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How to handle tremendous wealth/income disparity in new relationship

AliciaB2021
New Member

How to handle tremendous wealth/income disparity in new relationship

I am happily in a new relationship with an old friend.

 

We are both mature adults, debt-free, responsible with money, homeowners (no mortgages) and compatible in many ways. We have known each other for years, communicate well, and have recently found ourselves in something much deeper than friendship. We're now talking about merging our lives and perhaps eventually marrying.

 

That's the good part.

 

The dicey part is that there is a HUGE disparity in our income and wealth and despite all the good I feel at a disadvantage coming into this relationship.

 

I've made conscious life choices that have kept me poor. Though I'm solvent and have excellent credit I've never in my life had anything more than enough to meet immediate needs. I have small savings, no stocks or bonds, no retirement accounts, no pension. My house is a tiny thing I bought as a fixer-upper and have worked on for years to make livable. I have a self-directed part-time career I enjoy but that never has and never will pay what most people would consider a livable income.

 

He on the other hand is wealthy by my standards. Not "1% wealthy," but he has built a demanding career and been well rewarded for it. He has multiple nice homes, freedom to travel, and every sort of financial vehicle I lack. He doesn't live or spend extravagantly, but he also never has to worry about things like medical bills or car repairs and if he wants to go to Europe or Asia for vacation, he doesn't have to save up.

 

We've talked about this difference and he assures me that it doesn't bother him at all that I would make almost no financial contribution to our relationship or any joint household we'd set up. I believe him. He's a nice guy and has been a close friend for a long time. He's already generous to me and begrudges me nothing. In fact, one of his only frustrations with me is that when he made me an AU on one of his credit cards (on which he pays the bills), I would check with him before spending $10 or $20 and would never use the card for even small personal luxuries.

 

I realize this is a "good" problem to have. I feel extremely blessed to be in this situation. But the disparity bothers me. I've always been fiercely independent, determined to pay my own way, and unwilling to be dependent on anyone. If I move in with him or we marry I might have a lot to contribute to the relationship in terms of emotional support, household management, and that sort of thing, but I'd be almost completely dependent on him financially.

 

I have a two-part question.

 

1. How do I get over these fears of being inadequate or at a disadvantage because my income and net worth are small?

 

2. If we do get together, which seems almost certain, what are some ways we might handle finances so that things would feel most equitable for us both?

 

 

Message 1 of 23
22 REPLIES 22
Horseshoez
Valued Contributor

Re: How to handle tremendous wealth/income disparity in new relationship

@AliciaB2021, interesting dilema and I don't have a clear cut answer for you.  When my wife and I met, geez, nearly 30 years ago, I was making several times her income.  Then she changed jobs and was off to the races, literally quadrupling her income in five years while mine remained fairly flat.  Then she got a big deal promotion to a VP of her her Fortune 100 company, a promotion which required us to relocate to the Boston area, just as there were massive job losses in the technology sectors, yeah, my income plummeted.  I started getting my income back up in 2008 when the recession hit, I lost my job and her company imploded almost overnight; then we were both on par with virtually no income between the two of us.  That ultimately led to a separation and bankruptcies for both of us.  Since then her career has been very much up and down, mostly down, and mine, against all odds for those of us in our mid 60s, has boomed; as of today we're back together, happier than ever, and doing well.

 

I wrote the above to say this, if a couple is cognizant and accepting of income disparity, the differences in and of itself, doesn't necessarily foretell relationship challenges, however, limited or no income can place almost unrecoverable strains on a relationship.

I categorically refuse to do AZEO!

Message 2 of 23
AliciaB2021
New Member

Re: How to handle tremendous wealth/income disparity in new relationship

Wow, @Horseshoez, that's a heck of a roller coaster ride!

 

I wrote the above to say this, if a couple is cognizant and accepting of income disparity, the differences in and of itself, doesn't necessarily foretell relationship challenges, however, limited or no income can place almost unrecoverable strains on a relationship.


I'm glad you and your wife are back together and doing well.

Good points on both the negative and the positive aspects of that statement, thank you.

 

While I've been solo my lack of income never bothered me because I knew it was something I was getting in for  when I chose my work (not lucrative but bringing me satisfaction and respect). But I can see how it's completely different inside a relationship and especially when so much is out of your control and so up and down.

 

I'm not expecting anybody to have definitive answers, but yours gives me a lot to think about.

 

It's funny because in a few decades ago a woman wouldn't have even thought about an income disparity between her and her mate. He'd have made more, she'd have made less or nothing at all, end of story. But when I think about it, that's part of my problem. I remember how trapped my mother was in her marriage and I've spent my whole life determined not to get myself into that position.

 

I don't think I would be in that position because my love and I are very different people than my parents were and I have a house of my own that I plan to keep no matter what, but those memories definitely influence how I think and feel all these years later.

Message 3 of 23
SoCalGardener
Established Contributor

Re: How to handle tremendous wealth/income disparity in new relationship

While my situation did not exactly match yours, I feel I have something meaningful to say.

 

Your partner may genuinely, honestly, deep down believe that this financial disparity will not cause any issues. Right now. But that's no guarantee that as time goes by (in a living together relationship), resentment won't crop up.

 

In my situation, I was the one with the money, or at least the one from money; he was from a solid middle-class white collar family, but not wealthy. I was so crazy in love (and 17) that I couldn't see anything being a problem. And at first it was fine.

 

But as the years went by, and our diametrically-opposed thoughts on living--like what kind of things to buy, what kind of neighborhood to live in, what kind of school our daughter should go to, how much money to save for a rainy day and retirement, wanting to progress and get ahead education- and career-wise...well, it changed. And I resented him very, very much. It crept up on me. I would've absolutely sworn that it would never happen.

 

It took 30 years--along with many other issues--to finally say enough already. We mutually agreed to divorce. I've written about him in another thread--he's now in his early 70s, living month-to-month in a rented house, getting by on Social Security and VA Compensation, okay credit, very few (and low limit) credit cards, and happy as a lark. I'm seven years younger, have plenty of money in the bank (despite multiple, catastrophic illnesses and their related expenses), own my 7-figure home outright, and have a plethora of high CL credit cards and FICOs in the 820s. To this day, we love each other, and always end our phone calls that way, but getting divorced was the best thing for both of us. We were just too different.

 

My best suggestion is that you seek pre-marital couples therapy. Put it all on the table. If nothing changes afterward, go for it!

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Message 4 of 23
AliciaB2021
New Member

Re: How to handle tremendous wealth/income disparity in new relationship


@SoCalGardener wrote:

While my situation did not exactly match yours, I feel I have something meaningful to say.

 

To this day, we love each other, and always end our phone calls that way, but getting divorced was the best thing for both of us. We were just too different.

 

My best suggestion is that you seek pre-marital couples therapy. Put it all on the table. If nothing changes afterward, go for it!


I saw your other thread! It's one of the things that inspired me to join the forums and ask my question. So you've already had something meaningful to say to my situation. Although I'm a new member, I've lurked a while and seen too many threads about the havoc caused by different attitudes about money.

 

I can especially see how a person born to money and a person who never had much could clash because of not only having differences about money but those differences being so ingrained they wouldn't even be aware that other points of view existed (especially not at the ages you and your husband were when you married).

 

My love wasn't born into money and we have a lot of the same attitudes. Both of us are above all practical and responsible, and that's a big thing. But even there our thinking is on a different scale. Over the course of our friendship, for example, he has suggested a couple of times that I opt for some much, much more expensive option than the one I was considering when I needed to make a big decision (like a better brand of car or a more expensive type of medical treatment). His suggestions have never been frivolous. He wanted me to have the safest car or the most comprehensive medical treatment. But I was surprised when he didn't understand that I couldn't afford those and he was surprised that I wasn't ready to "spend whatever it takes" to get the best for my well being.

 

So yes, there are definite landmines ahead and we may not be able to see them from here.

 

I like your suggestion of pre-marital counseling for this issue. Thank you.

Message 5 of 23
SoCalGardener
Established Contributor

Re: How to handle tremendous wealth/income disparity in new relationship

Excellent! I'm so happy to hear that my other post was useful/meaningful to you!

When we got married, all I saw were our likenesses--we're politically on the same page, we agree on big social issues, we love nature and being outdoors, we could sit up all night just talking. And that's all I saw--until later.

Things that were cute at first, or that I brushed off as just an idiosyncrasy, later became a thorn in my side. Lesson learned!
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Message 6 of 23
Horseshoez
Valued Contributor

Re: How to handle tremendous wealth/income disparity in new relationship

@AliciaB2021, your words kind of struck a funny (not ha-ha, more like funny/ironic) cord with me.  I grew up with a working mom who made considerably more than the first two of her three husbands, and just kind of always assumed my wife would make as much as me, if not a lot more.  We've been married for 27 years and for a third she made more than me, for a a third we were roughly on par, and for a third I've made more than her.  Ironically, it has never really bothered me which of the three dynamics we were in at any given moment, but when the disparity grew significant in her favor, my lack of a matching income (or no income at all) bugged her, a lot.

 

As I wrote above, our current dynamic is she isn't working and I just took a huge new job which earns significantly more that our combined incomes of just a year or two ago; the disparity is starting to bug her again, only this time around she is doing something about it, she's going back to her roots in textile design and thinking on how to set up her own operation for creative textile designs.  That kind of a business will work well as my new job will entail a significant amount of travel, some of it overseas, and our plan is to travel together whenever possible.  It's kind of like, "Sweetie, pack your bags, we need to spend the next two weeks in Paris."  Long story short, I think we'll get through this period of income disparity with relatively few issues.  Smiley Tongue

I categorically refuse to do AZEO!

Message 7 of 23
Shooting-For-800
Senior Contributor

Re: How to handle tremendous wealth/income disparity in new relationship

Life is too short to worry about things you cannot control.

He loves you not your portfolio.

You love him not his portfolio.

Enjoy life and keep making responsible discussions.

GL!

Rebuild started in 2014  -  $100k unsecured credit in 2017  -  $400k unsecured credit in 2021.

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Message 8 of 23
Save-n-Invest
Established Contributor

Re: How to handle tremendous wealth/income disparity in new relationship


@Shooting-For-800 wrote:

Life is too short to worry about things you cannot control.

He loves you not your portfolio.

You love him not his portfolio.

Enjoy life and keep making responsible discussions.

GL!


Amen!

Message 9 of 23
AliciaB2021
New Member

Re: How to handle tremendous wealth/income disparity in new relationship


@Shooting-For-800 wrote:

Life is too short to worry about things you cannot control.

He loves you not your portfolio.

You love him not his portfolio.

Enjoy life and keep making responsible discussions.

GL!


Are you by any chance SoCalGardener's ex-husband? :-)

 

I agree life's too short to worry about things we can't control. But I was born and bred to worry, anyhow. Besides, this is something my love and I can control, at least to the extent of being aware of potential problems, examining our attitudes and our finances, and consciously creating solutions, or at the very least, workarounds.

 

With money issues being the #1 cause of household discord, attitudes about money are too important to dismiss as unimportant.

 

You're right, though. I definitely do love him, not his portfolio, and he'd be a nitwit (which he's not) if he loved me for my "portfolio." And I think we have every chance of enjoying life and making good decisions together. Thanks!

Message 10 of 23
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