Dear Neil: My husband and I have been married 9 years. We have struggled financially the entire time. He lost his job after we got back from our honeymoon, and has since jumped from job to job, so he has contributed significantly less than I have to our monthly budget the entire time. Recently he received a large inheritance, and has begun hoarding the money and treating it as only belonging to him.
I am hurt that we will now be living two completely different lifestyles. I will continue to work and struggle, while my husband is free to do whatever he wants and buy whatever he desires. I don’t see how this is going to work, and he isn’t being communicative and transparent in this process. Advice? Thoughts?
Dear Left Out: The dilemma you’re describing is really about whether your husband looks at your marriage as a partnership, or as two independent people who are more or less self-reliant. It is clear that you have viewed your marriage as a partnership. Now it’s his turn to decide if he is going to play by the same rules.
An inheritance is legally considered separate—not joint—property in most cases, unless the money is commingled. If he puts his inherited money in a joint mortgage or checking account, it it more likely to be considered joint money. If he doesn’t commingle his resources, it’s legally his in most cases.
Invite him to have an extremely open and honest conversation with you about your marriage, and how each of you envision your relationship progressing into the future. Has he felt happily married with you? If not, why? What has been wrong? Has he been resentful or angry with you? If so, what is he resentful about, and what would he like for you to do about it? What changes would make the most difference for him in the marriage?
If he says he wishes to remain married and/or improve your relationship, then ask him how he foresees the financial arrangements. Would he be okay with sharing his inheritance with you? If not, might he be willing to cover a far greater share of the expenses, pay for the vacations the two of you take together, pay the taxes, pay off your credit cards or any number of other ways he could be more generous with his resources?
Acquiring additional money has changed the power dynamics in your relationship, with him having a great deal more power than he is used to having. If he is not willing to ease your financial strain or take on a greater share of the financial burdens, you could conclude that he is not interested in fostering a partnership with you, and that bodes poorly for your marriage.
Don’t agree to live a vastly different lifestyle than he is living. You’ll grow resentful of him, you will feel cheated and poorly treated, and the resentment will kill your relationship over time anyway. Instead, ask what he would need in order to be in a happy relationship with you. If he is able to describe what would make a difference to him, and if you could reasonably do it, then you may be able to form a partnership with him, with you giving what you can and him giving what he can. If he’s not open to this, you’ll forever be resentful of him and will therefore never be happy with him.