In a relationship with someone whose parents are abusing his credit. Please advise!
August 3, 2011 9:25 AM   Subscribe

In a relationship with someone whose parents are abusing his credit. Please advise!

I'm in a relationship with someone who wants to marry me. He's really kind, generous, sweet, and pretty overall fantastic.

His parents keep using his credit cards, in amounts that are unreasonable for him to pay off given his salary, and then promise to pay it off but then don't. He feels like his whole salary goes to paying off these credit card amounts.

He lives at home but this is normal in the country in which he lives (he's 25).

I am considering marrying him but this situation makes me uneasy. If I were to marry to him, then this behavior of his parents would have to stop 100%. But if I were the person to put an end to this behavior (he might do the dirty work of telling them himself, but they would know it was a shift in behavior (or in my eyes, a strengthening of backbone) resulting from me, and I think that we would have a terrible relationship as a result. Relationships with family are very important to me.

I am financially more stable than he is. That doesn't bother me- he could be dirt poor- but having intact credit to the extent possible is a moral imperative as far as I'm concerned. I'm also a little nervous that his parents might like me partially because I am more financially stable, and I don't want to also get sucked into this. I'm pretty sure this doesn't play into his motives so am not worried about that. I don't mind him supporting his parents but I do mind the 'blank checkbook' style support of furnishing a credit card without proper regard for the limitations of his own salary. I think that they should be deciding how much cash he can afford to give them, and then he should give them that amount of cash on a monthly basis, at best. But he should have some control over the situation so he doesn't get in over his head. I understand that in the country he lives in, that not paying a credit card bill may eventually land him in jail. (We live in the same country, but I am only here for a couple of years while he is here permanently, and is from here)

He was trying really hard to save some money for the future- not too much, maybe a couple of thousand dollars- and I was really proud of him- they had him spend it to pay off credit card monthly bills that they had promised to pay but then didn't. They then told him that on his salary it's silly to try to save. That attitude upsets me.

I care about him a lot. I don't want him in an abusive situation, and as a friend I want to support him. As a potential future wife, however, I don't want to bring myself into what I view as an abusive situation by marrying him.

A long time ago he took back these cards from his parents so that they couldn't do this anymore. However they've taken them back. I had previously advised him to cut up all credit cards except for one, and to shut off the accounts- but apparently he cannot do this until they are fully paid off which he can't do.

He's from an eastern culture- while my parents are but I was raised in the so called 'west.' so I moved out of my home when I was 18...and am understanding of family support but not to the extent of abuse.

Please advise:

1. What should he do? How can he do it so that it has as little connection to me as possible, so that his parents don't hate me as a result?

2. Is this a situation that, unless amicably resolved by some miracle, I should avoid marrying myself into? I love him, and do believe in marriage.

We talk about everything, and we will talk about #1 together, but #2 is not something I want to talk to him about until I have a better idea of how I feel and how to manage the overall situation. I don't want to hurt him- and any idea of us maybe not being together makes him really upset/sad.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
had previously advised him to cut up all credit cards except for one, and to shut off the accounts- but apparently he cannot do this until they are fully paid off which he can't do.

Can you elaborate on this? Because I've definitely heard that you can close an account for use (in other words, you can tell the bank you don't want the card to be used) without paying it off completely. You do still have to pay it off the way you normally would, but at least its use would be cut off.

I'm pretty sure you can do that (I'll let someone who's actually done that come in and explain more), and if so, then he just needs to close that one card, get a new one which he does not give to his parents, and that's that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:30 AM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Control of this situation lies entirely with him - if he doesn't want it to happen, he takes the cards away, cuts them up, contacts the credit card company and says that no further transactions are to be allowed to be processed. Otherwise he's complicit in his parents' use of the cards.

He's allowing this to happen. This speaks volumes about the likely dynamics of marrying into this family. It goes far deeper than them simply using his cards.
posted by essexjan at 9:31 AM on August 3, 2011 [35 favorites]

Tell him to get a new credit card acct number, and stop giving it to his parents.

It's as simple as that. If his parents need money, he can give them a check or cash. There's really no reason for them to have access to his line of credit.

Whether or not this is something that should deter you from marriage depends, in my mind, on whether or not he is able/willing to do the above.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 9:33 AM on August 3, 2011

However they've taken them back.

Taken? Or persuaded him to give them back?

I had previously advised him to cut up all credit cards except for one, and to shut off the accounts- apparently he cannot do this until they are fully paid off which he can't do.

If they're additional cardholders on the same account, he can have them taken off at any time. He can also call the CC company and ask them to close an account for any new transactions. He should do one or both.
posted by holgate at 9:34 AM on August 3, 2011

Yeah, he doesn't have to close the accounts if he can't, but he can get a new credit card number, remove his parents as authorized users, and not give them the new credit card. They should not have access to this.
posted by brainmouse at 9:35 AM on August 3, 2011

Does your boyfriend actually want to stop his parents using the credit cards in this way, or is it something you want him to want?
posted by jeather at 9:38 AM on August 3, 2011 [16 favorites]

Talk to him and get a better idea of his family dynamic.

If you're not okay with what he says, then it's a dealbreaker for marrying this guy. There are some things that you cannot ask your partner to change, and his relationship with his family is pretty much at the top of that list.
posted by schmod at 9:39 AM on August 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

If I were to marry to him, then this behavior of his parents would have to stop 100%.

This has to stop before you get married or it never will.
posted by mhoye at 9:41 AM on August 3, 2011 [12 favorites]

The magic phrase when calling the card providers is 'accept no new charges'. The existing spend on it will still need to be paid of course, but they cannot be used again.

I would seriously consider a pre-nup if you are going to marry him, and also do not become a joint accountholder with him on anything ever.
posted by asockpuppet at 9:43 AM on August 3, 2011 [4 favorites]

However they've taken them back.
I had previously advised him to cut up all credit cards except for one, and to shut off the accounts- apparently he cannot do this until they are fully paid off which he can't do.

Could you arrange for the cards to become "lost"? And then for your boyfriend to never quite get around to applying for new ones? That way at least the debt doesn't get much worse.
posted by alby at 9:44 AM on August 3, 2011

Do you want to spend your lifetime paying off your in-laws bills? No? Then don't marry this guy. Sorry. He chooses to allow them to destroy his credit. Yours is next.

What can he do? He can cut them off from his credit. Call the companies and have the cards closed to new charges. Tell your beau that you will not consider marrying him while this debt is outstanding. That gives him a clear picture that this behavior is unacceptable to you. In all likelihood he won't cut them off of his credit. Then you need to make a choice.

Don't marry into a situation that is unacceptable to you. His parents don't care about his credit or the financial burden they pose to their son. You are even less important to them.
posted by 26.2 at 9:54 AM on August 3, 2011 [12 favorites]

I've dealt with this sort of issue before, and I can tell you that this definitely has to be settled before you even consider marrying him. The two of you have to be a team on this, have to stand up to his parents together with no wavering. The situation I got into it was that my boyfriend's primary loyalty stayed with his parents, so he and I would agree on something, and then his parents would talk him into something else. He was torn between us and it wasn't good for either of us.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 9:57 AM on August 3, 2011

Assuming your boyfriend is okay with it, there is nothing you can do. Walk away, or accept that you will always be paying off a credit card that your inlaws charge on. (Are they charging more than your boyfriend would reasonably be paying his parents in rent?)

If your boyfriend wants to change this, then you can work with him so he can choose how he would best like to change things. He could cancel those cards. He could request a change in credit limit for those cards, so they cannot charge too much. He could give them cash as a gift. But he has to want to change this, and it sounds like it's more you than him.
posted by jeather at 10:03 AM on August 3, 2011

He lives at home but this is normal in the country in which he lives (he's 25).

He's from an eastern culture- while my parents are but I was raised in the so called 'west.'

I think you may be discovering that your boyfriend has different ideas altogether about what kinds of boundaries are reasonable between himself and his parents. He may be soft-pedaling those differences either out of a desire to avoid having to "choose" between you and his parents, or because he himself doesn't see how big those differences are (especially since he's culturally embedded, while you're viewing his family dynamics from a different set of cultural expectations.)

As a practical problem, "my parents are using my credit" has straightforward and simple solutions. "My boyfriend has a financially intertwined relationship with his parents which leaves him in uncomfortable levels of debt, which he asserts he has no power over" is a much harder nut to crack. Even if you "solve" the credit card issue, if your boyfriend ultimately believes it's his responsibility to provide his parents with money on demand, he could just wind up running up debt in his own name.

Common values are essential in marriage. Are your values similar enough? Are you even phrasing the issue the same way? Does he see this as a problem to be solved, or is he just expressing exasperation and placating you? Can you imagine taking on his values?

My own expectation, given what you've said, is that you'd be fighting about the money your boyfriend supplies to his parents for the duration of your marriage.
posted by endless_forms at 10:05 AM on August 3, 2011 [9 favorites]

He could establish a reasonable rent payment ...deduct from credit card debt, then continue paying rent when the credit card debt's been covered. Probably not culturally appropriate though.
posted by vitabellosi at 10:28 AM on August 3, 2011

- It sounds like you care about this more than he does. He could take care of it very very easily if he really wanted to.

- You can't have a good family relationship with the type of people who would do this to their son. Making their approval of you a primary concern is a fool's game - you can't win this without agreeing to be taken advantage of.

- You and your guy sound very young. Grown ups don't consent to this type of abuse or get caught up in this type of Dramaz.

Bottom Line: There is NO reason not to tell this fellow the truth, either he stops being a victim or you bounce. You do him no favors by shielding him (or his parents) from the consequences of his (their) choices.

I'm sure you love this fellow, but that is not enough. He needs to be safe partner for you. Currently, his life is not safe or stable.

Please get up the courage to walk away if things don't immediately change. You're right. You are likely being set up to get used. You'll know for sure if the BF takes control of his finances back to save himself and insure his future with you.

If he doesn't get a grip and make the right moves, extricate yourself from this situation. You can't change it, only he can.
posted by jbenben at 10:31 AM on August 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

Expect charges on the credit card to increase once you have married him.
posted by likeso at 10:49 AM on August 3, 2011 [8 favorites]

This isn't about credit cards. This is about having fundamentally different ideas of family relationships.

Classifying it as abusive probably isn't helpful because it misses, what i'm going to assume because you don't tell us what the cultures are, the cultural difference. In some cultures family finances are intermingled to a much greater degree than in "the west". His parents, and perhaps him, probably don't see this as a problem as much as you do.

There is a good probability that he fails to grasp how seriously you view this situation. It wouldn't be hard for him to practically hide the cards (or get new ones and then hide them if the parents have written down the numbers). What might be hard for him is being caught between you and his parents.

You need to have a serious discussion with him about this. If you marry him I would be concerned that the parents would become and even greater burden. I don't think supporting your parents is a bad idea but being in a relationship with someone who doesn't see a boundary between your finances as a couple and the family (including his parents) finances is going to be very difficult.

The saving issue is a good indication of this. The parents are already putting your BF into a situation where he prioritizes them over his future (and your future) and it could easily lead to a situation where you come after his obligation to them.

Of course a lot of this depends on what kind of partner you want. You should judge him on his actions not his words. For this to work he needs to set boundaries with his parents. For example he could give them a certain amount of his paycheck while living at home, but he also needs to be able to save some money and the parents need to know that this amount will, within reason, go down not up if he marries you because he'll need to redirect some money to helping with your joint expenses.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 11:13 AM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Avoid marrying him.

A parent did this to me, and it is an ongoing source of significant stress even after I dealt with it, reported the cards stolen, cut off contact with the parents...I still get things in the mail that I have to deal with because they persist in trying to use my finances to benefit. It is hard for me and hard for my partner.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:18 AM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

You can't marry him. Your credit will be linked to his.

It doesn't mean you have to break up. It doesn't mean you don't love him. But marrying someone has legal and financial implications. It's not just about romance and a home and children. It's also about your assets and liabilities and responsibilities.

As others have said, it is very simple for him to stop his parents' credit card abuse -- just call the credit card companies and freeze the accounts. Then he can talk to his parents about a plan to pay off the cards.

If you do move forward with the relationship and you're worried this will continue, I would strongly suggest keeping your finances completely separate from his.
posted by chickenmagazine at 11:19 AM on August 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

>I'm also a little nervous that his parents might like me partially because I am more financially stable, and I don't want to also get sucked into this.

I'm going to make a broad assumption that although raised "Western," a divorce might render you more "damaged goods" in some eyes than it does generally in Western culture, and therefore less likely to make a suitable second marriage. My apologies if this assumption is incorrect.

The reason I raise this is, if you marry this man and your choice becomes "divorce or forever subsidize his family," will you be willing and able to walk? Because his parents may be banking (literally) on the fact that you'll stay in the marriage, regardless.
posted by cyndigo at 11:19 AM on August 3, 2011

I don't mind him supporting his parents

Really? You really don't mind supporting his parents? Why can't they support themselves? What are they buying with his credit cards?

Perhaps this is a cultural misunderstanding on my part .. but this situation sounds so very bad that I think you should run run run. Marriage can be very hard at times. Even at the best of times. If you and your partner are in such vastly different places in terms of both finances and how you draw boundaries (or don't draw them, in the case of your partner) then this marriage will be a personal, emotional and especially a financial disaster for you.

Please. Stop for a second. Talk to someone you really trust, who loves you and has your best interests at heart. I am worried about you and I don't even know you. Please take a few deep breaths and please believe me that as bad as this situation is now, it is going to get much worse.
posted by Kangaroo at 11:33 AM on August 3, 2011 [5 favorites]

I'm so sorry you are in this situation but I'm afraid with this level of co-dependance on his side, there is simply NO WAY you can be sure that part of the love he has for you relates to how financially solvent you are.

I was your partner, My mother treated me a bit like this, and I'm ashamed to say that my first boyfriend was an attempt to get someone who could help me maintain her lifestyle. Luckily I then met my student husband who showed me how fucking bizarre it is to expect your children to fund your excesses. (We're 22 years married come Sept 4th thank fuck!)

you are so brainwashed when you belong to a family like this that it isn't even a conscious choice! I'm sorry, again but you cannot be certain that what you are required to do is complete this particularly vicious circle.
posted by Wilder at 12:25 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't mind him supporting his parents

What if one of you loses your job? What if one of you gets seriously ill? What if you want to have children? What if you want to send your children to college? What if your own parents have hard times? What if you have to postpone your own retirement to keep supporting them? I am willing to bet you'll mind it then.

This is a deeply dysfunctional, unhealthy situation that has the distinct potential to financially and emotionally drain you for the next 10, 20, 30, or 40 years. The fact that you love your boyfriend and he loves you will not, in and of itself, be able to counteract this.
posted by scody at 12:42 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

You (and your partner) probably don't want to end up like this OP.

Yeah, this is abusive, NOT normal. I bet his parents don't realize it, since where they are maybe it's more customary to have kids give money to the parents, but this is stepping over the line. Even if it's widely practiced where you are, I'm sure there are some families that can do this in a healthy way (like the kids give the parents what they can and the parents manage with what they get AND the kids have a say in how much they give the parents). Not sure if this is relevant, but do you know what the parents are using the money for? For a business they're managing badly? Luxurious goods? To pay off an expensive house? Is there any reason for why they need to use this much money? Maybe, for whatever reason, they need the money and don't like the idea of their son dictating the terms of how much he will give them. That changes the parent-child dynamic to him having power. So they just take however much they want, leaving him to deal with the problem of paying it off, because they can't. If his salary is big enough, he should just move out and cut off the credit cards. Of course his parents won't like the idea and will guilt him into staying and funding their purchases, because they won't benefit from that!

Ultimately, he's gotta get it into his mind that this is not ok and find his own way to stand up to them and stop this behaviour. He has to do it for himself and know the financial consequences he will incur if he doesn't. This is a good time to talk about how much it will screw up both your lives if you are married. And this is when you say, "If this is what our future will be, I can't marry you. Tell me if you are going to deal with this, or else we have to break up. It's unfair to put me in this position, and I can't do it." It's a tough choice for you, you love him, but if this is the life you don't want, then you gotta pull out. If you're good with calculating this stuff, show him some numbers. If the interest rate is %x, and the card is overspent by $x each month with only $x being paid off, how much debt will there be in 1 year? 5 years? Ask him what he's afraid of and come up with a plan, and how you will deal in the worst case scenario. If possible, watch Till Debt Do Us Part. Gail does a really good job of showing this to the couples.
posted by foxjacket at 4:36 PM on August 3, 2011

This is a bit late, but maybe getting an "eastern" perspective on this helps (I don't know how eastern my culture is compared to your boyfriend's, but it certainly is quite non-Western).

1. In my country, there is a much more fluid boundary between different family members' finances. There are literally millions of people working in shitty jobs in the West, leading non-lives that are completely consumed by the making-money aspect of things (living way too many in one room to save on rent, spending years eating canned beans in order to save money, never going out - basically, lives on hold whilst slaving away working 10 - 18 hours a day in the worst paid jobs imaginable). All of it done for the family back home, including parents, siblings, children, spouses. Those lucky enough to stay in the country of origin and get a well-paid job would without batting an eye support the rest of the family. Who is the supporter rotates with time. Since adulthood, I myself have variously been independent, then supported, then supporter, then supported again at great cost to my family, then supporter at great cost etc. Quite possibly, if the two of you were going through some dire straits in the future, your in-laws would cover all your needs in the most natural way possible, no questions asked, no pressure. The main philosophy here is that he/she who can, does, he/she who needs, gets.

2. Saying the above, it is not at all out of the question that this approach to family resources (not just financial, same holds for labour, emotional resources, time, whatnot) can be abused. You see children abusing parents, parents abusing children, spouses each other etc. However, when judging abuse it is very important to start from the norm of the respective culture.

I'll give you an example to illustrate these two points: I lived in a western country for 10 years, and upon returning home, I stayed with my parents for a couple of months until I sorted out my situation. My offer to pay rent, or participate in the expenses was met with outrage - to my parents, it was treating them like strangers, denying our family bonds, and a sign of huge disrespect. It took a lot of parlaying and shows of good will and love to assuage their fears that I was proposing to use them as a hotel.

Not paying = love/family ties/friendship/warm relationship, paying = coldness/lack of care and love/putting them in their place/treating them like an employee. However, if they had NEEDED money and I had had that money (but wanted to maybe save it or spend it for myself), and I had refused to give it to them (not borrow it, but give - they would give it back, though), this would be seen with very bad eyes, too. In fact, on the whole, and where reasonable, you are expected to see the need on your own and offer the money without facing the other person with the difficult situation of having to ask (this holds for any permutation of needy-giver).

As I suggested above, this system works only if it is premised on good will and decency on all sides, otherwise you do end up with an abusive situation, even by my culture's standards, and often it is more difficult to leave because it can easily masquerade as the cultural norm. In your particular situation it sounds like the bounderies in your own relationship with your boyfriend and in his with his parents are not clear. Even in my culture though bouderies exist - they are probably quite different from mainstream western boundaries, and sometimes maybe even mutually exclusive, but they DO exist. I think in a cross-cultural relationship it is of paramount importance to be very clear about what both your values are and why, where each person's boundaries are and where the relationship's boundaries with respect to other people are.

So, if I were you, I would set out to explore cultural differences as fully as possible, by talking to as many people as possible, seeing other people in a situation similar to you in action, maybe even read up on other people in your circumstances, research academic journals etc. You have to be as fully informed as possible, and so does your boyfriend, especially since your boyfriends credit card situation is probably symptomatic of wider issues. Decide then which are the things you are willing to give on (you might actually find some things enchanting, and definitely more congenial than your culture's ways - I certainly did, in a similar situation). Try to figure out - together - what the problem areas are, how you can work around them. And really really do some soul-searching on deal-breakers, if they turn up - in my experience, they never go away, and if you let them drag on, you will only provoke yourself and your boyfriend a lot of avoidable hurt and pain.

One last word: where I come from, the norm is that parents help children (mainly because, typically, it is the children who tend to be the less-havers for much of life). Parents tend to make HUGE sacrifices for their kids, and doing anything less is generally seen as degenerate parenting. Even when it is quite obvious that the child is doing financially better, the parents are still adamant about fulfilling their role as supporter. There are exception, mainly to do with the rural-urban divide (a child who earns well in a job in town will financially support his/her poor peasant parents) or with the age of the parent: once parents are old and/or disabled, they become the childrens' responsability (practically the roles are reversed, and the child becomes the caretaker - old peoples' homes are rarely an option, which is something else to consider). Your boyfriend might come from a different eastern culture, where financial support for the parents is the norm as soon as the child starts earning money, so you might have different waters to negotiate. But, if his culture is anything like mine (and you can find this out through research), the fact that his parents are drawing so heavily on his resources is alarming - he either is a wimp, or else you are a bit of a cash-cow, or both. Or he has not mastered the art of putting up boudaries yet - maybe you can do that together.

Good luck, and sorry this got so awfully long.
posted by miorita at 5:19 AM on August 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

Pitching back in just to point you to this thred. Might give you an idea of the type of problems you could face with different cultures... Do make sure what's waiting for you before you make any decisions.
posted by miorita at 5:29 AM on August 4, 2011

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