“My partner and I have been together for about 10 months and living together for the past two. The difference between our finances and earnings is beginning to grate. He makes quite a bit more than me and has a lot of savings. I make a decent living but have had to be frugal in ways that he is not used to. I’ve noticed my debt increase as our relationship progresses: I try, in vain, to keep up with his lifestyle (expensive dinners out, the latest technology, clothes…). Now with the annual gift-buying frenzy upon us, I’m really feeling the burn and I find myself resenting his spending. How can two people live happily together when one is making so much more than the other?”
Money is only really matched by sex as a great relationship pitfall. You’re wise to try and intercept this before you become resentful (or broke) in your attempts to keep up with your Daddy Warbucks.
It sounds like your increased spending, and lifestyle mirroring, has been an attempt at masking this very big, and perhaps scary, issue. So first things first: Name your concerns with your guy. Money issues, like sex issues, just get worse when they are ignored. Remind your man that you’re still Benny from the Block and that this kind of spending has left you feeling irresponsible and out of control. Simply naming that this difference exists takes you both out of shopping la-la land and places you firmly back in our debt-loving capitalist world.
Having a wealthier partner can sometimes feel like a blow to the ego. So make sure that you aren’t perpetually comparing yourself to him and his friends and instead assert boundaries that respect your need to stay out of debt.
Finding common ground may require some changes in how you spend time and money together. Examine whether you can have quality time as a couple without splurging. Get creative — plan dates or outings which don’t involve spending. And accumulating material things shouldn’t be anyone’s main source of enjoyment or connection with their partner.
Scaling back might be difficult for your partner who is used to spending as he pleases. Essentially, he will need to compromise a little if he wants a healthy relationship with someone who isn’t raking it in the way he is. Keep in mind that money is usually both very personal and has a strong history in our lives — so try not to judge one another for each other’s spending habits or financial status.
Despite everything I’ve just said, it would also be silly to not benefit from each other’s unique assets. For example, if he can spring for an occasional nice dinner out and your flexible work schedule allows you to carry more weight around the house… that is not a bad thing! You’ll have to work together to ensure that the omnipresent holiday muzak doesn’t put you in a spending trance you’ll regret come 2011.