Ask Amy: Mother-in-law's loan creates debt for life

March 11, 2014 

Dear Amy: I've been married to my husband for almost 11 years. This is my third marriage and his second.

Due to some not-so-smart choices on my part, I was not financially secure when I married my husband. He did not mind and said we would work on improving my credit together.

When we bought our home, I could not be on the mortgage because of a bankruptcy. His mother was generous enough to co-sign the loan with him. I am grateful to her. However, my husband believes that I don't behave gratefully enough toward her and also that, because of her generosity, I should consider myself "in her debt" until she dies.

She and I do not have a great relationship; she brings her dog to our house and makes no effort to keep it from leaving "presents" on our hardwood floors. She believes that her son should do nothing around the house when he gets home from work because my work "isn't that strenuous" (I am a high school teacher). My husband helps around the house and never complains about it.

Is there a better way to tell my husband that I am grateful but I do not believe I owe her a life debt?

— No longer beholden

Dear No Longer: Your mother-in-law — not your husband — is the one who needs to hear this from you. It is obviously not good for your relationship to have her name on the note for your house. Some families could handle this boundary issue, but yours obviously cannot. Your husband could ease this dynamic, but he chooses to inflate it instead.

You can solve this problem by refinancing your home, getting your mother-in-law out of your marital finances.

After 11 years of marriage and working, I hope your credit has been restored to the extent that you can figure out a way to pay off your mother-in-law (if she has made any actual investment other than assuming the risk of co-signing the note). If necessary, you should take a second job to achieve this.

Then you can sincerely express (yet again) your gratitude toward your mother-in-law and joyfully let her know that she is now off the hook.

Dear Amy: You told "Broken" that "to stop caring (about the guy who dumped her) is the best revenge." You're wrong. The best revenge is a life well-lived. Broken needs to go out and build a life so full, rich and good that the guy who broke up with her will kick himself up one side and down the other for being stupid enough to dump her.

— Been there, done that

Dear Been There: Well said.


You can contact Amy Dickinson via email at, follow her on Twitter @askingamy or "like" her on Facebook.

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