Carolyn Hax: Getting past a husband’s hurtful stand on family finances and shared burdens

Carolyn Hax
Columnist May 22

Hi, Carolyn:

My husband’s parents are in their mid-80s, and they have lived with us for 14 years. They don’t pay toward household costs. They moved in with us originally because my mother-in-law took care of my son while I worked. My son is now 15. My father-in-law still works full-time at a repair shop he has owned most of his life.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

My husband recently retired because of health issues, cutting our income in half. We are in our mid-50s, facing our son’s college costs and our own retirement.

I have started to resent having to support my in-laws. I think they should contribute toward household expenses. My husband disagrees. He becomes very angry whenever I bring this up.

Am I completely in the wrong? I know we all should honor our parents, and they did a lot for us when we were young. What is the right thing to do?


(Nick Galifianakis/The Washington Post)

N.

When your spouse not only disagrees with you, but also ignites on contact with the subject, the “right thing to do” becomes moot. Figure out what you can do, and stay on that side of the menu.

You can, for example, spend a long day with your finances to track where your money goes.

You can then show your husband the numbers — without a peep about his parents. If he accuses you of trying to back into the issue, then explain calmly that he made it clear he wouldn’t discuss having his parents contribute, so you had to go to Plan B. And this is Plan B. So would he like to participate?

You can also identify unnecessary expenses, and discuss which ones to cut.

And you can, in the unlikely event you haven’t already, talk to him about other income sources, such as disability benefits or other types of work his health issues permit.

Most important: You can explain to him — again, calmly — that you don’t appreciate his shutting you down with anger on a topic that profoundly affects not just you two, but also your son, the person you were supposedly serving by having your in-laws move in. Explain that you two are in this together emotionally and financially, and as such you expect your concerns to be treated with respect, even if he ultimately disagrees (and even if you weren’t 14 years closer to sainthood).

More than the money, your husband’s refusal to hear dissent promises trouble when your financial and other challenges come due. Give up on working the in-laws and work just on your marriage for now.

Dear Carolyn:

Dating a guy whose first love cheated on him. He forgave her and took her back, till she cut him off completely for new guy.

He says he loves me more than he ever loved her, but if I ever cheat, we are through.

I say he loved her more and feel he is settling for me. Please help me understand his logic.

M.

So, his taking her back = he loved her more?

Please don’t be so literal about people. He might have changed course because he learned something. Typically a good sign.

Another suggestion, unsolicited: Trying to parse who loved whom more is rookie stuff. You have what you have, and what matters is whether it fits.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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