CAROLYN HAX

Fiance shortchanges her financial contributions

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 28, 2011

Dear Carolyn:

My fiance and I just combined our finances. I'm coming into the marriage with a small savings account and a small credit-card debt that I'll finish paying off in March. He has a bigger savings account and student loans.

Since combining things three weeks ago, he's been making backhanded comments about my finances. We make the same amount of money, but since he has a bigger savings account, he keeps asking me rhetorically where all my money goes. He has also explained to me several times why credit card debt is bad, like I don't get it.

Last night he sat me down and explained how anxious he is about my spending habits.

I am completely embarrassed and angry over his reaction to all of this. To add to it, my credit is stellar and his isn't great. I also am now paying half of his $30,000-plus grad school loans.

We rarely fight, and I am just livid over this turn of events. I wonder if this is a red flag? Or a period of adjustment? How do people do this and find peace with the whole thing?

Anonymous

They talk. They listen. They figure out where their own beliefs and priorities lie, and where their partners' do. They identify differences. Then they bend where they feel they can, stand firm where they feel they must, and take it from there.

Your fiance blew that when he started hitting you with backhanded comments. That was just lame.

However, he corrected himself somewhat when he finally spelled out that he is worried about your spending habits.

It doesn't sound as if you spelled out your worries about him in return. If your response to this sit-down was to skulk off and seethe, then you're falling short of the find-peace-with-it standard, too.

And even if you protested the way he characterized your money skills at the time, you still need to call your own sit-down to explain that your frustration is now fully formed: You're not only embarrassed about being treated as financially incompetent, but also livid at bringing your money to his loans and your superior credit rating to his future, only to be treated as a threat or a burden to his financial health. (Adjust that statement as needed; I did put words in your mouth.)

Include the fact that you didn't appreciate his backhanded comments that led up to the sit-down, like a trail of judgmental bread crumbs. This isn't just financial groundwork, but also communication groundwork you're laying. You need to let him know where you draw the line between expressing concern about a difficult topic, and unfair criticism.

In other words: You talk, you listen, you assess, you adjust. Please aim to find both a philosophical middle ground on the money/criticism issues, and practical ones that act as guardrails to keep you in that middle - be it separate accounts, allotments of discretionary money for you both, or whatever else appeals.

I suggest a pre-marriage workshop anyway (www.smartmarriages.com), but if your sit-down shows you can't stand up for yourself without retreating and seething, or that he can't/won't turn a critical eye to his own behavior - be it his imperfect credit or his myopia on your feelings and finances - then I'm urging it, stat.

Write to Tell Me About It, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com.


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