Relationship Connection: My husband’s parents expect him to take care of them financially

Question

My in-laws think that my husband should buy them a house. The now-retired couple have had steady income throughout their lives but mismanaged their money with get-rich-quick scams and consistently spending more than they made. They got a reverse mortgage on their home because they kept refinancing their house and didn’t want to keep making their mortgage payment.

Now they want a newer home but can’t move. They claim that it won’t cost us a cent (not sure their rationale on how that would work). We have loaned or gifted them tens of thousands of dollars over the years and never been paid back. They have a pension and both have Social Security with no mortgage payment. My husband is told that he is selfish and greedy for not helping them more. We find that we stay away for longer and longer periods of time.

Answer

Even though it’s obvious you aren’t going to buy your in-laws a new home, the emotional and psychological pressure they’re putting on your husband creates tremendous pain and confusion. Quite frankly, they have some serious entitlement demanding that their son purchase them a home. Even if you had the financial means to purchase a home for them, it clearly doesn’t seem like it would be the healthiest way to support them. Let’s explore how you can respond to them.

First, it’s important that you are clear with them about what you will and won’t do. Don’t send mixed messages about your intentions in an effort to avoid letting them down. If the answer is a firm “no”, then that’s your response to them. Of course, there are lots of polite ways to say “no” to someone and you want to communicate with them in a way that is congruent with your values. Dr. Julie Hanks shared alternative ways you can say “no”, which include the following suggestions:

  • “I want to, but I’m unable to.”
  • “I’m not able to commit to that right now.”
  • “I really appreciate you asking me, but I can’t do it.”
  • “I understand you really need my help, but I’m just not able to say yes to that. I’m so sorry.”
  • “No, I can’t do that, but here’s what I can do….”
  • “I just don’t have that to give right now.”

You are not obligated to give them a reason or disclose your financial situation to them to justify why you won’t help them. You can simply let them know the final answer and then you get to decide how involved you want to be from this point on.

His parents can know that you care for them, but bailing them out of their financial mess isn’t possible. You may choose to stay in this conversation with them and help them find other options to resolve their financial situation. Most communities offer free or low cost financial planning help. Resources are available if they are willing to do the work. If they are looking for a handout, then it won’t matter who helps them. It will never be enough.

Of course, you may decide that you can’t continue to be a part of their financial lives. There are plenty of ways they can get help and support and you can let them work to locate those resources. It doesn’t have to come from you just because you’re family. They may not be motivated for put their financial house in order until they realize they don’t have any more options with you and your husband. They will likely hear the truth of their situation more clearly from someone else that isn’t emotionally tied to their well-being.

If they respect the finality of the boundary you’re going to set with them, then you might be able to continue relating to them in other ways. On the other hand, if they continue to blame and criticize your husband for his refusal to bail them out of their financial dire straits, then you will probably continue to create more distance from them and interact with them only as needed.

Stay connected!

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

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