Dear Emuna,

My married daughter and her family are struggling financially and I have no resources to help them. Her husband works and has a steady income. He also does other things on the side. My daughter is a therapist but hasn't quite enlisted enough clients. Each month they get deeper into debt and now the bank has stopped them from withdrawing any cash. They have five children and one on the way. I give them money from time to time but it's not much and not enough. I just don't know what to do for them. It is, of course, putting more strain on their marriage. Any advice?

Worried Mom

Dear Worried Mom

You are describing a tough situation, but not an unusual one. In today’s challenging economy, many young (and older) couples are struggling. Many parents are helping to the best of their ability. And, like in your situation, it’s frequently “not much and not enough.”

First, some suggestions for you. Don’t judge. No matter how hard they try, good jobs or well-paying jobs may just not be available. Chances are, it’s not their fault.

It’s not your responsibility. “I just don’t know what to do for them.” There probably isn’t much you can do for them other than being understanding and supportive. This is something they have to work through on their own.

If they would write me, I would certainly try to reassure them that it is not a condemnation of them, their abilities or talents, but rather the circumstances of their life and today’s world. They shouldn’t feel a lack of self-worth and they shouldn’t blame each other.

There are numerous issues in today’s society that put many young couples in a precarious financial position. On top of that, Jewish understanding is that the Almighty determines the exact amount of money we will have for the year at Rosh Hashanah time – to the penny. Whatever we have, financial or otherwise, is exactly what the Almighty wants us to have.

Let me reiterate. They should try to avoid exacerbating the situation by taking their frustrations out on each other.

All couples face challenges – financial, jobs, sickness, children. They can either strengthen their marital bond or, God forbid, damage it. It’s a choice.

If they are having a hard time lifting up to a more positive way of interacting, or lack the tools, they should see a marital therapist before it’s too late.

Often the therapists at Jewish Family Service or other non-profits have sliding scales or are even free of charge in order to help young couples. But mom, it’s not your place to suggest this. They need to come to the realization on their own and make some changes and choices.

Husband’s Ex Wife

Dear Emuna,

I recently married a divorced man whom I love very much. He and his ex have both moved on and I do not feel he harbors any romantic feelings towards her in any way. He is very committed to me and our marriage. My issue is the area of intimacy. I do not know details of his intimate life with his former wife, nor do I want to. I have no doubts he wants to be with me, not her. Yet in our most intimate moments, I can't help but imagine that aspect of his past, and this is because I know her and interact with her regularly. They had a child so she will be in our life forever. Will this get better with time, or is there anything I can do to move past this?

Tormented Second Wife

Dear Tormented,

This question is really outside my area of expertise and I think that perhaps a professional with more experience in dealing with this type of challenge would be more helpful to you.

But I will share one important idea that is relevant not just to this challenge but to many of the situations we face in life. It is a fundamental tenet of Jewish philosophy that we can control our emotions and our thoughts, that we have the ability and the discipline to change what we are thinking or how we are responding.

If the shoe were on the other foot and your husband kept thinking of his ex – or any other woman for that matter! – you would probably get angry and advocate some self-control.

What’s sauce for the goose…You can control your thoughts and your imagination. Think about something else as you prepare to be together. Set an intimate mood. Use the tools you need to relax. And be determined to banish her from your bedroom.

You can do it – just like you can banish other destructive thoughts. The choice is really up to you. But I think you need to act soon if you want this marriage to succeed.

Causing Pain

Dear Emuna,

I have a friend, not my best friend but a friend nonetheless, who just celebrated her 40th birthday. She has been married for more than 20 years to a warm, loving and supportive man. Although she puts up a good front, she is in a lot of pain over their inability to have children. Believe me they have tried everything. I recently organized a lunch to celebrate her big day and was dismayed and mortified by how it turned out. The conversation revolved around everyone’s children – their joys and their challenges. I felt that instead of giving her a present for her birthday, I actually caused her pain. What should I do? Call to apologize?

Signed,

Help

Dear Help,

That’s a hard one. I think that calling and apologizing will just put the subject front and center again (not that it isn’t always on her mind anyway) for no productive gain. It might make you feel better but I don’t think it will help her. And she’s the one you want to help, right? The goal is not to assuage your guilty conscience.

There are two opposing needs here. On the one hand, everyone wants to behave normally around their friend. The relationship becomes artificial and awkward – for both parties – if certain topics are taboo.

On the other hand, you want to be sensitive to her needs and not, God forbid, cause her needless pain.

Particularly since it was her birthday, I do think it was incumbent on everyone there to err on the side of the latter.

But it’s done. You can’t really make it up to her – although perhaps a private lunch with just the two of you that’s actually focused on her might be nice.

The best form of teshuva (repentance) I think would be to work on strategies that would prevent a repeat occurrence of this type of situation – for her or anyone else – in the future.

Think of lines that would change the topic. Plan a strategy. Would it be more effective to caution guests ahead of time in the future? Should you come prepared with subjects for discussion, questions to ask, even games to play?

For this friend’s sake, and for the sake of all your friends who each have their own individual struggles, the biggest kindness would be to be prepared for the future so that you – and she – aren’t trapped in a similar situation again.