Relationships with family members and in-laws are complicated as it is, but adding money to the equation can throw couples over the edge! The Real Housewives of Potomac’s Ashley Darby learned that all too well after financially supporting her mother caused tension in her marriage to her husband Michael.
If you missed the latest, Michael agreed to help Ashley's mother on the condition that she would breakup with her “toxic” boyfriend, who according to Ashley, “zaps the life” out of her. However, the breakup never happened, and Michael feels like Ashley chose her mom over him because she continues to provide the financial support.
Ashley recently sat down with her mom to try to talk about the problems that lending money to her has caused in her marriage, but the problems have not been fully resolved yet.
Personal Space spoke to Sharon Kasanoff, LCSW, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Psychotherapist based in Miami to learn some tips on setting boundaries gracefully when considering loaning money or giving financial support to family members. Kasanoff noted that if you are already in a dysfunctional family situation and can’t communicate effectively with your relatives, a family therapist can assist in identifying underlying problems and facilitating healthier family interactions. “Family therapists are trained to help resolve dysfunctional family dynamics and improve family interaction.” In Ashley's case, she was discussing the issues with her regular therapist, but did not bring her husband or mother in with her for an open communication session.
Even in less complicated scenarios, it can still be very hard establishing limits when it comes to lending money to loved ones. Kasanoff explained that if you've “taken stock of your family member’s situation and want to offer assistance, clarify the financial need first.”
If you and your partner share finances, it is important to talk with him or her before offering monetary support. Decide in advance whether this is a loan or a gift. Assuring that everyone is on the same page will set clear expectations and minimize conflicts later.
If you’re offering financial help, it is also important to understand how the situation developed with your family member. Kasanoff clarified, “you may want to think twice before offering cash assistance, if you suspect the problem is a matter of the family member’s irresponsible spending.”
In order to help without enabling, it may be better “to pay expenses directly,” instead of sending the cash to your loved one. For example, if they need help with rent, paying the bill can relieve that concern and minimize possible feelings of resentment down the road. In Ashley's case, providing continued financial support to her mother even though she never broke up with her boyfriend, eliminated the incentive for her mom to actually go through with the breakup.
Lastly, discussing upfront with your family member how long you plan to help can prevent an expectation that you will be involved indefinitely. You can always decide to extend your help, but it will also give you an escape route, if providing financial support proves to be too much of a burden. Bottom line, Kasanoff says, “When families respect each other’s boundaries and interact using clear and appropriate communication, they can preserve harmony, even when they disagree.”
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