Some couples grapple with supporting family members

Supporting family members

People will sooner aid a sick dog lying on the sidewalk than to try to find shelter for a sick person. It's too much to deal with.”

Michael Zaslow

Some of us come with baggage in the form of relatives who, potentially, need a helping hand.

Not all people are created equal, nor do we all have the same opportunities, so it is not unusual to see families provide additional support to a family member when their life circumstances hit a rough patch.

Some have siblings with handicaps, mental health issues or drug use that may render them, at some point, in need of a place to live or aid in finding the social assistance they need to maintain a roof over their head and food in their stomach. It can be a bit like having another child. Some also have relatives who are perpetually a bit low on funds or need to be bailed out of jail.

I walk daily by homeless people, some due to mental health issues and some through drug addiction. I wonder about their families. Did they try to help, but just became exhausted or have they turned their back on them? What would you do if this was a part of your partner’s family?

It may be something you are just used to if it is your own family and it’s all you ever knew, but if this is your partner’s family, you may not want to be so charitable. It is important to look at your partner’s family make up to see if there is a member that may, somewhere down the line, require help from you both and discuss how this may play out and what you both are willing to do or give.

Look too at what diseases run in the family. This will give you an idea of what you may face down the line. If there is a history of Huntington's, your partner and their siblings each have a 50% chance of inheriting this disorder. It presents in middle age after people have had children. Would you be willing to have a sibling inflicted with this live with you or take over the care of their children?

Most young people have their parents still around and though it may be very far in the future, they may need your help down the line, much as they took care of you as a child. There are cultures where the parents will be readily taken in and others where a care home is found. Though this may be decades away, it is good to see how you each feel on the topic. There is little worse than having an in-law you abhor suddenly sitting at your breakfast table every morning.

Do not assume you will each only look after your own family members. You may find you take in a family member, but it is your partner who ends up dealing with him or her. The wife drives her mother-in-law to doctor appointments, the husband has the credit to co-sign a loan for his wife’s brother. If, or when, things go badly, it then becomes an issue between the wife and husband.

My mom was diagnosed with cancer only when it had reached the stage where nothing could be done. She didn’t have long to live. At that moment, the most important thing for me was to spend as much time as possible with her.

I sat at her bedside and I slept on a cot at the foot of her hospital bed. I did this for the two weeks she had left. Is this something your partner would support you doing? Would they take on childcare and put up with the loss of two weeks of income?

Some of this may seem like an easy yes, but what if the family member is one you have had a troubling past with?

It is always easier said than done. You may find after opening your home that the dynamics are far more irritating than you imagined or harmful to the dynamics of the family unit. Maybe your brother-in-law starts hoarding in your home. Maybe your niece is stealing from your wallet. Maybe you can’t keep up with bills because the loan you co-signed is not being repaid.

It is always good to have the ‘what if’ conversations with your partner. There may be a very different desire to help and if you can get on the same page before there is an issue, you will be able to better navigate any storms.

Renee Cesar has a degree is psychology and writes a blog, Happiest Ever After, that focusses relationships.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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