Dr. Deb would love to answer your burning relationship questions.

Today’s Advice Highlights

  • How should a couple approach the difficult topic of money?
  • What happens if the husband is expected to carry the full financial burden of the family?
  • How to deal with the fine line between cultural expectation and abusive behavior?
Dear Dr. Deb,

I’m a 45-year-old Indian and I’ve been living with my family in the US for the past 10 years. I have a stable job that pays well – so well that it’s considered high, even with the standard of living here. But even with all of that, I still end up spending more than my income.

My wife also works full time with good pay, but she doesn’t share in any of the expenses. She firmly believes it’s my responsibility to provide, and she just keeps all her money in her own account.

We have multiple properties under both our names including cars, but she doesn’t share in the payment and mortgage. I also shoulder all the groceries, bills, travel — everything.

I’ve brought up this issue with her multiple times, and each time, she dismisses my concern, going so far as saying I should be ashamed to expect money from a woman.

If this continues, I know won’t be able to save at all. At this rate, I’ll be broke by the time I reach retirement age! This has really affected me, and I’ve spent sleepless nights thinking about this financial situation.

Dr. Deb, what should I do so that my wife understands my concern?

Troubled in Paradise

Dear Troubled,

Let’s face it, money will always be a sensitive subject. In most cultures (if not all!) it’s a hush-hush subject, and we’ve been taught that it’s not polite to talk about it.

It can also be a major source of stress. How much or how little we have is closely tied to our personal security and social status.

Despite the taboo, relationships and money go hand-in-hand, and it’s absolutely necessary for couples to discuss it to keep and nurture a healthy relationship. Like many things, this ideal is easier said than done. And I assure you, you’re not the only one going through marital tension when it comes to money.   

Talking about money is not a simple black-and-white matter, and there really isn’t a one-size-fits all model for how couples can successfully talk about and manage their money. Each couple must figure out and agree on their mutual financial goals — ideally before marriage.

In a two-income family like yours, deciding who pays for what, joint vs. individual accounts, what is an equitable split of expenses if one partner makes more than the other, and investment strategies are just a few of the important issues partners must decide on together. 

Your wife’s unwillingness to discuss and share her income is more than a reflection of her personality. Her reaction may also be a by-product of how she was brought up. It’s important to consider this problem partly through the lens of culture and family history.

Every culture and household have different approaches and expectations around money. Maybe starting the conversation from a place of mutual understanding might allow her to be more open to discussing the subject. But the conversation needs to move on from there to the hard facts that go beyond cultural norms.

One of them is the fact that by dismissing how stressed you are by her financial expectations, she is setting up an unhealthy marital dynamic, one based on financial inequality. She demands something you don’t necessarily agree with and you feel you have no choice but to fulfill it.

That’s a sure recipe for a disastrous, dysfunctional relationship. Healthy loving partners don’t seek to control each other. Not to mention that in the eyes of US marital law, half of her money is legally your money (unless there was a premarital contract stating otherwise).

May I also point out that even taking cultural norms into consideration, your wife’s behavior seems to border on financial and emotional abuse.

If she continues downplaying your concerns and disregarding your self-esteem, self-worth, and confidence, both your psychological well-being and your physical health – and your ability to provide for her – will suffer. If this insight doesn’t serve as a wake-up call for her, I don’t know what will.

In a healthy marriage, both parties are equals and power is shared throughout the course of their life together. Each person needs to be valued and respected, which means taking time for ongoing communication and loving compromise.

It may well be that your wife’s belief that you should be the sole provider has deep roots in cultural norms. But it doesn’t serve your marriage if it means living out of alignment with your deepest values and beliefs, which it appears you are.

Two things that I suggest should be done right away: (1) Seek professional help and marital counseling to drive home how serious the situation is, and (2) Sit down with a reputable financial advisor to help you both plan your money better.

Money may not be the most important thing in the world. But aligning your values and needs around money is a necessary part of happiness and a healthy marriage.

Sincerely yours,
Dr. Deb

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