—-Bummed Buddy

Dear Buddy: Although we can pick our friends, we can’t pick their spouses. You’ve been friends with your pal for a long time, so you should trust that there is something in this woman that is worthwhile. You may think that their opposing personalities is a bad thing, but that might be what brought them together.

Even though you may want to tell him your honest opinion, he’s married to her now, so when it comes down to it he’ll pick her not you. If you continually back out of plans or insist on hanging out without her, your friend might catch on and be hurt. So, try to get to know her more. If you still don’t like her than just grin and bear it. It probably makes your friend happy to think that you get along with his wife. And who knows, she may have some cute friends!

Sylvia Says: Relationship Q & A

Dear Sylvia:

My mother-in-law is a hard woman to handle.  My husband is her only child and she seems to be having a hard time realizing there’s a new woman in his life.  She always says things like, “he’s my son, I know best.” How can I make her realize that I am the number one woman in his life now?

Second Place Wife

Dear Second: You don’t say how long you’ve been married or if your mother-in-law is single or married. If you’re a newlywed and she’s on her own, this transition might be particularly challenging for her, and her fear of “losing” her son and being alone may be the reason for her bad behavior. So, instead of making her realize you’re the number one woman now, why not make her realize that although you are your husband’s priority, she’s still high up there too?

Show her that you want her to be part of your married life by planning outings for the three of you.  You should also encourage your husband to do things independently with his mom, and make sure to encourage this relationship in front of your mother-in-law. For example you can say, “Oh, Mrs. X, I saw that the museum has their annual Christmas tree display up. Didn’t you two always go to that when he was younger? You two should check it out again this year.” When she sees that you’re not trying to take her son from her, she may feel less of a need to claim him as hers.

If this doesn’t work your husband, not you (no matter how tempting!), needs to talk to his mother about this issue. The key here is that he needs to let her know that her comments hurt him not you because she may not care about upsetting you, but most definitely doesn’t want to hurt her son (for example, “Mom, it really hurts my feelings when you tell Karen that you know me best. It makes me feel that you don’t respect our marriage. I’d really appreciate it if you stopped doing that”).  And, as a last resort, he could let her know that if she keeps it up visits are going to decrease. That may be just what she needs to shape up so she doesn’t get shipped out!

Dear Sylvia:

My husband and I live in Chicago and both sets of our parents live in Indiana.  When we go home to visit my mother-in-law literally counts the minutes that we spend with each family to make sure that she is getting her fair share.  How can I get her to stop being so crazy with time-sharing?

Sick of the Stopwatch

Dear Stopwatch:  Have you considered changing the clocks when you’re there? Kidding! Splitting time between families is one of the biggest concerns of newlyweds and new parents-in-law.  However, you and your hubby have to nip problem in the bud now or you’re destined for a lifetime of punching the family clock.

Your husband needs to have a discussion with his mother to let her know that this Even Steven time splitting act is driving him bonkers! He should tell her that her emphasis on quantity time has you two watching the clock rather than enjoying
quality time.  In addition, if your mother-in-law is worried that your husband will get caught up and have too much fun with your family (husbands do spend more time with their in-laws’ family) and forget about hers, make sure he reassures her about how much the two of you love spending time with her, but that the pressure makes visits less enjoyable. Once she realizes that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar she may cut back your hours.

You may also want to take some active steps to get around this issue. Consider hosting joint family events, if the two sides get along, when you’re in town so everyone can enjoy your company. You and your husband may also consider spending time with your families separately. Maybe an hour alone with her son will ease some of her fears. Or, you may want to consider having the sets of parents come visit you, separately, throughout the year. That way they get exclusive one-on-one time and you’re not on the clock.

Check back Thursday for more Relationship Q & A.  Have relationship questions? Send them to Sylvia Says

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