Social Q’s: My Sister-in-Law Is Messing Up Our Financial Plans

My husband and I have always kept our finances separate. We divide joint expenses equally. Lately, his sister has had trouble making ends meet. So, we supplement her income with a hefty monthly payment, which we split. I am starting to resent this! My husband agrees that I’m not required to help his sister, but he claims that married people should share all obligations. (He promised his mother before she died to take care of his sister and once talked of using his inheritance from her to do that.) I am torn between wanting to be generous and resenting every penny I give her. Your thoughts?

J.

Your husband seems to be suffering from a buttercream-frosted fantasy of having his cake and eating it too. Presumably, you and he agreed to keep your finances separate because you like controlling your own money. But why keep two sets of books if every obligation (in your husband’s view) is a shared one. It doesn’t make sense!

If you’re on the hook for half of his sister’s allowance, why isn’t he paying 50 percent of your credit card bill? His mother’s bequest also perplexes me: Shouldn’t his marital philosophy extend to sharing windfalls as well as debts? Why not use some of his inheritance to solve this family headache?

If you’re willing to pool your money with your husband, talk about how it might work. But if you like keeping your finances separate, point out his illogic gently: “Honey, if all our obligations are shared, our earnings and bank accounts should be, too. But we agreed to handle money differently.” If he thinks about it, I bet he’ll agree.

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CreditChristoph Niemann

Two years ago, a close friend of 30 years told me she was going on a cruise with a man she had just met and with whom she had no physical relationship. (My friend is a talented professional with appalling judgment in men.) Normally, I refrain from making negative comments about the romantic choices of others, but I made an exception here. I wanted her to see that sharing a cabin and a bed with a man she had never slept with could be disastrous. She sent me an email denouncing my comments and has refused to communicate with me since. I valued our relationship tremendously. Is there a way to save it?

MIKE

Apparently, in the two years since your judgmental and condescending remarks to your friend, it hasn’t occurred to you to apologize. (You still persist in rationalizing your involvement in what was clearly none of your business.) So, no, I don’t see a way to repair your friendship. Write back to me, though, when you are prepared to respect your friend and grovel abjectly for mansplaining her vacation to her.

My relative’s husband, with whom I am close, has been writing a novel for many years. Recently, he began emailing me chapters of it. Unfortunately, I’m finding them very much a slog. I know he respects my judgment, and I suspect he’s waiting for my feedback (although he hasn’t asked for it). I would hate to hurt his feelings. What should I do?

ANONYMOUS

Fortunately, you don’t mention being a literary agent or an editor at a publishing house. So, it’s probably not necessary to share your amateur, unvarnished opinion and possibly hurt your in-law’s feelings. “Very much a slog” is not constructive criticism.

Find one thing you don’t hate about the chapters (the story, a character, his use of metaphor) and praise it sincerely. Then suggest a local writers’ workshop to help with the nitty-gritty of his draft. Why be the bearer of bad news (and possibly poison your relationship) when there are loads of professionals whose job it is to do precisely that? And on the bright side: You may be wrong!

I ran into a friend at a street fair. I greeted him, then turned to the woman he was with and said: “You must be his mother.” She replied: “Oh, no! We’ve met before. I must look terrible.” It was his wife. If only the ground could have swallowed me whole! I was filled with remorse. I called my friend that night to apologize. He told me about his wife’s surgery and chemotherapy. We are still friendly, but he is cooler to me now. Is there anything more I can do?

ANONYMOUS

Accidents happen! You aren’t the first person, and sadly, you won’t be the last, to blurt unfiltered thoughts. But calling your friend did little to repair the damage you caused. You hurt his wife. Send her a note apologizing for your error and asking her forgiveness. Make no excuse or revisionist statement about her appearance.

It’s unlikely that your note will make her feel terrific. Many times, we can’t undo the damage we’ve done. That doesn’t mean we should ignore it, though. A sincere apology, owning our mistakes, is a kindness to people whose feelings we’ve hurt.


For help with your awkward situation, send a question to SocialQ@nytimes.com, to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.

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