My sister is married to a guy who recently inherited a lot of money. She doesn’t seem to care that much — she has a good job and has always been pretty frugal — but he talks about it nonstop. I think he means well and wants to be honest about his situation, plus he’s very generous and always wants to pay for family things like dinners out. Which is nice, but sometimes it’s super-awkward and kind of braggy. Like, I am tired of hearing about how “lucky” he is and how he plans to invest his money.
I sense that my sister feels uncomfortable with him talking so much about their finances too, and my parents don’t know how to respond either. We were raised solidly middle-class (my parents both work in education, and I’m a physical therapist), so this just isn’t stuff we’re used to and it’s creating a weird dynamic. I’m kind of dreading Thanksgiving this year for this reason, and I’m afraid this might create a bigger rift in the long term. Is there anything I can say to get him to stop without hurting his feelings or my sister’s?
That does sound annoying. But I can also understand your brother-in-law’s behavior. It seems as if he’s trying to process a big change in his life by talking about it, which is healthy. The problem is he doesn’t read the room first or notice if he’s blathering on and making people uncomfortable (or bored).
He might also have gotten the memo that honesty and transparency around money are good things. And that’s true! But is it your job to be his sounding board as he wraps his head around becoming a Rich Person? Of course not. He needs to be more aware of how his oversharing affects other people, specifically you and your family.
To figure out the best way for you to handle this, I talked to Amanda Clayman, a financial therapist based in Los Angeles. She pointed out that many people share too much in a misguided attempt to connect. If that’s the case, shutting him down could backfire and push him (and your sister) further away. “When you have a relationship with someone and a big thing happens to them, it’s usually not fair to say ‘Please keep that to yourself,’” she explains. “Your goal might be to set a boundary, but I think it’s actually an opportunity to get closer and clear the air.”
With that in mind, try to engage with him on an emotional level the next time he raises the topic. “You could say something like, ‘I notice that your finances are on your mind a lot. How is that going for you?’ To try to dig into the feelings underneath all of the talking.”
If that doesn’t help, Clayman suggests redirecting the conversation toward how it makes you feel. For example: “If I inherited that kind of money, I would probably be anxious about it. I even get anxious listening to you talk about your situation.”
Of course, he could mistake these overtures as an invitation to talk even more about his money, which is obviously not what you want. In that scenario, you may need to be more straightforward: “I sometimes feel uncomfortable when you talk about money. I appreciate you wanting to be honest about your situation, but I’m finding it hard to relate to it. Would it be okay if we talked about something else? I care about you, and I’d be a lot more interested in hearing about [insert something else in his life].”
You may be tempted to talk to your sister about this, but exercise caution — chances are she’s just as flummoxed as you. “You don’t want to put your sister in a tough position of feeling caught between the two of you,” says Clayman. “If I were you, I’d address your brother-in-law directly, maybe with your sister present so she can weigh in if she wants.”
You also mentioned that your brother-in-law pays for a lot of things, which can create an uneasy dynamic, especially when your parents are involved. The best way to nip that awkwardness in the bud is to be up-front about who’s paying for what beforehand. In my experience, saying something as simple as “It’s my treat tonight” can head off weird scuffling when the bill comes.
It’s hard to empathize with someone who has lucked into a bunch of money, and I’m not saying you should feel sorry for him. But know that changes in financial status can be very destabilizing, says Clayman. “It’s disruptive to our identity,” she explains. “Humans are wired to belong to groups, and when something happens that could change your standing in your group, it can bring on fear of isolation or rejection.”
For that reason, you may need to be gentle with your brother-in-law, and you probably can’t expect him to stop talking about his money overnight. But we all drive our families nuts sometimes, especially these days. Offering him some grace and patience would be a nice thing to do — for your sister, too. And maybe someday he’ll be able to return the favor.