Carolyn Hax: Advice

Carolyn Hax: Fix problem before cohabitating

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: I am in a great relationship with the man of my dreams. We have plans to live together, and we each make a comfortable living.

The problem is his family. None of them is very financially stable, and all of them depend on his help. I love that he is so generous but am bothered that they take advantage of him. It just seems terribly unfair that they are all a financial drain on him because they feel entitled to a lifestyle that they haven’t earned.

If we are going to be sharing our lives and our finances, I want to suggest that he set limits with them but am unsure how to do this without seeming like a horrible Grinch.

Anonymous

You basically just said you want to jump in and tell him how to deal with his family, and that’s not a great way to start off this next phase of your relationship.

For one thing, you do not, DO NOT, want to move in with him unless and until this is resolved in a way you both can embrace fully. Not tolerate, not bear — embrace.

And, you’re not going to get there by throwing out suggestions without understanding the situation fully. You need to understand why his family is this way. Why is Man o’ Dreams OK with this, assuming he is; what is his limit when it comes to sacrificing his (or your) comfort for theirs; when would he be willing to revisit this arrangement; who would be a higher priority to him than these family members, if there ever came a time when he couldn’t support everyone?

Would he ever help you out, as live-in partner? Would he only help in the context of marriage?

If he ever has a child, will the child come first?

Fairness is your biggest concern now because you have the luxury of no other problems. If and when those start to crop up, his feeling of a primary obligation to his family of origin could spell misery for any family he creates.

So get right at this: Say you’re struggling to understand the arrangement with his family. Ask him to explain more thoroughly. If you expect both of you to have some say in how the other deals with family, then you need to get that out there now.

Then you need to take whatever he says and give it time to prove true. People may want to behave a certain way around family, and promise they will, but nothing’s real until it survives the reality test. In this case, the test of the likely push-back from his family if he reduces their cash flow.

Again, don’t sign any leases or pool any resources or commingle any housewares till you’re both fully in agreement on how to handle this, now and in various possible futures.

And lose the “horrible Grinch” equivocating. Couples sharing a home are to some degree financial partners, too, so protect yourself by thinking like one and by not apologizing for it.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at washingtonpost.com.

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