Q: I have been dating a guy for two years and I really like him. We’ve also moved in together. I have my own house that has a very manageable mortgage. He doesn’t pay anything towards the mortgage, the bills or the groceries. I have two kids to feed also but he only gets the odd takeaway or treat. When his son comes to stay every second weekend I feed him too. Should he be paying rent/part of the bills? If so, how should I bring it up? Does the fact that he hasn’t offered mean he is stingy?
Allison replies: I don’t have the answer to your last question. If, however, you start from a place that is personal the odds of it being a destructive conversation are high. It is tricky to separate high emotionality and rational thoughts of feeling like ‘this isn’t fair’ in the heat of the moment. So, implementing pause and reflect strategies that build rather than destroy are the better response in the short term.
I would suggest getting curious as to what is coming up for you. Step out of the ‘room’ as it were for a moment and look in as a casual observer and see what norms, beliefs and feelings are present. The focus and question I’d like you to ask yourself is, what is this really about?’ Arguments about money are never just about money. How do you feel as you think about asking him these questions?
Many people have conditioned ideas of what is and isn’t acceptable in how to go about discussing money. It can feel uncomfortable which blocks necessary conversations.
To get to the root of these issues, we always have to dig deep. What is more usual is avoidance of the uncomfortable issue until an argument is triggered and frustration comes out in anger like ‘why are you so stingy?’ You obviously want to avoid this as you have pre-empted the argument by exploring your options through asking what you can do about this, so you are already ahead.
Let’s start by checking in with your beliefs about money. What does money mean to you — is it security, freedom and or, future planning and protection for your family? Are you the main parental earner? Are you a spender or saver? What is your financial style, and do you know his?
Did money cause issues in your family or with your parents? If so, what were the arguments about and do you think they have influenced your relationship with money? What are your beliefs surrounding fairness, sharing, generosity and people who are mean with money? Are there any other significant people in your life who weren’t fair or generous?
Understanding your schema around money is the key to having a healthy conversation together. The drive and underlying beliefs about money can relate to fear, control and the fair distribution of power in a relationship.
Discussing finances is something people can feel wary of, but left unchecked it will cause issues. Having answered your own questions you can then go in with self-awareness of any financial tender spots with the intent of understanding what is driving his lack of contribution and belief systems surrounding money.
How was money discussed or argued over in your family and gaining an understanding of the same with his family holds all the answers you are looking for. Familial beliefs can bleed into gender expectations, roles, norms, power, fairness and equity — so it’s never just about money.
There is often a sense of shame or the outdated idea that you shouldn’t talk about money as if it is crass, but when couples live together as adults with blended families it’s time to adult up and have these essential conversations.
Will it be easy? Most likely not, but it will clear the air and create room to financially future-proof your relationship. Or, you will find out that your financial values are misaligned leaving you to figure out what that means. Conversations bring clarity and clarity brings options and choice.
Write out your personal feelings about his lack of contribution and what that means to you. Does the food and feeding add into that as it is layered and nuanced? If you go out and shop for the food, cook it and then serve it, does this bringing up gender role expectations that you haven’t discussed either?
Bringing in what you started with is that you like this guy, so your intent is hopeful about a future together. Recognising what can change and what can’t can only be found out in a constructive financial chat.
Framing this from a place of strength and purpose with the desire to create a financial vision is so much more than the money. It’s a discussion about where you are now and where you plan to be in the future. Expect differences, expect a hard conversation, keep it non-personal and in problem solving mode as you open an immensely important conversation.
Allison regrets that she cannot enter into correspondence. If you have a query you would like addressed in this column email email@example.com