Ron McMillan is author of three bestselling books, Influencer, Crucial Conversations, and Crucial Confrontations.
Dear Crucial Skills,
My husband and I are friends with a couple who is experiencing financial difficulty related to a job loss. When they confided in us that they would be moving out of their rented home and looking for a small one-bedroom apartment, we told them they could live rent-free in our home for six months.
Since then, we have seen their poor money management and given them budgeting software, but they continue to spend without focus. I recently asked if they were caught up and able to start saving, but they were evasive and only said “almost.” My husband is reluctant to tell them how to manage their money but I feel like unless they get their act together, they will not be able to get out of debt. They desperately need financial counseling. What do I do?
I applaud you and your husband for your caring outreach to a couple in need. They’re lucky to have such kind and good friends. It appears the struggle with their finances is continuing in spite of your kindness and willingness to help.
Some of the most painful relationship problems I have personally wrestled with are those where a friend or loved one is unwilling to make the changes needed to keep from hurting or destroying themselves.
When we see loved ones struggling with severe problems, whether it’s a vile drug addiction or rudderless wandering after dropping out of college, we eventually have to recognize that we can’t force our opinions, actions, or experiences on others. They are free to live their life as they choose.
That being the case, you do need to make a critical decision whether to disengage from your friend’s problem and hope they take corrective action soon, or to initiate an effort to help them solve their problem. You should not allow the current living situation to continue. To allow them to continue to stay rent free beyond the agreed upon six months would only empower their weakness and contribute to their problem.
I encourage you to have a crucial conversation that might go something like this, “Friends, we invited you to live rent free in our home for six months and I want to remind you that there are three months remaining to make other arrangements.” This statement clarifies your expectations and will help to make sure they don’t assume the deadline will be extended.
Next, offer to be a resource with an invitation, “We have given you budgeting software and would be happy to help you set it up or to give you any advice and suggestions. We would also be willing to suggest a financial advisor who could consult with you regarding your situation.”
If they take you up on your invitation to help, be clear about what you’re willing to do. At this point, you must balance your desire to be of assistance with the dangers of enabling their problem with money management to continue. Decide in advance what your limits are. Are you willing to give them money? Are you willing to loan them money? Are you willing to extend their stay? Once you have determined your course of action, make your offer to help part of your problem-solving conversation.
If they don’t accept your invitation to help, move to action by deciding who does what by when. “If you change your mind, let us know. Also, could we meet the first of next month? At that time, can you tell us what your plans are going forward?” This will create clear accountability and firm up mutual expectations.
The key to effective problem-solving is to make sure you follow up. Holding them accountable to your agreement becomes the mechanism to help them solve their problem while also making sure their problem doesn’t become your problem.
When we are dealing with friends and family, we often want to help in the worst way. Sadly, we often choose the worst way to help. We protect others from the natural consequences of their actions. For example, we offer money when their money management skills are the problem. These enabling actions only ensure that their problems will continue.
Helping in productive ways and holding others accountable to agreements is the best foundation for needed life changes. Have the courage to be a friend and not an accomplice.
All the best,
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