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