Dear Dr. Chani,
I am writing to you because I am impressed with the advice you have given in your column. It is very balanced and thought-out. I am interested in your take on my challenge with my in-laws. Over the last four years, I have become increasingly resentful towards my wife’s parents. They are very unfair with how they allocate their money between their children. My wife and I are definitely being taken for granted.
When my wife and I got married ten years ago, I was in law school for several years and money was tight. My wife worked full-time to support our family, even while giving birth to, and raising our two children. Once I began to work, she was able to work part-time, but since we have such high expenses, and we need to pay off my debt from law school, finances are a constant stress. We definitely think twice before we spend money. My in-laws (and my parents) never gave us any financial support. They give us birthday presents and take our family out of dinner once in a while, but that is it.
Yet, for the past four years, my wife’s parents have been totally supporting my brother-in-law’s family. When he got married six years ago, he was still in college and his wife worked part-time. Two years later, he decided to go to graduate school. My parents-in-law stepped in to help him out. At the time, I understood that they were going through a difficult stage of life and he needed their help to get through it. But I have been shocked to find that since he graduated with his degree, he has remained unemployed. He has not worked hard to get a job.
Instead, he and his wife are content to live a worry-free life, putting all of their expenses on my parents-in-law’s credit card. They are given full support for their mortgage, tuition, and food. My in-laws also pay for their designer clothing, extravagant children’s birthday parties and frequent take-out dinners as well. To top it all off, sometimes, my father-in-law tells me that I should join a gym and get in shape, like my brother-in-law. Sure, he’s in great shape. He has plenty of time and money to be relaxed and exercise. He is living a non-stop honeymoon!
I have spoken to my wife about this issue a bit over the years, and she prefers not to say anything to her parents. She feels that they need to support her brother because he might lack the self-confidence and personality to get a good job. She wonders if his marriage would fall apart if her parents did not prop it up with their financial support.
I am sickened by watching my brother-in-law and his wife take advantage of my parents-in-law. But I am also resentful that we have had to work so hard to get to where we are in life, when my parents are giving my brother-in-law’s family a free ride. It is so disturbing that I find it hard to hang out with my wife’s family anymore. What can I do to deal with this situation?
Thank you for your appreciative comments about my column. I am glad that you enjoy it and it resonates. The issue you are describing is a very difficult one. It can undermine the core of the relationship between parents and children. The Sages of the Talmud (Shabbat 10b) exhort people very strongly not to favor one child over another. They remind us that the privileges that Jacob gave to Joseph directly caused terrible strife among his brothers. When Joseph’s brothers expressed discontent and contempt for Joseph, they were already adults. Similarly, even though you are a mature man, the inequity you are describing in your wife’s family can cause you great pain and hurt.
You mention that you discussed this with your wife “a bit over the years.” If this is an issue that bothers you so much, it is important for you and your wife to discuss it more. It is essential that you communicate how you feel to your wife. If it bothers you so much, and she does not know and understand how much it affects you, it is going to cause you not to feel as close as you could be. On the other hand, if you discuss it with her and she understands your emotions, it can bring you closer. When you discuss it with her, it is not so important for her to agree with your feelings. But she does need to hear them from you clearly so that she knows how you feel. You can even communicate to her that you are not looking for her to acquiesce to you but to understand what is bothering you.
What can you do yourself to help this bitter pill go down better? It can be helpful to think about what it means to you to be happy and content. There are two ways you can approach looking at what you have and the things you need, an external approach and an internal approach. The external approach looks at what others have, how they are treated, and how others relate to them. This can allow you to feel unsatisfied, neglected, and not treated fairly. On the other hand, the internal approach allows you to use your own barometer to measure what you have. Focus on your capabilities, accomplishments, and blessings. It can lead you to be happier, content, and satisfied.
In this case, the external approach means you measure what your in-laws gave you in contrast to what they give other people in your family. When you look at things from that perspective, you will almost always feel shortchanged, discriminated against, and treated unfairly.
In contrast, it can be helpful to look at your life internally. From what you are saying, your in-laws have given to you and your wife in the past. If you allow yourself to feel happy and appreciate what they give to you, it can be a key to your feeling more satisfied and content.
To clarify, this does not mean that your in-laws are doing the right thing or have a prudent, balanced approach to their parenting and giving. It might be they need to rethink their connection to each of their children and how they demonstrate and communicate about it. They have not done so (yet).
Sometimes you can only control the world of your own thoughts, feelings, and actions. When you are in such a situation, like the one you describe, it can be helpful to focus your attention internally, and appreciate all that you have and everything that you do receive. This laser focus on appreciation can lead you to warmer feelings towards your in-laws, and greater happiness for yourself and your family.
Wishing you all the best,
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