More Than Money
Issue #5

Money and Couples

Table of Contents

“Personal Stories”

How Do You Deal with Differences About Money in Your Relationship?

Don't Put it Off

When I became involved with Alana, I had several million dollars of inherited wealth which I was ashamed about and was having trouble facing. She was raised working class, and from the start I was dishonest with her about my wealth. Over many years of living together, maintaining this deception about my money grew to be impossible. Kicking and screaming, I was gradually forced to reveal the truth.

As two women, we wanted to feel that our power in the relationship was completely equal, but the money disparity made that very hard. Given the lack of social and legal support for lesbian relationships, we had to figure out our own financial arrangements as we went along. How could we share my wealth without making the power imbalance worse?

One option we considered was to give her some money outright, but Alana was ambivalent about having a high net worth or dealing with money management. I was uncomfortable with any arrangement where she had to go through me to get assets, hating the thought she might stay with me for the money, or feel grateful or resentful.

After years of struggle, we finally asked a lawyer to help us figure it out. He helped us set up a "charitable unitrust" whereby I gave a $300,000 "deferred donation" to a tax-exempt non-profit. The non-profit manages the money, and about half the interest goes to Alana; the other half is added to the principal.

Assuming steady interest, the income will rise over the years, so as Alana gets older (and perhaps works less) her income from this investment will grow. When she dies, the principal becomes a gift to the non-profit.

I wish we had known about this kind of trust years ago. While establishing a way to share money has been a relief to us both, we are still struggling together about money and power, and I deeply regret my years of avoidance and denial and the toll it has taken on the relationship.

- anonymous author

I'm a Man, Not My Money

I do part-time doing consulting, making about $60,000/year. When I invite a date to do something with me, of course it's my treat. Sometimes women I date say things like, "I've had guys pay my tab and then expect me to sleep with them." I say, "Oh, that's interesting. What's that got to do with this date?" If they say, "I prefer to pay for my own," that's fine, too.

During one long-term relationship, I treated my partner to weekly plays and other events. When I decided to take a year off to run Massachusetts Institute of Technology's "Solar Car Club," I lived on savings and didn't want to spend so much on entertainment. She was upset with me, and I resented that her feelings about me seemed to change when I wasn't spending so much money on her. Now, I would only be seriously involved with a woman who would support my choice to do work that really matters to me.

- anonymous author


I didn't have to work for a living and you were struggling to make ends meet. I loved you, so I put myself out for you. How many Thursdays did I gaze into your computer entering data or mop the floor of your store? How many nights was I there for you when you came home weary from work? I could have given so much more. I struggled not to. Was I a fool, just setting myself up to be hurt? Maybe I would have been better off without this money. Then we would have shared the struggles.

Having just ended this relationship of several years, I see how my inheritance allowed me to devote substantially more time and energy into nurturing the relationship than my partner ever could. Perhaps I shouldn't invest so much of my personal energy into relationships, but if there's one thing that financial independence has provided me, it has been the opportunity to reflect on the importance of fostering durable relationships in a chaotic world.

Everywhere I look people are putting work, school, projects, or personal freedom in front of spending time with the people who are most important in their lives. I want to engage in deep relationships with friends and lovers, but I'm worried that only other people who don't have to work for a living will have enough slack in their lives to meet me at my level.

- anonymous author

The Elephant in the Living Room

Dan: During the seven years Rose and I have been together, her inherited wealth has helped me to do music and theater work without worrying so much about generating income. At the same time, it has been challenging. Because I grew up thinking that a man should provide for his partner, when I don't have a "real job" I feel as if I'm not living up to my responsibility. And my parents worry that Rose's supporting me will undermine my motivation to earn my own living.

Rose: I think his parents see me as a rich, fat, Jewish woman who is trying to seduce their son into an addiction to my money. Although they aren't as wealthy as I am now, they are both from "old-money" WASP families and consider my new-wealth family uncultured.

Dan: I have gradually learned that I can't equate my self-worth with what I earn. Rose and I make a habit of telling each other that we each offer important things to the relationship; her money is just one contribution, no more important than the cooking and cleaning I do for us, or the energy I put into helping us resolve conflicts.

Rose: As for me, it's easier for me to see what Dan brings to the relationship than to value what I bring. My own sense of self has been undermined by my inheritance. I am 25 and feel completely lost about my work in the world. I'm not worried that Dan is with me for the money, because for the first five years of our relationship I was in total denial about it. I hadn't a clue how much I had, and once I found out--$1.2 million--the money became like the proverbial elephant in the middle of the room, something so big we couldn't stop talking about it. Sometimes I feel like one big checkbook, and since it's "daddy's money" I feel I have no chance just to be myself.

It's Commitment that Counts

Ken and I just finished a series of legal documents: durable powers of attorney, living wills, medical proxies, and a partnership agreement. We did this to create the legal arrangements that married heterosexual couples have automatically.

We want our financial arrangements to reflect our expectation that our relationship is permanent. For major recurring expenses, like mortgage and insurance, we contribute equally to a joint checking account. It's important to us to have both names on the checks as a symbol of our partnership. We created an agreement about what we'll do with property if we ever separate: Anything that we bought separately goes to the one who bought it; purchases we made together we divide so each of us receives an equal value; anything we don't agree on, we give to charity.

We hope this agreement will support us to keep working things through together. We just bought a house. Originally we planned to split the cost 50/50, but because I earn a great deal more than he does right now we agreed that I'd pay more.

But circumstances change, and some day that may reverse. What matters is our commitment to each other. That was crystallized when Ken said, "if you get laid off work, I'll take care of you." We take care of each other's families, too--they have been very supportive of our relationship, even if they don't understand it. Something would be missing if we weren't connected to our families. Now that Ken's dad is out of work, we agreed without hesitation that we'll help the family if they need it.

- anonymous author

Either Way is Fine

For 45 years of married life, we just had one pot of money. Edgar earned it, I managed it, and we got along fine that way. He was a biochemist for the local university; we lived a regular middle-class life. But when Edgar started a biotech company and the stock went sky high, he insisted we each have our own money, so we divided the family fortune equally between the two of us and our two children. Now I have my own investments, use my own broker, do my own philanthropy. To my surprise, I like the independence quite a bit.


Here, Take Half

Joyce and I were married twelve years and had three children together. We dealt with money quite amiably given that she was raised working-class poor and my family was upper-class wealthy. We both assumed that marriage meant completely joining our finances, and we never discussed what we'd do if we ever parted ways.

Our divorce has just been finalized, and I've given her half my assets outright. It's a relief to us both that she can have her own money, under her own control, rather than receiving a monthly allotment from me for decades as we'd do if I were a regular wage earner.

I'm grateful that my inheritance is allowing us this more dignified solution. However, Joyce was extremely frustrated that it took over a year for my assets to become liquid, not understanding the implication of the money being in a family-owned company. And because during our marriage she so completely felt the whole amount was "ours", she is angry not to have a say over the other half.

- anonymous author

Trying to Keep Up

I'm a white working-class woman who was raised poor. I used to be involved with a black woman with inherited wealth. We lived together for two summers--she was living on a grant and pursuing her studies; I worked as a temporary secretary full-time, trying to save money for school in the fall.

Although we never discussed it, we lived according to her lifestyle, going out for dinner and dancing, buying leather jackets. We split expenses as close to 50/50 as I could manage. I remember struggling with each week's paycheck, owing most of it to her for our rent and other expenses, meanwhile saving nothing for school.

After we split up, I went into therapy and slowly gained a much stronger sense of myself. I see now how my guilt about being white and my shame of being poor kept me from asking for a more equitable financial arrangement that I could honestly afford.

- anonymous author

How Satisfying

When Michael and I first moved in together, we kept our money separate and recorded all of our spending over the course of a year. The only spending difference that seemed unresolvable was my commitment to funding social change. Michael believed we should reserve our money to enhance our security and our own modest lifestyle.

At the time, he was under constant financial pressure from his college loans. In contrast, despite using most of my $600,000 inheritance to fund social change organizations, I still had enough money to have a flexible work-life, to travel, and to further my education. Michael wanted us to pool all our money, but I was unwilling to do so if it meant I could no longer share my surplus with others.

At that point we worked with financial counselors and developed a plan to practice joint decision making, including funding decisions, by putting $10,000 of mine into a joint account. We ended up using the money to pay off part of Michael's debt, to move ourselves back to the east coast close to family and friends (reducing my phone bill!), and to finance our wedding. We didn't give any of the money away, but the process of our joint decision-making was so satisfying that my underlying fears about losing control were assuaged.

Since that time Michael and I have combined all our resources. We are both working and have made substantial donations, particularly to the voter-education effort preceding the first free elections in South Africa. Last night we attended an auction and even enjoyed being surprised by each other's bids! As we learn to listen carefully to each other's thoughts, I have grown to trust that our joint thinking can both serve us and the world around us very well.

- anonymous author

Money that's Truly Mine

We've been married for forty-four years. Daniel brought home the paychecks, and I raised the kids. Our money has always been completely merged--we accepted that without question as an integral part of marriage. But now, with Daryl retired and my writing career flourishing, I have the thrill of earning nearly half of our yearly living expenses.

I realize that all those years, I never completely felt the money was mine to spend as I chose. Daniel doesn't understand this. He says, "Did I ever restrict you? Did I ever lord it over you? The money I earned all these years is absolutely our money--not mine, ours." All I can say to him is that it feels different to earn my own. I don't think men can understand what it's like for women to be economically dependent, no matter how gracious and trustworthy their husbands are about it.

- anonymous author

No More Bucks, Buster!

When I married my second husband five years ago, I paid all the expenses for our beautiful wedding and honeymoon. I figured that was right, since I had money from an inheritance while he worked hard for his money. After our marriage, I continued to pay for everything.

My husband wanted this, yet he also clearly resented that I got more every month than he without working for it at all. When he demanded money to produce his own record, I gave it to him. Although this album didn't do well, he was soon making another one, requesting thousands of dollars more from me. I gave it, again assuming I had to since I had set myself up to be the giver. I felt as if I gave and gave and never got anything back. Perhaps I was even paying him to stay with me.

One day I took a good look at my accounts and was shocked to discover how little I had left! I felt furious at him and disgusted at myself. When we finally started to talk about finances, he kept telling me the way it "should" be was for me to continue giving to him.

After two months of this I suddenly said, "I don't have to do this!" I refused to give him any more money. It was a big step for me because I still felt guilty about our differences, and somehow responsible for him. I explained that this decision wasn't made because I didn't love him, but because I needed not to feel used.

Opening up this communication has been a gift to us both, surprisingly, and we have both grown from it. He's paying for his next album himself, and it is more important to him because he is doing it on his own. For my part, I no longer give him gifts unless I am very clear that they are truly gifts, made from my heart and not from my guilt.

- anonymous author

Add a Few Zeros

A few weeks before my husband Eric landed his first book contract, he dreamed he had won the lottery. The dream was so vivid, he bought 20 tickets and we spent the entire next evening figuring out how we could enjoy being rich without letting it destroy our lives. We didn't win the lottery, but his book became a best seller and the contract for his second book was for nearly two million dollars.

Has wealth changed the money dynamics between us? Yes and no. We have the same types of disagreements about spending, giving, and money management that we always had--just with a few more zeros added on. When we both had normal salaries the gap between our styles was not that noticeable. The wealth has magnified our differences, but they don't bother us as much now because we have so much financial slack. Nonetheless, I'm sure glad we had 15 years of married life to practice working things out before having to deal with instantaneous wealth and fame.

- anonymous author

Is Anybody Out There?

When Ron and I were first dating, I was in complete denial of my wealth, so I tried to look the same as other college students--working, studying, no fancy possessions. Eventually I mentioned to Ron that when I was 15 my dad had died and left me some money, but that was the extent of our discussion. I wasn't lying to him--I just wasn't dealing with the money myself or with its potential impact on my life and our relationship.

About a year ago, financial advisors helped me to figure out for the first time how much I actually had--six million dollars. I was shocked. I remember saying, "Ron, take a wild guess...." He too was stunned.

Over the next year, our relationship slowly unraveled. Money was a significant part of the strain. Ron thought I was weird for living simply when I didn't have to. We didn't understand each other. I was spending a lot of time learning about the money and taking control of it--writing a will, interviewing investment managers. Yet Ron wasn't able to respect this as real work.

He started pulling back from me physically and sexually, and eventually we saw a therapist together. She was able to put into words what Ron wished he could say to me about the power and choices money gave me: "You have everything in the world and now you want my body, too." It seemed withholding sex from me was the one way he could feel powerful.

That experience has made me cautious about cross-class relationships, and yet I'm not interested in dating people simply because they are rich. I'm 23. Will I ever find someone my age who is emotionally secure enough not to feel overpowered by my wealth?

- anonymous author

Bringing Fairness Home

Lynda: When I was growing up, my mother always warned me, "Watch out for gold diggers." She meant I should stick to men from the same class background as myself to avoid having anyone marry me for my money. Not that she followed her own advice--she married my father who came from a poor immigrant family, and they've had 51 years of loving marriage. I guess she was afraid I wouldn't be so lucky. After I left home and become politically active, I started to have a different fear: instead of being loved for my money, I was afraid I would be hated for it. Either way, having money was certain to damn me in the area of relationships.

George: Yeah, then she fell in love with me, a working-class man! After we spent our first few blissful months together, she decided to "break the news" to me that she was rich. I literally sat there and trembled as she told me. I told her how previous owning-class girlfriends had hurt me with their unaware class attitudes, and about my fear that money and class would become irreconcilable struggles in our relationship.

Lynda: But we didn't give up. Instead we sought to address the inequities creatively and to move even closer together, both emotionally and financially. At first we contributed proportionately to our joint expenses based on our relative wealth, with me contributing about 75 percent into the pot. But this solution didn't address the fundamental inequities in power between us, or George's gnawing lack of financial security. About three years into the relationship, we decided to split all of the investment income and to have equal decision-making power over it.

George: This was a powerful turning point in my life. Working as an independent film-maker, money had always been a struggle. Now, for the first time in a dozen years, I have consistent financial security and can focus on my film work instead of worrying about next month's rent. An incredible privilege! This ongoing support has made a critical difference, allowing me to expand my work in new and exciting ways.

Lynda: It was incredibly scary for me to take that step. My mother's warnings rang in my ears, and I was terrified of George becoming dependent on my money. But now, not only is sharing money with George much easier than I anticipated, but it has brought unexpected benefits. Instead of being alone with all my ethical considerations about wealth, I now have someone who can share the responsibility. His appreciation for the financial security in his life has sharpened my own sense of appreciation, and watching his work bloom has enabled me to see the money's positive potential instead of always viewing it as a heavy albatross.

George: We still have some major issues to figure out, especially regarding the principal which Lynda controls. She's just beginning to take charge of that money herself, so she hasn't felt ready to share it with me. But we feel we are well on our way, with a good track record of successes already behind us.

Lynda: Ultimately, we feel this process has been about bringing our values of justice and fairness right home to our primary relationship. .

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