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Carolyn Hax: She got married, but her bank account remains single

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: My husband and I have been married two years. Because I had a partial scholarship and worked through college, I don't have a lot of student loans. My husband's parents paid for his first bachelor's but refused to pay for his second when he changed careers, so he has a lot of debt. I pay 80 percent of the bills because I make more money and so he can pay his student debt down, but other than the joint bill-paying account, we keep our money separate.

He's become extremely resentful of the fact that I have a lot more "fun money" than he does even though I do things to save where I can, like pack my lunch and bring coffee from home. He says he didn't get two degrees to brown-bag it and drink coffee out of a Thermos. He wants us to put all our money into one account and just pay all the bills, including his loans, from that and then split what's left over.

I'm resisting because it just doesn't seem fair to me. He says it shows I don't consider our marriage to be a partnership. Is he right? Am I being greedy and petty?

— Resisting

Resisting: I’m with your husband, with major caveats. Your insistence on splitting the finances and leaving him cash-strapped by his loans is not marriage, it’s cohabiting.

Unless you say you are, though, I’m not going to call you “greedy and petty”: Did you choose this setup out of distrust, and did he act in a way that damaged your trust? Do you think he’s irresponsible, and that’s why you’re protecting what you see as yours?

That’s not good, either, but it does demand a different response.

You need to figure out why you don’t see and treat your husband as your full partner. If this is just about securing more money for yourself, then you need to apologize copiously, pool your resources and come up with a plan that allows for bills, debt repayment, savings and fair spending money. This can include some money in separate accounts — but the idea is for joint financial health vs. “I’m fine and it’s your fault you’re still flailing.” An attitude, by the way, that would point to a need for remedial work in counseling.

If you’re justifiably distrustful of him or his handling of money, then you need to deal with that, with him, without flinching. That whole “I didn’t get two degrees to brown-bag it” attitude is not a good look on him or on anyone asking to spend someone else’s money for his luxuries. If he won’t be the adult about assuming so much debt, then it makes complete sense that you don’t want to do it for him. I’d see any entitlement on his part as a joint-finances dealbreaker.

This doesn’t even begin to address the legal implications of your marriage and his debt, so talk to a lawyer, too, before you do anything else.

Short version, though: You do sound as if you’re half in this marriage. Please figure out why you’ve held back, and then choose your course from there.

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