My spendthrift in-laws are draining my savings and sanity

Dear Troubleshooter:

I’m a company employee in my 30s. I married my wife more than 10 years ago. We live with my wife’s parents at her childhood home, which was rebuilt to make space for us.

To pay for the renovations, I sought to take a loan in my own name. But on the advice of the bank, I ended up adopting my wife’s family surname to take out the loan, with my father-in law as the guarantor.

As a family living under one roof, we agreed that loan payments would come out of my income, while my in-laws would cover the food and other expenses.

Flash forward to a few years later. I got a call from the bank, which said that I was behind on loan payments. I questioned my wife, who manages our household’s finances. It turns out she has been dipping into our coffers to cover her mother’s frivolous spending habits, as well as the family’s food and other expenses.

My wife’s older sister is another spendthrift, who has been living under the same roof with us since her divorce. My sister in-law receives money from my mother-in-law, who borrows money from my wife, which all comes out of my pocket.

I keep telling my wife this arrangement is not normal. My wife turns the tables, and says that I need to be nicer to her family.

This is money that I want to put toward our children’s education. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law are incapable of keeping track of their own finances — it drives me crazy, especially when these irresponsible in-laws take it upon themselves to discipline my own kids.

—J, Tochigi Prefecture

Dear Mr. J:

Everyone has their own idea of who constitutes “family,” if you define family as people you care about and whose happiness you wish for.

For you, your spouse and children are your family. For your spouse, however, her family means you, your children, her parents and sister. Frankly speaking, this perception gap is going to be unbridgeable.

For the time being, please have her parents uphold their end of the agreement they made when you rebuilt the house. You can even warn your wife and in-laws, “I will manage my own salary and won’t let my wife handle the money anymore if you can’t keep your promise.”

Your wife’s family probably thinks of you as an agreeable person, who will do what they say when they strongarm you. You need to show there are things that you can’t stand, and may even drive you to leave the home.

When you throw down the gauntlet, you should stress that you are doing it for the sake of your children’s future. Don’t show weakness. Don’t let yourself be swayed by pleading tears. Don’t get emotional but rather do what you need to do with a calm mind.

If the situation does not improve, you can prepare for a separation or divorce. Such steps may be costly in the short term, but remember, you are the one with a career. Please prioritize rearing your children. I’m on your side.

—Masahiro Yamada, university professor