Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Husband Keeps Loaning Money to His Alcoholic Father”

From the forums:

Much money 07

I have been with my husband for about four years, and we’ve been married for about a year now. It was apparent very early in our dating that his father is quite a character. He is able to make a good living at his job, but he wastes all of his money on prescription drugs, alcohol, and God knows what else. My husband claims to not approve of this behavior, but I know he has lent his dad sums of money here and there, maybe $100-200 at a time. My husband claims that his father has always paid him back and that, until he fails to pay him back, he chooses to trust him and will continue to lend him money on occasion because he loves him.

We did not combine finances until we married so I did not feel it was my place to tell him what to do with his money when we were dating, but, now that we’re married and all of our money is combined, I feel like my husband is asking me to enable his (seemingly functional) alcoholic, addict father. Since our marriage is newish, we are now establishing a precedent of loaning his father money and letting him know that, if he wastes all of his money on drugs, etc., we will be his safety net. I explained this to my husband, who insists that his relationship with his father is extremely complicated, that his dad always pays him back, and that he loves him and cannot just “abandon” him when he’s in need, since he only asks for loans when he’s really, really stuck. For example, the last time was when he was traveling and ran out of money. He couldn’t do anything until we sent him $200.

For background: He and and my mother-in-law, who is, ironically, an extremely motivated and self-sufficient person, divorced when my husband was a teenager. My husband is the eldest of three siblings, and he is closer to his dad than his siblings are. His siblings are both very together people like their mom, and they have confided in me that they cut their dad off long ago. The mom found out that my husband was still lending the father money and she was really upset with their father. I explained to my husband how worrisome it is that his rational family whom he loves has cut their dad off, and that they did so for a reason, yet he insists that his relationship with his dad is different and that, until the dad fails to pay him back specifically, he owes him the benefit of the doubt. I disagree. Also, as more background: There has been some emotional abuse perpetuated by the dad, and, being from a very stable, docile family myself, just hearing some of the things I’ve heard have made me want to jump out of my skin.

A few weeks ago my FIL stayed with us for a couple of days, which I thought was just to visit. Turned out he was broke and wanted to extend the trip. I told my husband I was really uncomfortable that he had come under the guise of a visit, that I felt manipulated, and that he could stay one more night but had to be gone by the time I got home from work. He was. Now this morning my husband has let me know that he’s loaning him another $100.

Maybe I partially just need to vent, but I’m also unsure how to proceed. I don’t understand how to deal with people like this, but I’m pretty sure that enabling their drug habits is not the way to go. I like his dad personally, and we have the money to spare, but I do not want to be manipulated or taken advantage of. At the same time, I understand that my husband’s relationship with his dad is highly complicated. My husband is an extremely sensitive, rational person. I think he just feels like he is his dad’s only remaining savior and he cannot let go of that role, and I cannot force him to do so. For the record, not that I believe it matters since we are married, my husband and I both make a good income, though I make slightly more.

I know the answer to issues with in-laws is that the child should be the buffer and deal with their parents and that communication with your spouse is key, etc. But we have communicated, and my husband just seems to have a weird blind spot when it comes to his dad. We have a fundamental disagreement about the difference between supporting and enabling in this case. — Uncomfortable with Enabling

The forum commenters on this one had some great practical advice: set up a monthly budget with your husband where you agree on how much money each of you has with which to do whatever you want. As long as the money is within the amount that you have budgeted and agreed upon, what you spend it on is really not the other person’s business. In theory, that frees you of the worry you have about the relationship between your husband and his father, and, because you aren’t involved, it frees you from the anxiety you feel about enabling your FIL.

Of course, theory is different from reality and it sounds like the money isn’t so much your concern — after all, what’s $100 or $200 here and there when it’s paid back and you’re financially comfortable? You’re concerned about the message you’re sending to your FIL. You’re worried that, by bailing him out, you’re letting him know that you’re OK with his behavior. My suggestion: let your husband worry about his father and you focus on what message you’re sending your husband. Do you want to be a source of support to him or a source of added pressure and stress? I would back off and let him work through the complicated relationship he has with his father without the pressure of you analyzing every move.

I get that you come from a very different family than your husband’s and that you don’t know how to handle a character like your FIL. You don’t want to feel manipulated and taken advantage of. Who does? But the thing is, sometimes it’s worth more to just love within loosely defined boundaries even at the risk of being manipulated than it is to set super-strict boundaries at the risk of losing an important relationship. Your husband’s relationship with his father, however complicated it is, exists within loosely-set boundaries. Your husband loans, on a regular basis, what is to you both a not-very-large sum of money, and your FIL always pays it back. That’s a boundary. If you tell your husband that your FIL can’t stay at your place any longer, he tells his dad to leave. That’s another boundary. And there are probably others. You get to be privy to these boundaries and, so far, everyone respects them. Is this a perfect situation? No. No situation IS perfect. Closer to perfect would be if your FIL weren’t an addict. Closer to perfect would be if there weren’t such complicated feelings between your husband and his dad. It’s never going to be perfect. But within these loosely-set boundaries, there’s a relationship, and, for now, that seems to be OK. It seems to work.

If you want to discuss with your husband what happens when those boundaries aren’t respected, that’s probably a good idea. What will he do if his father stops paying him back? What will he do if his father asks for a loan that is bigger than what your husband is prepared to give? What would happen if your FIL ever threatened anyone in the family or showed up at your place drunk or high? What if he were arrested or lost his job? Talking through these different scenarios will help give you some peace of mind. And it will help your husband hang on to the relationship he has with his father. It’s far from perfect, but it exists. And for now, that’s important to your husband — important enough to risk being manipulated and to risk enabling bad behavior. So, support your husband, and let his relationship with his dad, however complicated it is, continue.

***************

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at [email protected].

23 comments… add one
  • avatar

    peachy July 24, 2014, 10:34 am

    This kind of issue would definitely fall under the category of things that should have been discussed before marriage – since you knew about this situation already. While the discussions and limits on loans to your father-in-law would work at keeping things in check in the short-term, what you’re likely looking at in the long term is an unemployed old addict with liver cirrhosis/cancer washing up on your doorstep.
    I say your husband should truly be a loving son and do his utmost to get some intervention for his father. We don’t know why he’s self-medicating but a solid health checkup plus strong encouragement to get drug and alcohol/family counseling would be a better kind of help to give than tossing $100 to him while the whirlpool of addiction slowly drags him under. Best wishes to you and your family!

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  • avatar

    AKchic July 24, 2014, 10:47 am

    I feel for you, LW. My current husband’s father is a recovering alcoholic, pill popping, misogynistic, leech.
    He moved in with us for about a year. In that time, I saw just how bad his addiction really was. To the point that he was stealing my pain medication to augment his own pain pills, PLUS buying pills off the street. He went through 60 of my pills in a week before I started doing daily counts instead of weekly. He stole the keys to our lock box for my meds. He would borrow money from us (for more pills, I am assuming). Since I was the main financial support, he would get pissy if my husband cleared loans with me before “lending” money (we were never paid back).
    When my pills started going missing, I laid down the law: Police, rehab, or move out. If any more pills went missing, I would call the police. Period. He chose to move in with his parents in CO (we live in AK). He continued his pill-popping down there.

    I agree with Wendy and the other commenters from the forum – set up a monthly budget. An addict will not get help unless s/he wants help. You can’t force it, unless you want the cops/courts involved. Only involve them if money is stolen, medications are stolen, being on the influence of substances while driving, or anything else illegal (besides the actual consumption of the illegal substances).

    I also suggest creating a plan for what happens should your FIL lose his job or his addiction becomes so unmanageable that he loses the ability to hold down a job and loses everything in the process. Will you allow him to live with you? Will you allow substance use in your own home to placate his addiction? Will you financially support him?
    My own answers to those questions were: yes, within reason; oh hell no; and only if he is actively participating in treatment (I got discounts since I work for the biggest rehab non-profit in my state).

    Revisit your budget whenever something life-changing happens. Like having a baby. Will your husband be willing to choose his father’s addiction over his own child? Children can be very expensive and that extra $100-$200/mo can really add up when a child is in the mix.

    Good luck, you’re going to need it.

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  • bittergaymark

    Bittergaymark July 24, 2014, 10:59 am

    “DW… When I married my husband, I knew ALL about issue a. I had said NOTHING to him for YEARS and YEARS. But NOW I want issue a to be handled MY way. Oh. Wait. Let me explain how issue a is in no way a big deal in paragraph after paragraph and that i probably should really just shut up about it. But I won’t. I can’t. Blah blah blah blah blah blah…”

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    • avatar

      LW July 24, 2014, 11:43 am

      Ah Mark, a true intellect and joy as always. Had I inserted myself immediately into my boyfriend’s finances when we were dating I’m sure you wouldn’t have seen a problem with that right? I’ve always been open and honest with my husband that him giving money to his dad was something I didn’t understand. My concern amplified when our finances combined, but it has been an ongoing explanation. And I’ll guess you’ll whine about me not including that in the letter right? But then including too much means you talk too much and should shut up right? Go ahead and continue seeking out imperfections in people wherever you can to making yourself insanely miserable. It’s really working for you, clearly.

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      • avatar

        lets_be_honest July 24, 2014, 12:03 pm

        If you can take out the typical bgm from his statement (I know, its hard, haha), can you see his point at all? When I read this yesterday, I also was thinking you knew this all along, so why wait to address it until after you got married? These are super important things to discuss and be on the same page about before you commit like that.
        It does kinda bug me when I hear things like that. You have an issue, but you wait to deal with it until you’re married? Frankly, I would be annoyed if my partner was all hunky dory about something and then BAM, told me he was not cool at all with how things have been all along and wants me to stop because he’s my husband now.
        Not that any of that matters since it is what it is at this point.

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      • avatar

        ktfran July 24, 2014, 12:10 pm

        I’m actually with you and BGM on this, too, and thought exactly the same thing while reading the letter. I mean, LW, if you knew you were going to be that bothered by it, why did you wait until after the wedding to bring it up? Surely you discussed how you were going to combine finances before you said I do.
        .
        But as LBH said, it is what it is. I think Wendy’s response was really great and I hope you follow it.

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      • Kicia

        Kicia July 24, 2014, 12:18 pm

        But she didn’t wait until after marriage to address it. She says above that she had expressed concerns about it before marriage so this isn’t something that came out of the blue. Once they combined finances, he wasn’t just giving away *his money but *their money to enable his dad.

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      • avatar

        ktfran July 24, 2014, 12:29 pm

        Yes, but she knew what the deal was before she married him and now he’s supposed to automatically change because they combined finances? When she knew about it before? And she waited until now to truly address it? I 100% don’t understand the reasoning behind this.

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      • avatar

        lets_be_honest July 24, 2014, 12:32 pm

        Well I guess, but saying she had concerns, but not actually then coming up with how they will handle those concerns are two different things.
        Add to that that all she did was say she had concerns, but then “allow” it to continue is basically saying this is slightly worrisome, but just go ahead and keep doing it. That set a precedent for this to continue as is. I just feel like there were two opportunities (before wedding, before combining $) to come to an agreement on this, and both were missed.
        Again, it is what it is at this point though.

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      • avatar

        LW July 24, 2014, 12:42 pm

        I hear you lbh. I knew about it, I expressed concern, the concern amplified when we combined finances, and this is the first time it has actually happened and I wanted advice from others who may have more experience with these types of issues. If I could have handled it more perfectly, discussed it in a different way, I understand that. I brought the issue up in the best way I could given how serious our relationship was at a given time. Regardless, my husband and I have now agreed upon boundaries that make us both happy, and that’s what matters to me. Thanks for your input!

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      • avatar

        lets_be_honest July 24, 2014, 2:10 pm

        Everyone’s a good monday morning quarterback, haha. Glad you guys have your boundaries in place now!

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      • bittergaymark

        bittergaymark July 24, 2014, 12:19 pm

        Hey, fine, little Miss Great Intellect of a LW. Go on. Go on. Keep bugging your husband ENDLESSLY about this silly issue which you yourself spent paragraph after paragraph specifically outlining how in reality it’s NO big deal. How not only is there money to spare. But he always pays it back anyway.

        But no. No. Your feelings trump all. Your feelings are more important than a man’s relationship with his father. Just pick — pick — pick away at this silly petty issue and never let it go. This IS the mountain to die on. This is THE battle to pick.

        Then get back to me about how great your marriage is. And then please do tell me who goes out of their way to make themselves miserable…

        Truth? That is one update I simply can’t wait to hear. Even though I could pen it myself right now almost word for word.

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      • avatar

        LW July 24, 2014, 12:45 pm

        Well you’re right BGM. 🙁 I’ve showed my husband your comments and he’s agreed with your astute analysis and now we’re divorcing. Thanks a lot!

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  • avatar

    LW July 24, 2014, 12:03 pm

    Thanks so much to Wendy for your thoughtful advice, and thank you to the commenters here and in the forum. Wendy I think you really broke it down perfectly, and you have all given me such great food for thought. You really hit the nail on the head re: it not being about the money, but about the precedent and about what I am supporting.

    After I posted in the forum yesterday I talked to my husband and let him know that I understand that the relationship he has with his dad is complicated and I want to support him (my husband) and I know it can’t be easy. We set up boundaries much in line what with you all have talked about, and my husband was completely understanding and I think we are both very happy with where things are. Most importantly we both feel prepared and have a plan for if/when things start to get bumpy.

    Thanks again everyone!

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    • avatar

      lets_be_honest July 24, 2014, 12:34 pm

      Maybe look at it as what your husband is supporting, not you? Also, think of how you’d feel if this were your mom and he was telling you what to do. Maybe that will help you.

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  • Addie Pray

    Addie Pray July 24, 2014, 12:30 pm

    How other people handle money – and their sex lives – are topics that ALWAYS FASCINATE ME. I don’t know why.

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  • TaraMonster

    TaraMonster July 24, 2014, 12:40 pm

    I haven’t read the forum advice, so my apologies if I’m giving redundant advice.
    .
    First off, everything Wendy advised is spot on, but the one thing I’d like to drive home is how important it is that you be supportive to your husband, especially since the established boundaries of the situation are being respected. I’ve lived on both sides of this issue. My ex and I both have dysfunctional parents who leeched off us (and still do/try to). I know the feeling of being angry for your partner when they are being manipulated by an abusive parent, and I think your indignation about the issue comes from that. However, the tone of this letter is just over the line of caring and has entered judgmental. It’s great that you come from a stable family, and that you recognize this means your ability to empathize with your husband’s upbringing is slightly impaired. I’d encourage you to work on cultivating that compassion. If I felt judgment from my partner of all people on the way I handle my mentally ill mother, it would definitely drive a pretty big wedge between us. This is one of those situations where you being super compassionate is a must, even if it feels forced at first. And frankly, I don’t think it’s that difficult of a thing to accomplish.

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    • avatar

      LW July 24, 2014, 1:35 pm

      Very helpful, thank you!

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  • avatar

    zanderbomb84 July 24, 2014, 1:24 pm

    LW- What does your husband feel like the money he is giving his father is going towards to support? AKA, does your husband agree with you that his father has an alcohol/drug addiction? If so, it might be helpful for him or both of you to attend a support group for family members of those with addictions. Because your husband is enabling your father, and it in all likely-hood it will only get worse. How would your husband feel his father ended up in jail, the hospital, or dead (or was the cause of someone else ending up in one of those places?). Your husband needs to realize and be honest with himself about what is going on. Hearing other people who are going through the same thing can be very helpful and powerful.

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  • Portia

    Portia July 24, 2014, 1:34 pm

    I totally understand not wanting to support an addict FIL and wanting to take a stand. If he was your father, you might deal with this differently. I myself had a long discussion with my sister the other day about some aspects of Bassanio’s relationship with his parents and the history there, which I have discussed at length with Bassanio over the past 9 years. It helped me feel a little better about my own feelings towards his family dynamics and that I’m not crazy, but drove home that those are second to his relationship with his parents. When it doesn’t directly affect me, I make sure they’re really mistreating Bassanio before I will say something and I’d like to think that I’ve helped him stand up to his parents when it was warranted. There’s a relative (or more) in every family, but it’s hardest when it’s someone in your nuclear family. It seems like your husband might one day follow in his other family member’s footsteps and cut his father off, but this is one of those situations where you really do need to separate your own feelings about the FIL and supporting your husband, which it sounds like you’re on the path to doing. In my experience, having decided-upon limits when it comes to certain family members has been immensely helpful.

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  • avatar

    Laura Hope July 24, 2014, 2:10 pm

    I have a huge problem with spouses not putting each other first, but in this case, I’d let it go. He’s not taking large sums of money that were supposed to go to a down payment on your house or anything. He’s not taking anything away from you and it doesn’t really affect you. He has a soft spot for his father. I can understand that. They say you need to pick your battles. When I think of all the potential disagreements in a marriage, this one’s not so bad. (Wait till you have kids!)

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  • avatar

    Lucy July 24, 2014, 7:38 pm

    My (sober alcoholic) husband’s father was also an addict. It is an incredibly difficult relationship to navigate. I strongly recommend that you and your husband both go to some Al Anon meetings *before* the situation escalates (as situations with addicts invariably do). I think your husband in particular will find it eye opening.

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  • avatar

    Anon for this July 24, 2014, 10:46 pm

    I’m a regular commentator here but am posting anonymously as I’ve been in a similar situation with my husband. Only, he loans large sums of money (very occasionally) to a friend of his. Their friendship is extremely complex from what I know of it. They no longer live in the same country and the friend, despite being a dad of three and married and a seemingly upstanding citizen, is also a drug dealer. He’s a good one – has never been caught in 20 years and apparently does well enough to support his young family (!) but he has gotten into scrapes with extended dealers or other people who have been in trouble with the law and when he’s been unable to get funds from those around him, he has come to my husband.

    They essentially grew up together and did a lot of crazy shit together which has led to this weird unbreakable bond. Whereas my husband has moved out of that sphere, shifted countries and gotten married/had kids of his own and ended up in a great career, when his friend calls, he jumps. He has been screwed over at least 3 times that I know of by this friend who promises the earth (and to pay back ‘with interest’, ‘double the money’ etc) and never ever delivers. And my husband just wears it every time and seems to forget about the last times which I DO NOT GET!?. However, it’s occasional so I haven’t really made a huge deal out of it… until the last time.

    The last time was late last year. He wanted a sum that was worth around $4000 and promised my husband he’d give him double back when some deal was done at his end. It was supposed to come back to my husband within a month. He’s still asking for it. We had a massive row about it when I found out he’d promised the money to his friend. Since marrying a lot (though not all) of our funds are combined and I felt it was crossing a major line us not a) discussing it or b) both agreeing to it. He understood (eventually) that I should be privy to these decisions because we literally could not afford to loan someone that kind of money given our situation. My husband is very generous though and very spur of the moment so I lost that battle big time.

    Since then, our finances have been dire and stuff we’d budgeted for has blown out, causing massive stress. I do wonder if my husband regrets loaning that money which would have taken some of the pressure off us. But what’s done is done, and it kills me hearing him being all jolly on the phone with his friend asking when the money might be coming… and the answer is always ‘oh another month mate’ or ‘it’ll be in August now’ or whatever. I had to stop with the I told you so’s – it just doesn’t penetrate I’ve found, especially if the loan is tied up in a complex history of somehow enabling (like the OP’s husband) or being a ‘good mate’ (my husband’s situation). I don’t talk about it anymore. I get such a burning rage about it just THINKING about it and I don’t trust what I might say. Because it would be along the lines of how much of a mug I think he is trusting his stupid drug dealer friend AGAIN and how much it has left us in a stressful situation when he should have considered his family first.

    I like Wendy’s advice and that of the forum poster. It’s hard though when your funds are combined and you feel like it’s your money being given away and that you’re being manipulated. The way I have decided to deal with my situation is to assume my husband has given that money as a gift. Which is still galling, but at least that way, I can let it go and not assume its coming back anytime soon.

    Tough one 🙁

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