DEAR CAROLYN: Do I have a right to be upset by my mother-in-law’s monetary gifts?
Occasionally, my mother-in-law will send my husband a check, made out solely to him. I find out about it if I get the mail and specifically ask what my mother-in-law sent. I suspect there have been occasions where money has been sent and it was their little secret. I feel shut out, and this disturbs me.
We really don’t need the money, but my husband likes to gamble and usually spends it at the casino, so there is nothing to show for it. My mother-in-law has a family member with a gambling addiction, so I know she would not approve of this, but she is unwittingly enabling this behavior. I’d rather the money be spent on something tangible, but I don’t know if I even have a right to be upset. It’s her money, and she’s giving it to her son. Should I just butt out?
This is a note to all parents of adult children – your generosity might be undermining your kids’ relationships in ways you can’t imagine. Thank you very little.
Not Particularly Grateful
DEAR NP GRATEFUL: If you think the only thing keeping spouses from sharing parental windfalls is an extra name on the “pay to the order of” line, then who’s the enabler here?
A check made out to your husband can only undermine your marriage if he chooses to gamble it away in secret.
So, yes, be upset at your husband. Even if you believe 100 percent that the money is hers and therefore his, you still have every right to your say: “Husband, it bothers me that we never talked about how we should handle these checks from your mom. If you believe they’re yours alone, then I don’t necessarily disagree, I’d just like to be part of that decision.” Even if the money is “mine” or “yours,” its designation as such needs to be “ours.”
This is where you also discuss your discomfort with the gambling.
You don’t need the money now, but if you ever do, then you don’t want that to be the first time you have the yours-mine-ours conversation. Any responsibility for any discontent – with his secrecy, his gambling, this ongoing maternal pipeline – falls smack in the middle of your marriage. Making mom-in-law the target of your resentment is just grabbing the easy way out, not to mention flatly unfair.
DEAR CAROLYN: I am going to a wedding in a month with my wife of 25 years. The three-day function will have many people from my past.
Two of my past high school/college flames will be attending. My wife doesn’t know them, nor of my past relationships with these women. They have never come up in any past discussions. My wife is aware they will be there, but believes they were simply friends without benefits. I have not been in touch with them since the 1970s.
I am assuming my intimate past with them will not come up, but one never knows as the booze will flow.
Should I tell her before we go, or hope that discretion will hold out?
Wondering In Atlanta
DEAR ATLANTA: I know using your sincere request for advice as a cautionary tale is exploitive and unfair, but I’m doing it anyway:
If there’s something you feel you just can’t tell your potential/new romantic partner for fear of scaring the person off, please take that as a sign that it’s exactly what you need to discuss with this person. Or, in this case, needed to have discussed 25-plus years ago. That a subject seems untouchable is usually an indicator of its importance, at least to one of you.
There’s a much more straightforward truth in play here, too: Booze can’t unloose secrets you don’t have.
If instead you choose to paper over, whitewash and downplay, that’s when you end up wringing your hands with dread over an imminent encounter with someone you haven’t laid a hand on since half a lifetime ago.
The options remaining to you at this point, with the half-truthful foundation in place, are not only limited, but also needlessly charged. You can either tell her about these women (“Remember when I told you about those two female friends of mine? Well, we, uh …”), or you can decide that conversation between two middle-agers is too ridiculous to have and instead let the weekend play out.
I won’t steer you to one or the other – not because I don’t have an opinion, but because your fate seems already sealed. A spouse who will flip her lid over your having touched! other! women! before her! will do so whether prepped or ambushed, and a spouse who accepts there were others before her, duh, will have her duh-reflex engaged whether informed in advance or in weddias res. Sometimes you just have to hope you married well – and have fewer drinks than your date.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.