Requests for advice sometimes shows up in my email inbox. Here’s one:
I am a 46-year-old woman, married with three children. Both my parents are retired. My mother recently moved into a hospice care facility. Now I’m financially responsible for my mom’s care. I haven’t been able to cover both my share of our bills and manage my mom’s healthcare costs. My husband, Carlos is upset. We fight constantly. It’s not that he doesn’t like my parents. He does, but he says he says he did not sign up to support them. He’s threatening to leave me. My two siblings are not in a position to chip in. Any suggestions?
You are caught in a bind. If you do not help your parents, you risk your mom losing out on the end of life treatment hospice provides. Her quality of life will suffer and so will your father’s. That will impact you and your relationship with your husband. Not meeting your share of the bills each month is already putting a strain on your marriage. Your situation is tough, but not impossible to overcome. I think you and Carlos are stuck in a routine about your finances. You each have expectations about spending. When those expectations aren’t met, you argue. You haven’t moved on to having productive conversations about your feelings around money issues. I suggest you work on that and have outlined some things for you to consider. Please take a look.
Do you really know what’s bugging your partner?
Is your husband telling you that he does not want you to support your family financially, or is he telling you that he doesn’t mind you helping your parents as long as you take care of your responsibilities to your family first? As long as you have not spoken about this and clearly understand his feelings, every time you decide to help your parents there is going to be resentment and hurt feelings. He will feel ignored and question your commitment to him and your children. Your resentment toward him will build as your mother’s heath continues to decline and he keeps objecting to your involvement. The two of your having a conversation to find out what feelings are at the source of Carlos’s objection is the starting point to figuring out how to address this situation.
What are your spending styles?
Do you and your husband have a household budget? Do you discuss how you spend money, especially taking care of the bills? If you do, great, that’s a good start, but there is more to it than having a balanced checkbook. Usually when couples argue about money what’s missing is insight into each other’s relationship to money. Is one partner a spender versus a saver? Does not saving for your future make you or your partner anxious? Conflict arises when money styles conflict, especially when partners are not clear that that’s what is causing the rift. Try taking ten or fifteen minutes a month to talk about your money habits. Each partner will feel heard in the relationship. Understanding and respect take root when partners get what makes the other tick.
The bigger picture of taking care of your parents
It sounds like Carlos has a decent relationship with your parents. It also seems as though the only solution thus far considered for caring for your parents is to give them money. People feel trapped when locked into single solutions to problems. It’s time for you two to talk about multiple solutions and other options including how Carlos and your siblings can bear some of the burden and decision-making responsibility of caring for your parents. You have been bearing the brunt of making all the important decisions about your mom and dad’s situation. It’s made you tense, anxious and possibly unapproachable. I even venture to guess that growing up you were the sibling everyone knew would take on the responsibility of caring for the parents. When your family starts working together, your husband will feel relieved knowing that the burden is not entirely on you. I bet Carlos will be receptive to supporting you. Are there other actions you could take to encourage his involvement? Working together to work through this situation can ultimately keep your marriage from unraveling.
Wishing you the best, Neil