ASK ALICE — Advice for All

When a Friend Is in Financial Need

Dear Alice,

My husband and I are conflicted over a situation that does not seem resolvable, and, unfortunately, we have a history of getting angry whenever we disagree. One of my closest and oldest friends has fallen on hard times. Her husband lost his job, and she had to take a part-time job that pays very little. They have two small children, one of whom has special needs. They are in the process of selling their house and are looking for an apartment to rent. In addition to my being upset over her challenges, I am trying to convince my husband to help them financially.

I feel strongly about helping her family since she has always been a caring friend to me. My husband objects, saying there will be no end to her needs, and that we have our own family financial responsibilities. He worries about money and fears that we won’t have enough in the future. While we currently have no financial concerns, we are not able to support another family. I also work part-time but primarily take care of our two young children.

My husband sees me as an easy mark in general. In this situation he questions my respect for his hard work and my tendency to be a bleeding heart. How can we resolve this without harshness?

— Determined

Dear Determined,

Resolving such differences in a marriage is no doubt a big challenge, but one that can strengthen a relationship if handled well. This friendship is primarily yours, and clearly your husband does not feel the same sense of responsibility to help that you do. He also may not believe that getting into such financial relationships with friends is healthy. The fact that he sees you as a bleeding heart means that he views you as someone whose empathy becomes questionable and excessive. It sounds like he sees himself as the rational one in your marriage and you the emotional one.

The only way to settle this issue is to discuss it, agreeing that anger will not be part of any discussion that you have. By initiating this rule, you might be able to hear each other instead of using anger as a wall between you. Try having each of you speak for at least five minutes without interruption. Listen with an openness that is essential. Point out that you want to find a solution to this dilemma that is better than the way you have handled other issues in the past.

You each have opposing views of this situation, and your emotional investment in your friendship is strong. Think about other matters you have differed on in your marriage. How have you managed to resolve them? I assume that you ultimately reach a compromise that ends the tension. State at the beginning that there will be times in the future when one of you will prevail and the other won’t, depending on how important something is to either one of you.

When you make your case, be reasonable in what financial help you want to provide for your friend since there is no guarantee that she will ever be able to repay you. Be sure to acknowledge your husband’s hard work and contribution to your family’s financial stability in order for him to feel valued.

You might also want to consider doing something other than giving money to help your friends, since your husband is so opposed. Volunteer to babysit or drive their children to appointments or activities. These may be of great assistance to your friend, saving her childcare costs, and soothing your husband’s anxiety about the money.

Having open discussions will convey deep respect for one another. Through them, you and your husband are acknowledging your differences and will be on your way to finding conclusions you both find acceptable. Think of this approach as a way to create a “roadmap” for resolving future issues that you will face together.

— Alice