Money Mic: How Money Is Ruining My Marriage

People have a lot of opinions about money.

In our “Money Mic” series, we hand over the podium to someone with a strong opinion on a financial topic. These are their views, not ours, but we welcome your responses.

Today, one woman discusses her deep misgivings about her marriage, why she resents being the sole breadwinner and how her dynamic with her husband affects their kids.

Money is emotional and sensitive, so please respect that each person makes individual choices. For things you can do in a similar situation to strengthen your relationships and talk about money, keep reading.

I can’t even remember when my husband stopped working.

And frankly, I don’t have time to think about it, between my full-time job and my fledgling business, volunteering at an after-school program to help teenagers prepare for the professional world and mothering two children.

But when I do think about it–when I think about all the times I come home to see evidence of his entire day’s activities cluttering the coffee table, or when I have to take our shared car to work and strand him at home because he doesn’t feel like getting up to drive me–I’m angry.

Why should he get everything, when I do everything?

The idea of a wife being the primary or sole breadwinner is a relatively new one (though a new study shows that over half of American women are household breadwinners), but speaking as that sole earner: I don’t like it.

How We Got Here

My husband and I met on my first day of work, at a job with a local utility company that I got right out of high school. That job paid for me to attend college, and I still work there to this day. It took him two weeks to work up the courage to ask me out, and we’ve been together ever since, about 20 years.

I bought my house before we were married, so although he lived with me, I was the sole owner. In 2001, I took a new position and he left the utility company to care for our daughter after a surgery–I supported that, for obvious reasons. After, he re-entered the workforce to work for a friend’s mortgage company, where he made half of his previous salary.

Then, when the economy crashed in 2008, the mortgage company failed and my husband was out of a job. Since he would be home, he took on the role of Mr. Mom (though he hates when I call him that): cooking, cleaning occasionally and being there for our two children, who are now 7 and 16. Our kids are older now, and while I’d like him to go back to work, he isn’t interested.

While he was transitioning, so was I. I started my own party-planning company. Now, I work a 9-5 job at the utility company so the family has health insurance and a steady paycheck. Then, I work nights and weekends to supplement my income with party planning, which is my real passion.

I would love to do my event planning (a job my husband hates because it takes me away from the house) full-time … but right now, we need my income to pay all of our bills. I don’t have money for an emergency fund, and my husband couldn’t support us if my business didn’t pan out. Unfortunately, I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

He’s Happy With His Unemployment … and His Secret Money

Considering that my volunteer work means I look into job opportunities for young people and help them with skills such as writing their résumés, I’m in the perfect place to help my husband with his job search.

He’s been unemployed now for four years, and is supposedly looking. He says that the economy is terrible and that there are no jobs, but I remind him there are job fairs and temp agencies. I forward job opportunities to him, but he has other arguments against getting a job: The kinds of jobs available (things like working for a local transportation company) are “humiliating”; there are no jobs to be had.

RELATED: How does that compare to this writer’s double unemployment (her and her husband)?

Those excuses are buoyed by the fact that he has money. From where, I don’t know, because he won’t tell me (frustrating, huh?). He thinks I’ll disapprove … which I will, if he’s getting it from his indulgent, retired parents or through gambling with his friends, both of which are possibilities. His money goes toward groceries for the family, car maintenance, hanging out with friends and personal items, like clothes. He actually doesn’t hide his spending from me, but he never tells me exactly what things cost.

My Finances vs. His

We don’t share bank accounts. I contribute to my retirement savings and our children’s college fund, as well as pay the mortgage and the bills. He contributes to none of these things, and has at this point drained his retirement savings–but I couldn’t tell you how much that was to begin with, because he’s not open about it. 

I have no savings otherwise, because all my money is needed to support our household.

I see our gender dynamic playing out in our children: Our teenage daughter is a hard worker who does her chores, participates in extracurriculars like debate team and interns with my event planning company. Our young son rarely does his chores or homework, but expects to get everything he asks for, when he asks for it.

RELATED: How to know if you’re spoiling your kid

He sees that his father doesn’t work for things, and he doesn’t, either. Plus, when I try to give him tough love, his father or grandparents cave in when I’m not around. Part of it is that he’s so young, but I worry he doesn’t have a male role model to teach him the value of hard work.

What Next?

Ideally, my husband and I would contribute equally to the household expenses. Even if he could cover half the mortgage, I would be happier. Right now, we can’t afford to go on a family vacation or renovate the kitchen, which needs some work. My husband knows how much his disinterest in working bothers me, and so does the rest of my family. (Except the children–I don’t want them to feel like I do, like their dad isn’t doing what he should for them.)

I do feel like I’m at a breaking point.

I’ve told him before that he needs to move out, but after 20 years, he knows how to apologize, promise he’ll change and keep me from pursuing a separation or divorce. My friends say that if he was married to anyone else, he wouldn’t get away with this. They say it makes me a pushover, and I’m puzzled by it, too.

I’m non-confrontational and generally very laid-back, but I have no problem standing up for myself … except when it comes to my charming, lazy husband.

Sometimes I think of getting divorced, but we live in Pennsylvania, which means legally he’ll likely be entitled to half of our assets from the marriage–half of my assets. I try so hard to be upbeat and not let this bother me, but on our last anniversary, I started telling him how I felt about his lack of contribution and motivation, and nothing has changed since then.

Our next anniversary is coming up fast … and I’m not sure we’ll make it.

Note: Since Jessica told us her story, her husband has taken a job with the above-mentioned transportation company and now contributes $150 per week to household expenses–but she is suspicious about the amount and he refuses to show her his paycheck.

Editor’s Note:

We’re very grateful that Jessica has opened up to us and shared this very personal story. Please respect her willingness to share and be sensitive in your comments.

What should she do? LearnVest Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) Sophia Bera suggests, “Sounds like they could really use couple’s therapy! She should either ask her husband to come to counseling with her or start going by herself so she can figure out what she wants to do. This is so emotionally charged that it’s not even about the money at this point. If he’s hiding money from her, that’s financial infidelity and he leaves her in a tough spot.”

What about advice for other couples struggling with income disparity? Financial planner Sophia says, “When there’s a large income discrepancy, we generally recommend each person put the same percentage of his or her income in a joint checking account to cover the household bills. That way, one isn’t using half her salary for rent while the other only uses 10%.” If you’re consistently disagreeing with your loved ones about money, it’s probably time for a “Money Talk.” Read this for more ideas on how to combine finances with a partner.

If you think your money disagreements are getting in the way of your relationship, consider speaking to a therapist, counselor or Certified Financial Planner® to help you sort out your differences and make a plan that will work for both of you. 

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  • Mellisa Lee

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