Some couples find finances difficult to discuss when she is better off than he is. According to the website FiveThirtyEight, 40% of women now earn more than their husbands.
In the July/August 2019 issue of Psychology Today, Esther Perel, a New York psychotherapist, said that women’s liberation has freed them from dependence on men. “But it hasn’t prepared women for men’s dependence on them. Women often have a lot of resentment when they find themselves responsible in the way men have for generations.”
In an October 2013 blog post, “Why Wealthy Divorced Women Don’t Remarry and Men Do” dating coach Evan Marc Katz wondered whether women might rethink their expectations for the man’s financial contribution to the relationship. This makes sense especially when all other aspects of the relationship are equal. After all, many wealthy men remarry to women who are not as financially well off, and why? Companionship, compatibility, and physical attraction. If a wealthy man is happy to pick up the tab for trips and dinners, why aren’t wealthy women?
A Couple of Fictional Cases
Here are a couple of cases to illustrate the dynamic. I asked Licensed Mental Health Counselor Ken Donaldson (over dinner one night), his thoughts on how similar couples could handle the feelings that can come up in such situations.
Alan and Donna: Donna is a 53-year-old professor who became disabled after an accident. Her disability is not evident to most people, but at any moment she could be hospitalized. She received a large settlement from the accident. She is making a new life for herself and wants to live well while she can. Alan, her 55-year-old boyfriend, is a painter. He is handsome, romantic and kind to her. Alan does not know Donna’s financial situation. He does know he cannot always afford the restaurants where Donna wants to eat, though. Much of the time she picks up the tab. They both feel awkward about it.
Janet and Harold: Janet is a 52-year-old retired author. Her books have sold enough copies that she can live comfortably without working. Her boyfriend, 58-year-old Harold, had an IT career before he was downsized. Since then he has not found a new job or career that seems to be a good fit. Janet loves Harold’s athleticism, his sense of humor and tenderness. They connect on many levels. The problem is, she wants to travel with him to places like Australia, Alaska, and Europe. Neither Harold nor Janet like the idea of Janet paying for the whole trip. Harold does not know Janet’s financial situation, but he does know she is better off than he is.
Q & A With Relationship Counselor Ken Donaldson, LMHC
Q: How does avoidance of the activities that both couples want to do affect their relationship?
A: This would only add to distance in the relationships. Although both people will benefit from doing separate activities that they enjoy, there is much to be lost by leaving the other out when it is motivated by fear and/or avoidance.
Q: How could each couple stay together in a healthy way?
A: Every healthy, harmonious and lasting relationship is built on the HOW factor: Honest, Open and Willing. Those are the cornerstones that prevent the termites of deceit, deception, distance and breakdown. I believe these cases both require a lot of extended processing and perhaps the assistance from both a marriage counselor and a financial expert would be extremely helpful.
Q: What kind of paradigm shift might they try, and how could such a shift be brought about through seeing a professional?
A: As mentioned above, a qualified marriage counselor, especially one who had experience with these types of cases, can only help. Openness, although not rocket science, is always the best policy in cases like this. If either or both can’t handle “the truth” it says something about the foundation of the relationship, which signals that it needs to be strengthened. Harville Hendrix, author of Getting the Love You Want, has some great dialoguing tools I use often with in couples counseling and in all conflict resolution (and intimacy building) situations.
Q: What is your opinion about the line between sharing financial information and keeping financial secrets?
A: It is a fine line at times, but it is also based on trust. Trust is probably the cornerstone of all cornerstones. It’s like poker: Sometimes you have to hold your cards for a long time before you show them (or fold them). But, when the time is right, right action is the only move. Avoidance leads to more avoidance, and openness leads to more openness. However, it is all based on the level of relationship they want. If they only want a level “7” then maybe total transparency is not needed. But if they want a “10” then, again, nothing will be better than open, honest and willing.
Are there aspects of your financial relationship that you would rather keep at a “7” than a “10”? How have you handled the transition from cards-folded to open-hand in your finances with a significant other? What would you advise others in similar situations? Leave a comment here to help our community of readers.
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