I have been married to my wife for three years. She is from Montreal and moved to California to be with me. I never asked her about her finances and would assume that she would have some savings since she worked as long as I did. I thought we would grow our income and savings together, but instead I’m stressed over money as she does not help me with any expenses.
I bought a house before I even met her. She lived in that house with me and does not help me with the mortgage or property tax. I pay for everything and she only pays her own expenses and there are occasions when she cannot pay her own expenses, and asks me for help. I willingly help. I asked her about the $ 10,000 I had given her over the past three months for her expenses, and she does not even know what she spent it on.
I feel that I’m being taken advantage of and I’m not sure how to tell her in a nice way that she is not contributing financially to our marriage.
Lately she has been talking to me about wanting her name on the title in our cars and my house, which I paid for. I feel that I’m being taken advantage of and I’m not sure how to tell her in a nice way that she is not contributing financially to our marriage. Since I married her, my savings have shrunk as I have to pull out emergency money to help her and do not get an honest answer from her about her spending.
I just don’t know how to say it in a constructive way so she can see that it’s unfair for me to work so hard to save and pay for everything while she does not help me.
Michael in California
It took $ 10,000 to learn this lesson. In some ways, it’s a small price to pay.
Married couples don’t just spend that kind of money without sufficient cause and certainly without consulting each other first. The boundaries of your relationship have been tested, and it’s time to stand your ground. Whether one spouse works or both do, and whether the wife or the husband is the stay-at-home parent, it’s not OK to treat one partner like an ATM and spend money without any reason or (in this case) any memory of having spent it. The time has come to stop normalizing behavior that is anything but normal. (The man whose fiancée wanted him to buy a second home in her name only also comes to mind.)
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This is a partnership, and not an episode of The Real Housewives, a garish (if wildly popular) television reality show that frequently gives an unflattering and often times inaccurate portrayal of relationships in 2016 where the man is the sole breadwinner, and the women spend their time lunching and shopping. That is a fiction. In 2012, the latest year for which data are available, around 41% of mothers were sole or primary breadwinners, up from 16% five decades ago, bringing in at least half of family earnings, according to the Center for American Progress, a progressive nonprofit public policy research group in Washington, D.C.
None of this is normal for a husband and wife. Not according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, LeanIn.Org or McKinsey & Co., and a plethora of other nonprofits and government data. On the contrary, all of this is highly unusual.
Nearly 29% of families have a co-breadwinning mother who makes less than her husband but still contributes significantly to the family’s bottom line. And some 70% of mothers with at least one child under the age of 18 living at home participate in the labor force, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That’s a high figure given that (a) 57% of all American women participate in the labor force and (b) 41% of women in marriages where both partners work still report doing more child care and 30% say they do more chores, according to LeanIn.Org, a nonprofit institute founded by Facebook FB, -0.58% chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and management consulting firm McKinsey & Co.
I led with that data because I have received a few letters lately from husbands who feel like they’ve been given a raw deal in their marriages and divorces, and I want to reiterate that this is not the norm. I’m speaking here about the man whose wife (who was the higher earner of the two) wants to divorce him after 21 years and wants to take their joint savings account with her, and the man whose wife left him after two days of marriage. Letters to this column sometimes spur more letters with the same theme (even if it’s a different story) but I would hate this to indicate that it’s the norm. Research suggests otherwise.
You can say anything to anyone as long as you do it nicely. That doesn’t mean sugar-coating, it just means speaking about how you feel. Call it tough love. If you love your wife and you believe that she loves you — by her actions in the rest of your marriage, I should add, as it’s very easy to use those three little words — then tell her that $ 10,000 is a lot of money and she needs to account for it, as you are supposed to be a team, and you work hard for your money like everyone else. Arguments over money are the best predictors of divorce, a 2013 Kansas State University study of 4,500 couples found. But this should be an information-gathering exercise, first and foremost.
Some suggestions: “I was surprised and disappointed that you spent $ 10,000 and you have no reason to think you should account for it. Where are the receipts for your credit card and your bank statements? Why do you think it’s important to put your name on the deeds of this house? Do you think that’s a good idea given that we have not discussed your ability to contribute to this household?” Finally, you can say how recent events have made you feel: “I have felt hurt and confused by your actions.” But you get more information from questions than accusations.
If you are co-signing her credit card bills, it’s time to stop, and put a tighter rein on your accounts. None of this is normal. Not according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, LeanIn.Org or McKinsey & Co. On the contrary, all of this is highly unusual, and suspicious too. You need to know what you want from this conversation and what you are willing to risk to find out the truth. Your marriage is on the table, your wife’s reputation, the status quo and your ability to retire. But you need to honor this relationship by speaking freely and truthfully. California is a community property state and you can learn more about the implications of that here. For the most part, the assets you brought into the marriage, you take out of the marriage too.
In the meantime, you are slowly being stripped of your savings, and your dignity. It’s time to get them both back.
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