By Quentin Fottrell, MarketWatch
I’m wondering if I am paranoid, or if I have reason to feel used.
My wife and I have two kids and own a home. We have had rocky moments throughout our marriage, but we are hanging in there. In 2019, I took a sales job thinking it would lead to more pay. I was wrong. It took a while for me to get my sales up and running, along with my commissions.
I had to start dipping into my savings to pay my part of the bills, which is usually a little more than half of what we spend. My wife, coincidentally, started making lots more money with her job, and made more than I did during 2019. It was about 60/40.
She knew I was short and dipping into my savings, and offered to “loan” me money to pay back. I declined her offer and chose to borrow money from my company, which they called a “draw.” I was shocked and upset that she was treating our marriage like a business transaction.
‘She claims she shouldn’t have to pay any bills because she is now home with the kids during COVID, and I make six figures.’
Fast forward to 2020: Fortunes changed. She received a $200,000 inheritance, plus $40,000 from her job as severance after she was let go in March. The difficult sales job I had taken actually led to me landing a new job paying me well over six figures.
As I started my new job and my wife received her money, she used part of her $200,000 inheritance to go on a spending spree: a $50,000 truck and a $20,000 camping trailer. Amazon (NAS:AMZN) packages arrive every other day, and the rest of the money is tucked in a savings account.
Here’s the thing. She won’t pay any bills anymore. She says she doesn’t have income coming in, except $3,200 from unemployment. She claims she shouldn’t have to pay any bills because she is now home with the kids during COVID, and I make six figures.
She also insists on “budgeting,” so she can account for every dollar I spend and make sure I put as much extra money after bills into our mortgage to pay the house off quicker. This feels like I’m being hustled, but I can’t force her to pay bills.
Am I a sucker?
I was feeling more bemused than confused when I read your letter. Why would your wife offer to give you a “loan” instead of contributing more money to get you both through tough times? Why would your wife not consider her $40,000 severance a form of income from her company? Why would she just not help pay bills given that she can afford to? Would that not make her feel good to be able to participate in the running of your household? You went to great lengths to pay your way.
‘If there’s a sucker born every minute, it’s safe to assume that there’s one married every minute too.’
You could put these questions to her, of course, and you would no doubt become embroiled in a debate that was tit for tat. If we accuse others of acting in a churlish manner, they no doubt will find some example — whether it is comparable or not — of some churlish or petty behavior of our own. I’m not naive enough to believe that I, or anyone else, can win a lifelong game of petty point scoring and come out of it unscathed. It can last years. Until death do you part.
And so these questions — while valid — are unlikely to lead to any satisfying conclusion. They would likely open doors to more rooms filled with stubborn indignation heaped upon financial fecklessness. Are you being a sucker? There is no productive answer to that question either. If there’s a sucker born every minute, it’s safe to assume that there’s one married every minute too. But what good does it do to luxuriate in self-pity or displeasure, and embark upon another battle of wills?
While the offer of a loan strikes me as a brutal financial move within a marriage, and her spending spree did not take your views into account and/or took you by surprise, it may be that she is using this time to exhale after bearing your children, working herself for so many years, and becoming a full-time mother while her career is on hold. These developments in her own life were forced upon her and unwelcome. The camper van and truck will also benefit the entire family.
The questions you need to ask might go something like: “What has happened that has led us to this unhappy place where we embark on a cold war — bank account against bank account, income against inheritance, and spouse against spouse? Is this the life we had planned for ourselves? Because it wasn’t the life I had planned for us, and it is not the kind of life I want to live. What can we do to reach a place of mutual understanding and respect?”
You also need to ask yourself both the hardest and easiest questions of all: What are you prepared to accept? Where do the red lines in this marriage lie, the ones that are unacceptable to you, and where do the white lines lie, the ones you are willing and able to compromise on? Your wife making lavish purchases while declining to contribute to household expenses is not an action that is conducive to a healthy marriage, but it does not come from nowhere.
You must find out where all of this comes from. It is either fixable, or it is not fixable. But you need to ask the right questions of your wife — who is likely going through challenges of her own — and yourself to find out. I have received letters where one partner has spent money on vacations with friends and, most recently, gives a large chunk of their income to their mother and brother rather than their spouse and children. There are always two sides worth exploring.
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