Q: Our daughter and her husband are struggling financially. We'd like to help them out, but we don't want to set an unhealthy precedent or violate the integrity of their marriage. How should we handle this?
Jim: Focus on the Family's counseling team deals with this question often. Their advice is that if you have the financial ability and the desire, it's actually more beneficial to give to your children while you are alive than to leave them a large inheritance -- provided, of course, that you do it wisely and follow some basic guidelines:
-- Give with no manipulative strings attached. If you're trying to change an adult child's behavior by what you do for them financially, you're being manipulative. This poses a challenge for some parents and grandparents. Instead of giving money freely, they may want something in return: phone calls, visits during the holidays, license to "meddle" in their children's marriages, etc. Such expectations run contrary to the spirit of true generosity.
-- Transfer wealth gradually, without changing their lifestyle dramatically. Consider helping them out with the cost of necessary items, such as appliances, rather than luxury items. If they're buying a home, you might also think about giving them a monthly gift to help pay down the principal on their mortgage.
-- Be sensitive to your son-in-law's feelings and bear in mind the importance of his role as provider. Don't give the young couple so much money that he feels he isn't needed.
-- Don't rob your children of the ability to learn valuable life lessons. It's hard for more affluent parents to watch their kids struggle with problems that could be solved with a check. But it may not always be healthy for you to intervene. Struggling through a "lean" season may actually help them develop character and strengthen their marriage.
Q: My husband just told me that he's been having an emotional affair with a co-worker. We're trying to work things out, but I'm confused and having a hard time forgiving. Is an emotional affair just as damaging as a physical affair?
Juli: In some ways, an emotional affair is even more difficult to deal with than a physical affair because it is so ambiguous. Even the most basic question, "What defines an emotional affair?" is not an easy one to answer. While your husband did not share his body with another woman, he shared thoughts and feelings that should be reserved only for you. That hurts and feels like a betrayal!
As difficult as it is to forgive your husband and move on, it is a good sign that he confessed the affair to you. By doing so, he recognizes that he has crossed boundaries that he should not have crossed. Instead of rationalizing his actions, he is accepting responsibility.
To move forward, you need to follow many of the same steps involved in recovering from a physical affair. Forgiveness is certainly one of those steps. To forgive your husband means to give up your right to punish him for his past choices.
You also need to address the trust issue that was broken between you. How can you know that he will not continue in an emotional affair or begin another one? Together, you need to talk about boundaries that will protect your marriage. Reading Jerry Jenkins' book, "Hedges," would be a great place to start.
Finally, work together as a team to be sure that you are meeting each other's emotional and sexual needs within your marriage. Couples become more vulnerable to affairs when those needs are neglected.
(Submit your questions to: ask@FocusOnTheFamily.com)