Share this story

 | By Tom and Jo Anne Fogle

I don't want to support her deadbeat relatives

Sarah and Rick have been married for 17 years. Sarah’s brother lost his job recently and wants financial help. Sarah and Rick disagree about giving money to her brother.

I don’t want to support her deadbeat relatives

Rick says: Sarah’s brother, Tom, lost his job a few months ago. Apparently, his savings have run out and he’s facing foreclosure on his house. Sarah wants us to pick up his mortgage payments for a couple of months or so, until he gets back on his feet. But I don’t think Tom has been trying very hard to get a job – he seems to be waiting for the “perfect opportunity.” I think he needs to find anything that will pay the bills, and not expect us to support him.

My brother lost his job – we have to help

Sarah says: Tom is the baby of our family, and it was always my job to take care of him. Rick doesn’t realize how hard it’s been for him – Tom is very gifted and he is often unappreciated by his employers. He’s always been a generous uncle to our kids and now I’d like to repay some of that generosity. It will bite into our savings, but not be a catastrophe, if we pay his mortgage for two or three months.

What should they do?: As generally happens in a relationship between two normal people, this disagreement has little to do with the topic at hand – money – and much more to do with underlying issues. This situation is complicated, delicate and sensitive because it involves an extended family member; the biological bond between a brother and sister was created long before the marital bond. To get closer to the root of the issue, Rick and Sarah would be wise to discover the real issue by asking each other questions such as, “Why should we?” or “Why shouldn’t we?” They also need to reflect on “How does it make me feel when I am asked to …?”, and “How does this issue impact our core values as a couple, and each of us individually?”

If Rick and Sarah can discuss their feelings about assisting Tom financially, it might put them closer to a solution both could accept. For example, one of Rick’s underlying issues appears to be Tom’s lack of initiative in finding work to pay the mortgage. Possibly even deeper is Rick’s apparent dislike for the way Tom has approached what Rick perceives as Tom’s responsibility to be a male household provider – a provider who will do whatever it takes to succeed. Rick appears to take a dim view of Tom waiting for the “perfect opportunity.” If Tom were working full time and still could not make ends meet, it’s possible that Rick would quickly come to Tom’s rescue as “one provider to another.”

On the other hand, Sarah’s approach to Tom is one of caregiver. She has always felt responsibility to look after Tom and rationalizes his problems as being caused by others and not by Tom himself. Rick and Sarah are facing a situation where fact and logic are wrapped in feelings and emotions. The latter must be dealt with first before fact and logic are allowed to shed light on a workable solution for them as a married couple.

Our initial recommendation is for Rick and Sarah to list the pros and cons of how this situation is affecting their relationship. Once they can identify how it is affecting their relationship, they can narrow in on the “why.” If they can’t do this without heat and anger, they should write a letter to each other expressing their feelings – making sure they use “I” language and don’t resort to finger-pointing. If they cannot work through this on their own – realizing that the most important thing in their lives is their marriage – they should seek professional help.