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About Us

Ask Sahaj: We’re struggling financially. Why aren’t my wealthy in-laws helping?

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August 10, 2023 – By Sahaj Kaur Kohli

Dear Sahaj: Recently, my husband and I moved to the United States to live closer to his parents (my parents died a few years ago). We have struggled to make enough income to cover our monthly expenses and are watching our limited savings deplete steadily.

I’m not a U.S. citizen and have been waiting for my work permit and Social Security number for close to a year. My husband only recently graduated from college and is not making a lot of money at his current full-time job. He also has a chronic illness that his parents know about, that’s costing us thousands of dollars to treat every year.

My husband’s parents both work part-time (self-employed) and together make a high six-figure salary, own a large property (without a mortgage on it) and donate five-figure sums to charity every year, including to disability, immigration and anti-poverty nonprofits.

I try to tell myself that it’s everyone’s right to choose how to spend their own money, but I can’t help but feel increasingly resentful that they don’t offer us financial support (apart from small sums as birthday and Christmas presents), when they’d be able to do so without any negative impact on their own standard of living.

I want to continue having a good relationship with them, but I’m struggling. Can you help me figure out how to let go of my resentment?

— Resentful

Resentful: While you are not entitled to help from your husband’s parents, your feelings make sense: You uprooted your life to be closer to them in a new country — and after losing your own parents. You are struggling and have access to family that could help you. But, here’s the thing: Your belief that your in-laws should be offering to help you and your husband is actually fueling your resentment and anger.

Anger and resentment grow in the weeds of what we think someone should do. So you’ll want to instead figure out what you can do.

To escape this anger-resentment loop you’re trapped in, explore what else you are feeling. Are you stressed or feeling unfairly treated as you navigate the U.S. work visa system? Are you bitter about how different your life is in the United States? Are you grieving your parents who might have offered help, or with whom you had a more honest relationship? Do you regret moving?

It’s important to honestly observe the totality of your feelings so you can recognize and separate them from each other, and from the relationship you have with your in-laws.

Your understanding of right and wrong is rooted in your own family and culture of origin but might differ from the expectations your in-laws have around how a family treats one another. In this case, continuing to have a good relationship with your husband’s parents will require you to focus on what you enjoy about the relationship and to see them as they are, not who you expect them to be.

Instead of keeping these emotions bottled up, talk to your husband directly about how you’re struggling. How does he feel about his parents not offering to help? Has he communicated his own concerns or thoughts to you? Has he talked to them? Have you two discussed how you make financial decisions, what is important to you financially, and what your goals are? If not, now is the time.

This will help you share what you are feeling while understanding how you and your husband can get on the same page to problem-solve. You can figure out what life in the United States looks like, and prepare realistically for how to navigate the hardships you’re dealing with together.

Getting practical help from a professional doesn’t have to come at a cost. There are options for free financial assistance. These include nonprofits such as GreenPathAdvantage Credit Counseling Service, or American Consumer Credit Counseling, or if you or your husband have a credit/debit card, your bank may offer free financial coaching as well.

Since your husband’s parents are generous in other ways, I am curious if they actually know that you and your husband are struggling financially? Money can be a tricky topic to discuss, but we can’t assume others should just know about our situation.

If you are genuinely concerned about your financial health, and you and your husband have discussed this together, then it may be beneficial to ask your in-laws for help. This can include a thought-out plan on what you are asking for, why you are asking for it, and how they can expect to be paid back.

I worry about how your financial issues are impacting you, especially since financial hardship is correlated with mental health struggles and lower life satisfaction. While I know you can’t self-care your way out of capitalism or systemic issues, it’ll be important to consider how these feelings and your current situation are impacting your wellness.

Make sure you are taking care where you can through movement, sleep wellness, expanded social support, being mindful of any substance use, and meditation in moments of stress.

You’re navigating a lot of change and uncertainty and it’s scary. By exploring your feelings more deeply and communicating honestly with your husband, you may find solutions to your resentment.

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