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Here we go!
Thanks Teresa for asking today’s question about family debt:
I have a relative with huge credit card debt who is only paying the interest due. In the meantime unnecessary purchases and ‘treats’ such as restaurant dining are daily instead of saved for special occasions. Everything regarding why this needs to stop has been said. Any advice? The relative reacts as if you are waving a red cape and trying to provoke anger if you say anything they don’t want to hear.
I’m sorry to hear you’re going through this! Believe it or not, this is a HUGE problem and I get asked this question all the time.
The first thing I want you to realize is that you care. By that I mean you care enough to want to help them. It sounds like you know what they need to do (e.g. pay more than the minimum due, think about purchases before you make them, etc.), but that’s the last thing this relative wants to hear.
Stop Feeling Like You’re Responsible For Their Family Debt
It might be hard for you to hear this but I have to say it: stop feeling like you have this responsibility to help that person. I get it, you want to help them. It’s hard to step away from a situation like family debt when you’re so close to someone.
I was in this situation once and had to back off because it got so bad. It got to the point where this person stopped talking to me and our relationship hasn’t been the same since.
When someone is asking you for advice, they may not really be asking you for advice. Most of the time, they just want to be heard. This person sounds like they just want a shoulder to cry on or someone to listen to them. So that’s all you do, listen. You can ask questions about how they feel, but don’t start giving them advice.
A lot of the time, people who are in debt are going through a grieving process and start teling people as part of their healing process. By telling you what is happening to them, they may be testing the waters. As in, they want to see if people will judge them. He or she is probably really scared and feeling ashamed, so he or she may interpret you giving advice as you judging them.
Assess Whether It’s Motivation or Skills
In the future, if you come across a similar situation, first assess whether they have a skills-based problem or a motivation-based problem. A skills-based problem means they know they’re in debt, but don’t understand the nuances of getting out of debt. Maybe they don’t understand what compound interest means, or how to create a budget that can work for their lifestyle.
A motivation-based problem is one where they see themselves as the victim. This means that they know what they need to do, but they just don’t do it. Maybe they’re feeling overwhelmed or not in control of how much they can make.
If you’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a skills-based problem, you can try to offer bits of advice here and there. You can share a story of someone who went through the same situation as a form of advice.
If it’s a motivation-based problem, that person will never want to hear what you have to say. Again, don’t feel like you need to be responsible for their problems. Offer them a shoulder to cry on if you’re willing to provide emotional support.
I hope those two suggestions work for you. To everyone else, if you find yourself in this situation, leave me a comment below and let me know if any of this helped or if you have more questions.