Relationship Connection: My brother-in-law demands a gift exchange I can’t afford


My brother-in-law has included me in the family gift exchange with a $50 “limit.” He and his family have just moved back to the U.S. from Australia so this is my second time dealing with him at the holidays.

I was never asked if I wanted to participate so I sent a polite email to him asking if I could opt out as I was strapped for cash.

I received an email back stating that times are hard for everyone and this was for fun. He proceeded to tell me that it’s a family tradition and he wouldn’t let me opt out. I was shocked and then explained, again, that I had a very small gift budget and wanted to send any extra money I had to my other brother and his family since they are dealing with my sister in law’s breast cancer. I was sure that would be the end of the discussion.

It wasn’t. The response from him was that he didn’t know what to say and I’m making too big of a deal out of this.

My husband is angry with me for saying anything in the first place but I feel like I’m being pressured into this and now I resent the whole thing. I’m dreading our weekend with the family next month and I don’t know what to say/do without being the family witch. I’m just sick over this and I don’t know what to do. Can you guide me a little? I think I need to see a therapist with my husband. Until then, some advice would be appreciated.


I’m curious who put your brother-in-law in charge of managing sibling budgets. You do not have an obligation to explain your financial situation to your brother-in-law and you most certainly have no obligation to participate in a “fun” family gift exchange.

It sounds like it’s important to support your family in ways that are meaningful to you. You don’t need anyone’s blessing to do that. I encourage you to briefly tell your bossy brother-in-law that you’re not going to participate this year in the gift exchange – without giving any reasons or excuses. You’re an adult and don’t need his blessing to opt in or opt out. They can adjust the gift-giving arrangement between the other family members.

It also appears that the most difficult part of this for you is the potential misunderstanding you’ll face from your other family members as you opt out of the gift exchange.

Anytime we set boundaries or limits with our family members we will risk being misunderstood. Doing what’s best for your own little family will often conflict with what’s best for the larger family. This is where you have to dig deep and have the courage to stand still with the truth of what’s best for you, your husband, and children. They are your first priority.

John Eldredge, author of “Wild at Heart,” teaches that most of us are afraid to let our strength show up because others don’t usually have a place for it. His advice? “’Let people feel the weight of who you are and let them deal with it.” Your love for your family members isn’t up for debate or discussion.

Seeing a counselor to help you and your husband heal from the impact of how you handle family boundaries is a good idea. I’m guessing that this isn’t the first time something like this has happened to you, which could create some challenges for your marriage. This is one way you can turn back to your marriage and protect those closest to you.

Stay connected!


Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.


Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2012, all rights reserved.

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