Why Am I Scared of My Partner “Providing” for Me?


He says he doesn't care, but I'm still struggling to deal

by Liz Moorhead, Editor, Ask APW

woman eating breakfast alone

Q: I grew up in a very dysfunctional home. With an alcoholic father and an abusive bipolar stepmother, it was made abundantly clear to me and my siblings that we were a huge burden, both financially and emotionally, on our parents. We learned pretty early on not to ask for or need anything. Whatever it was—new sneakers, a ride to school, braces, a hug—it was always met with anger and resentment, and left you feeling humiliated and guilty for even asking. It took me a long time and even some therapy to understand that having needs and wants didn’t make me an ungrateful or bad person. I moved out when I was sixteen years old and since that time, the only person I’ve relied on to take care of me was myself. I worked my way through the remainder of high school and put myself through college waiting tables, babysitting, working as a chambermaid, whatever I needed to do to. I didn’t have a lot, but what I had was all mine and that was the best feeling in the world. I never had to feel guilty for needing something again. After I graduated college, I found a career working as a manager and handling marketing for salons. I knew it would never be a high-paying, high-powered career, and I was okay with that because I loved the work, and I’d NEVER had a lot of money anyway, so why would I need it now? My bills were paid on time, I had a roof over my head, and I even had extra money to go out on the weekends. Beyond that, I didn’t need much more.

Enter my fiancé. His upbringing couldn’t have been more different from mine. His family is a tight-knit, hilarious, loving Norman Rockwell painting come to life. I feel so honored that he chose me to become a part of them. He works incredibly hard and does very well financially. He is an incredibly kind and generous man, and wants nothing more in the world than to provide for and take care of me, to share his success.

Here’s where I struggle. I love this man so very much and I know he loves me. But I still feel this extreme fear and guilt when it comes to accepting the things in our life that his money provides. I feel guilty because I know without him I wouldn’t be able to live in the adorable house he bought for us, I wouldn’t be able to eat at the kind of restaurants we do without him, I wouldn’t be able to drive the car we have, or go on the trips we do. And I am petrified that one day he’ll see me as a burden to him, something I swore I’d never let myself be to anyone again.

I’ve talked to him about the way I feel, and of course he does the best he can to reassure me that this is all unfounded and untrue. He says I contribute to our life together in ways that aren’t measured in money, by making our house into a home and by taking care of his heart. He’s a really practical guy, so in his mind, he already considers me his wife and is already committed to the idea of providing for his family. We’re pretty traditional in our ideas for raising a family so we’ve always planned on me eventually being at home with our children. To him, there isn’t really a difference between when that happens and now. So why, why is this so hard for me, why does it cause me such anxiety, and why am I so afraid that if I allow him to take care of me, it will backfire and hurt me in the end? Logically I feel like a complete jerk for even feeling the way I do. I mean seriously! Other women probably hear me gushing about this amazing man who bought me a house and wants to spoil me rotten and they most likely want to punch me in the face or tell me to shut up.

I’m wondering if anyone else out there struggled with this and how they tackled dealing with it? Any advice would be helpful. I don’t want to spoil this special time in our lives being so consumed by anxiety and fear. I want to truly enjoy what I have instead of being so afraid of losing it.

—Casey

A: Dear Casey,

I’m so sorry, Casey. You ask, “Why is this so hard for me?” and girl, it’s because people treated you terribly. It’s not your fault for feeling this way. You were dealt an awful hand by those who should’ve done better, and that’s out of your control. We all (all of us!) carry baggage from our childhoods, from our parents, from our past relationships. All of us were shaped by things that having nothing to do with our current situation or current partner. And many of us also have a teeny bit of fear that if I do X, it’ll make Y happen, because that’s how it went down last time. Don’t be hard on yourself.

But we’re talking about a couple different things that I want to parse out.

First, let’s talk about the money. You’re both speaking in terms of “providing” and “taking care” when this money comes up. And sure, as partners, it’s important you take care of one another. But bringing home a paycheck is not how your partner takes care of you; it’s how he contributes to the shared economy of homelife. Yeah, it’s just a little semantic thing, but it’s got some big implications. Maybe if we change those terms around and start talking about this as his “contribution” versus your “contribution” you can stop feeling weird about it. Because being “provided for” would make me feel weird, too! Instead, I have a husband who makes a certain paycheck as a part of his contribution, and then I do a bunch of other stuff as my contribution (monetary and non-monetary), and all of it—the money, the meals, the sparkling bathroom (ha), and the up-to-date vaccination schedule for the kids—all of it is shared, all of it is equally ours.

So your partner is right! You’re both contributing. Even if he’s making the big bucks, it’s likely that you’re pulling weight in other areas. But his well-intentioned arguments about enjoying “taking care of you” ultimately miss the point. Chat about how you guys perceive these paychecks and how you can talk about them differently, as something belonging to both of you not because of his kindness and generosity, but because we all contribute to the family in different ways.

All of that means: his money is not taking care of you; you’re not a burden. This is just what it looks like when married people have joint finances. But that doesn’t mean you get to gloss over these fears of depending on someone. So much of marriage is about interdependence. About being able to be vulnerable with someone and to rely on them, about communicating things you need and counting on them to respond generously. You mention that you’ve been in therapy on your own, which is great! Now is an excellent time to pop back in for a refresher and start some discussions about what healthy dependence looks like.

So your homework is: 1. Talk about the ways you refer to this money and each of your individual contributions. 2. Meet with a professional to work out what actually taking care of one another will look like. Focus on making this money about something other than “providing for you” like some sort of kept woman, and figure out how to truly rely on someone for things you need (because you will have needs!).

But there’s also a third step. Make sure you aren’t powerless. Do you have access to the money, or is it all in his name? Are you able to grab something when you need it, or do you have to ask for an allowance? Do you have any safety nets available to you, or are these “taking care of” terms just the surface of some unequal power dynamics with this money? This isn’t about rehashing your old fears of abandonment. This is about relying on someone because you want to, not because you need to.

And on that note, I have one final soul searching question—DO you want to? You mention that all the women hearing your story are probably furious with jealousy, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. Like I mentioned above, having a man “provide for me” while I sit at home eating bonbons and steaming my vag (or eventually caring for potential kids, or whatever) doesn’t sound like my ideal, and I’m sure other women would agree. So, is it your ideal? Apart from the emotional baggage of being afraid of someone else paying the bills, do you even want someone else paying the bills? If not, that’s fine, too.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO ASK APW A QUESTIONPLEASE DON’T BE SHY! IF YOU WOULD PREFER NOT TO BE NAMED, ANONYMOUS QUESTIONS ARE ALSO ACCEPTED. (THOUGH IT REALLY MAKES OUR DAY WHEN YOU COME UP WITH A CLEVER SIGN-OFF!)

Liz Moorhead

Liz is an illustrator and writer who paints custom stationery and types up impassioned opinions about weddings, etiquette, feminism and motherhood (usually while shaking a fist and mumbling expletives around mouthfuls of cheese fries). Her spare time is spent sipping bourbon with her husband and playing Don’t Throw That in the Toilet with her sons.

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  • Eenie

    Liz gives awesome advice, but I will add: Please make sure you won’t end up homeless if he is injured or dies unexpectedly. Take out adequate short term/long term disability insurance and life insurance so you can know that you won’t be thrown into financial disarray during such an emotional time. Having that piece of mind gives me a small amount of comfort as the person in my relationship who doesn’t make the larger paycheck (and probably never will due to degrees and age difference).

    • Abby

      Definitely second the insurance advice–if you’re relatively young and healthy, even a large policy can be pretty affordable, and it does wonders for peace of mind. And, to Liz’s second-to-last point, if your joint finances can afford it, I would advise you to set aside a small true-emergency fund that only you have access to, so that you have the emotional and financial safety net of “if this all blows up in my face I’m not completely screwed.” My husband and I each did this, and it’s so worth it to, as Liz so beautifully puts it, “rely[] on someone because you want to, not because you need to.”

  • Amy March

    I think you need to start from a real true understanding that, by virtue of being a child and having needs, you were never a burden to your parents. Sure, they told you that you were, but they were abusive and wrong. And you aren’t to him either. You’ve more than proven that you can take care of yourself, and the fact that you would do so in a less fancy style than he provides doesn’t make what his money buys a necessity.

    But also, you aren’t married. It’s okay to say you aren’t comfortable with the power differential of him paying and you making a life with him you wouldn’t be able to afford if things ended. To him there may not be a difference between married and now, but there certainly is a difference in the legal reality we live in, and it sounds like you’re feeling a difference too, and that’s an okay thing to articulate.

    • AmandaBee

      Good point, and follow up to this – if you do get married, those dollars belong to both of you. If you aren’t comfortable spending them on fancy dinners, say so! Starting conversations about budgets, spending priorities, etc. will only make marriage (if that’s where ya’ll end up) easier.

    • Eenie

      Oh I completely missed the part about them not being married! This was exactly how I felt when we were not married, and I wasn’t contributing equally financially to our household. Those are super valid feelings. It actually prompted us to get legally married before our wedding date because I needed the legal protections that come with marriage to move into his house.

      • idkmybffjill

        #wise.

    • Sarah E

      Upvote a million. Even without a vast income difference between my husband and I, I still have “Am I a bad feminist?” moments when I think about the things we have that I wouldn’t have on my own. Because OF COURSE. I’m NOT on my own, so of course my life looks different partnered than single.

      100% it’s important to have joint financial goals and responsibilities to be on the same page for what you’d like life to look like, and to have legal and financial protections for yourself. It is also 100% true that if you were not partnered, you would go back to more a more modest lifestyle in line with your single income, because that’s totally what you did before.

    • idkmybffjill

      “To him there may not be a difference between married and now, but there certainly is a difference in the legal reality we live in, and it sounds like you’re feeling a difference too, and that’s an okay thing to articulate.”

      This. this. this. For me, I was not okay purchasing a house until we were married because I knew that my husband had more money than I do and I was not okay making such a big commitment until we were legally tied. I still feel stress about not always contributing the same amount of money to things, but I’m more open to it now that *legally* it’s all ours.

  • AmandaBee

    “But there’s also a third step. Make sure you aren’t powerless.”
    “And on that note, I have one final soul searching question—DO you want to?”

    YES TO BOTH OF THESE. Monetary contributions and household contributions are, in my eyes, completely equal. But let’s also acknowledge that one person having control over the money can make the power balance of the relationship unequal. So retain that power, have a plan B, and don’t feel bad for thinking about “what ifs” – like, what if he dies earlier? What if your relationship falls apart? These things are common, so it just makes sense to have a plan for them. And in having one, you may feel more empowered and less like you’re being provided for.

    The second one – not everyone wants to stay home, and that’s also fine. I, personally, would hate it – I love working. There’s no inherent benefit to children if one parent stays home – studies have shown that any apparent benefits are usually due to the socioeconomic status of families with a stay-at-home parent. Hold that equal, and it’s about the same in terms of child outcomes. So it’s really about what you want, and what works for the family, and it’s hard to tell from this letter if staying at home is actually your desire or if it just seems like the obvious choice because you can.

    Also? There are lots of in-betweens on the working-parent/stay-at-home parent spectrum. My sister is mostly stay-at-home, but has a freelance job that gets her out of the house once a week and helps her retain a plan B if her husband was every laid off or if things didn’t work out with their marriage. It’s not always part of our conversation about working and parenting, but you don’t have to pick one or the other per se.

    • idkmybffjill

      ” My sister is mostly stay-at-home, but has a freelance job that gets her out of the house once a week and helps her retain a plan B if her husband was ever laid off or if things didn’t work out with their marriage.”

      I think THIS is very important in terms of still feeling safe (if you’re a person who needs that as a back up), I am open to staying at home while our children are young, but it’s very important to me that I’m never in a place where it’s impossible or incredibly difficult for me to return to the work force because of resume gaps unless we somehow end up with millions of dollars that would be split between us or left to me in the event that we divorce or something tragic happens.

      • Amy March

        Agree completely. I think there are two issues here, one because of her childhood and one because it’s actually scary to be completely financially dependent.

        • idkmybffjill

          Yes totally agree, and particularly to do so before marriage. It’s awesome that they’re engaged and that he feels they are already married but if they were to break up or something terrible were to happen to him the law would not feel similarly.

          AND life is LONNNNG. It’s important to consider when leaving the workforce when and if you want to return, and how you will be able to do so. Is your job such that continued volunteer work would account for resume gaps? Is it one that is particularly discriminatory based on age? Is it something that would be flexible if you were raising children on your own?

          Like… this is scary because it IS scary. Or even if not scary for a particular person, a choice that should absolutely be approached very thoughtfully (which it sounds like LW is doing!).

          • Another Meg

            “AND life is LONNNNG.”

            Oh man, this is true. Not only in the context you mentioned. Yes, LW’s partner makes more NOW. But in 10 years, if he wants to switch careers and needs to go back to school, you may be the major breadwinner. And that’s ok.

            There are peaks and valleys in how we contribute to the family. For two years, I was in graduate school and made negative many thousands of dollars and my husband made a comfortable income. His income did not get him out of chores. Because it isn’t a points system. It’s a family.

            YOUR INCOME DOES NOT GET YOU OUT OF CHORES.****

          • A single sarah

            ****except to the extent that’s it pays for us to hire someone and gets us all out of chores

            (So on board with this point. I miss the exactly button ;)

          • Another Meg

            In our family, if you schedule people to do the chores, are home when they arrive and handle payment, it counts as doing said chores. But you have to do all of the emotional labor involved or it doesn’t count.

            I’ve realized (and gotten my husband to realize) that making the money only gets you so far. It doesn’t guarantee the chores will get done. We’ve gotten much better in recent years at counting emotional labor as labor. Which makes my life much happier. :)

          • idkmybffjill

            OR you decide that’s your particular contribution – chores are an enormous contribution!!! My stepmom has always been a substitute teacher/mostly stay at home mom for as long as she and my dad have been together (pre-children too), and for her, she was only comfortable doing it if she treated it like her job. Their house is always spotless and she cooks dinner basically every night. (I think they go out like 1-2 times per week). She manages their social calendar, plans big parties every year, handles all gifting… does all the emotional labor AND the actual labor of social/house life. If anything, I feel like my dad usually feels pretty indebted to her. It’ll be interesting when he eventually retires to see how it’ll balance out!

          • Another Meg

            I love this- my sister was in this role after they had their two children. Her husband travels a lot and works about 80 hours each week for his job and brings in a big financial contribution to their family. But their big joke is how much life insurance they have for my sister because it would cost him a bundle to pay a full-time nanny, housekeeper, and personal secretary.

            She’s back to being a full-time teacher, but I think she still handles all of the work running the house. People who can do this are champions.

        • AmandaBee

          Yuppp. If the question is just “How do I get comfortable with him out-earning me” then that’s one thing. You get comfortable with it by recognizing that your non-monetary contributions are just as important.

          If the question is “How do I get comfortable with being financially dependent” then my response is….well, don’t.

  • Laura C

    I am in love with basically every word of Liz’s answer. Especially the last two points, but all of it.

    • rg223

      Liz’s answers are always SO GOOD and I just love how much thought and care is evident in each of her responses.

      • Liz

        You guyyyyys

  • Sara

    I think that part of letting go and allowing yourself to become part of a partnership instead of a solo adventurer always comes with a degree of panic. What if you get used to the new normal and it falls away? Or changes again? I think Liz is right about finding your safety net. You are used to taking care of and relying on yourself – there is no shame in making sure that you’re ok in case of an emergency. Maybe its an emergency fund that you build yourself, or a disability insurance or a prenup. There’s also a weird feeling when you go from no money to some money, so allow yourself to feel weird about your new budget.
    Also the term ‘taking care of’ in your eyes seems to rely solely on money – but unless you never leave the couch and netflix, you’re likely taking care of him too. Maybe its making a list (because I love lists) of the things you do around the house and physically seeing what you’re contributing.

  • Cecilia

    This totally resonated with me. There is no way I am ever going to make as much money as my husband and right now, I’m back to school, so I’m not pitching in at all. Even coming from a family where my mom stayed at home and dad was the breadwinner, this was hard. I broke down crying in the car listening to “Independent Woman Part 1” by Destiny’s Child because I realized I wasn’t an independent woman anymore. (The house I live in? He bought it. The car I’m driving? He bought it. The rock I’m rockin’? He bought it. I depend on…him)

    I’m newly married, so we’re still working some of this out, but right now it seems to be going well. We got to the point where I feel secure about my financial future, even if something bad comes (death, divorce, etc). But it’s taken us getting really comfortable and honest with each other about money and our feelings around it and sometimes it still feels strange.

    • Not Sarah

      My husband lives in a condo that I bought. We drive a car that I bought. Our rings? We bought together. We’re working on the condo part by working with a lawyer to sort out getting him on the title of the condo and doing estate planning appropriately to make sure that we both appropriately get each other’s assets if something were to happen to either of us. That doesn’t completely help with the psychological part, but being on the title of the house and the car probably would help a bit if you aren’t already. And yes this stuff is hard! We just keep discussing it over and over again and eventually it seems to get easier.

    • AmandaBee

      “I’m back to school, so I’m not pitching in at all.”

      Dude, this is false. I mean, we all define pitching in differently, but my husband and I decided that it includes:
      Stuff that makes money
      Stuff that keeps our household running
      Stuff that contributes to our future

      School is an investment in your shared future, and it’s no less of a contribution than making income.

  • Emily

    I agree with every single point Liz made, but as far as therapy I might suggest that you do some counseling together, or maybe a class on money management? My husband and I came into our relationship on really unequal playing fields financially and that created a good amount of issues for us early on. When we got married, his uncle paid for us to have access to a financial manager for one year. Our “money guy” did our taxes, set up J’s side business, helped us move our savings/retirement funds/assets around and generally told us what we needed to do with our money until we had a REAL handle on where we were going. While not a therapist, talking to someone about our money objectively with the goal of making OUR life together definitely helped and I would recommend to anyone a millions times over.

  • raccooncity

    “Make sure you aren’t powerless.”

    Good idea. So true story, my mother dated a person and made significantly more money in the relationship but for whatever reason still left all the day to day finances to her partner. Eventually when the relationship ended, she found out he’d lied about a lot of expenses in order to siphon money to god knows what. Control doesn’t need to have anything to do with who makes the money, and is important for women to assert no matter what their relative incomes.

    I think that constantly discussing where your finances are at, together, and taking 50/50 control of the actual management of the money (in whatever way seems to work – for me, I make the budget and keep us to it because I’m better at saying no to things, while partner actually ensures that all the bills get paid because i’m scatterbrained) really helps make your relationship stronger. On the other hand, having sporadic, emergency-based “talks” about it usually leads to finance being stressful and having it turn into a fight issue.

  • Justine

    Cutting to the case here. Frankly, I’m surprised given your family background and you leaving home at 16, that you even made it through college. Families that don’t support their children’s needs usually produce children who struggle financially all their lives because they face the world at such a disadvantage.

    Think of your family as dysfunctional and your husband’s family as functional. Unhealthy vs. healthy.

    You are struggling to adapt to what is actually a healthy way of living. Families have relied on each other since forever. Families that get this right, are the ones who produce happier, healthier, and more successful individuals. These are the families that help their members to take advantage of opportunities in life because they aren’t stressed out all the time because there’s a support system.

    It might help you to accept your interdependence as a huge positive thing if you frame it this way.

    • idkmybffjill

      I think it’s important, however, to know when youre are “interdependent” and when you are totally dependent. There is a very long history of women not recovering well after a failed marriage in which they were entirely dependent.

      • rg223

        Agreed. I think Justine has a larger point about interdependence that I agree with, but I don’t think that’s the main issue here – the main issue is the LW’s specific concern about not working and relying completely on her partner for money (which is both understandable and common!). I don’t feel I know from the letter whether or not the LW is struggling to accept interdependence overall (ETA: which is what I think Justine’s comment is about).

        • Justine

          I am reacting to this:

          “Here’s where I struggle. I love this man so very much and I know he
          loves me. But I still feel this extreme fear and guilt when it comes to
          accepting the things in our life that his money provides. I feel guilty
          because I know without him I wouldn’t be able to live in the adorable
          house he bought for us, I wouldn’t be able to eat at the kind of
          restaurants we do without him, I wouldn’t be able to drive the car we
          have, or go on the trips we do. And I am petrified that one day he’ll
          see me as a burden to him, something I swore I’d never let myself be to
          anyone again.”

          That sounds like someone who questions the very concept of interdependence.

          Of course, it reasonable and advisable to address how she can secure her own future if the worst happens. But she also needs to deal with her concept of family and interdependence at the same time. Right now, she’s sort of casting a blessing as a curse.

          • idkmybffjill

            I think that’s a good point! And I think you’re spot on.

          • rg223

            Ahh, I see where you are coming from. I read that section as still being generally about financial interdependence (though of course everything is related and there are definitely emotions around finances), while I see the “very concept” of interdependence also including emotional interdependence (like, you share your feelings about an argument with a friend), caretaking interdependence (you’re taking care of the other person when they’re sick), etc, hence I read into your comment. LW may or may not be struggling with those others aspects of interdependence. And I think it’s incredibly common for a person to struggle with one aspect of interdependence or another, without questioning the concept as a whole.

          • Justine

            Maybe a clearer way of saying it is that she questions financial sharing.

            But that’s what healthy families do. Or as Meg calls it – mini socialism.

            It seems to be a foreign concept to the LW, thanks to her parents bizarre idea that they were entitled to bring children into the world without providing for their needs.

          • rg223

            Oh yeah, very much agree on that! I feel for the LW so much, for experiencing that. And I too think mini socialism is the way to go.

          • Jess

            Mini socialism is rough! I am trying to wrap my head around it, and it is just so foreign.

    • “Frankly, I’m surprised given your family background and you leaving home at 16, that you even made it through college”

      I find this a bit condescending: LW busted her ass to get to where she is today — working whatever jobs to put herself through school and building a career in management that she loves. If I had to fight that hard I’d be damn proud of myself, and would feel lost without the hustling. I agree that her family dynamics were “unhealthy,” but husband “taking care of you” doesn’t necessarily translate to “healthy.” When Liz asked “but do you want this?” that nailed it for me, because if I think if it were me I’d probably feel most like myself paying my own bills.

      • Amy March

        I thought it was sincere admiration- what she managed to do is unusual and a huge accomplishment.

  • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

    Ahhh, we have elements of this, but mixed up a bit. He works a trade type job and is our breadwinner, which is weird for me to accept as someone who doesn’t want to be financially dependent on someone else, and his family is full of divorce and addiction and financial disasters. I have to remind myself that the household contributions I make, all the emotional labor stuff and, ironically, managing our money, is a valuable contribution to the household as well. I came from the Norman Rockwell kinda family, which makes him pretty uncomfortable at times. Our house is in my name, because he helped a couple relatives sign on their house, while I had a bunch of money my dad invested in my name for the down payment. (Which was also a super weird thing, because since moving out of my parents’ house, I’ve never asked them for money, or needed to.) But, I wouldn’t have bought the house if we weren’t both going to live in it, and if he up and left tomorrow, I would need to take on a roommate to afford living there. Right now he’s weirded out that my family is contributing a big chunk of money to our wedding fund, while his family has nothing to offer us. I was talking to him about how a wedding is a celebration of all the people who have supported you in your lives up until this point, and he said, “Yeah, my family wasn’t that to me. I graduated from boot camp and nobody came.” Which, damn, he’s right.I don’t have a solution, because we’re still living this, and I think we always will to some degree. I tell myself that we’re a team, that we trust each other, that we’re in it together. I know that deep down, if something were to happen, we would both be ok and figure out how to take care of ourselves, as we have in the past, but I hope we never have to. We’re choosing to get married because we would rather be on the same team, relying on and taking care of and supporting each other as partners, than going it alone. We both still have an underlying independent survival instinct.

    • idkmybffjill

      “wedding is a celebration of all the people who have supported you in your lives up until this point”

      We had this same sort of disagreement (but for very different reasons), and I found changing *of* to *with* made a big difference. It also helped me when I got real sad about some unexpected people who couldn’t make it. The day wasn’t about them, it was a day WITH them, but it was about the choice we were making.

      Not about money but I just thought I’d share something that helped us!

      • Jess

        I made the same change! With, not Of.

        • idkmybffjill

          It made a really big difference for me. It was a REALLY big help in dealing with disappointment. When my MOH was a bit flakey, and I was thinking of it as OF, it was like…. But I’m doing this to honor you!! When people couldn’t come, it was hard when I was thinking of it as, “but all of this is for you!!”.

          I wanted to fight against the idea that it was all about us two, because it wasn’t! The people we were with were very important to our experience of our wedding.

          BUT it was fundamentally a celebration OF us, and when I wrapped my brain around that, it got alot easier to focus in on what really mattered. And it was easier to see that that’s how other people were treating it – something that they were honored to be apart of (or not, whatever), but that wasn’t fundamentally about them.

      • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

        You’re absolutely right! It’s a celebration of our marriage, WITH those people. I do like that better. His issue is that most of the people in his life…were not a support system. They didn’t get him to where he was, he had to do that himself. His family turns to him for help, not the other way around.

        • idkmybffjill

          Oof totally. I don’t have anything on that scale, and am very lucky as far as family – does he have other relationships he’s excited about celebrating his marriage with? In general my husband was always less excited about the community than I was. Not for any such good reasons as your fiance has, just generally more like, “If we end up married, I am happy regardless”, and wasn’t too worried about anyone else. I would say he felt that way until the actual wedding day, after which he was like.. you were right and I’m really glad we had our people. (MANY of our people were not family)

          • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

            He does love his family — we both do — and he’s considering choosing his dad and his brother as his groomsmen. His dad has always been more of a friend than a parent, you know? He also has a couple really solid friends who came from equally dysfunctional families and they’ve stuck together for years. We have people he’s excited to invite to party with us. I’m just sad for him, because I look back and see a ton of people who cheered me on and made a point of telling me that I was loved and supported, and he didn’t have that. We both want a big, fun, rockin’ party after our ceremony, but the reception part will mean something different to him than it does to me. That makes me a little sad for him.

          • idkmybffjill

            Mmm. Yeah, I totally get that. There were some things at our wedding that our families did on both sides that made the reception feel… less about family than I was expecting – but it resulted in us having this awesome feeling of being our own family together and getting choose the type of parents/family we’ll be to our own kids down the line. Sending good thoughts for you! Weddings can be tough…for me, our wedding put relationships under a microscope in a way I hadn’t expected, with some results I hadn’t expected.

          • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

            Thank you! The older I get, the more I also understand that the people you choose are family in a way that blood relatives are not necessarily. Sometimes those circles overlap more or less. This whole process will be interesting.

  • RNLindsay

    I agree with Liz’s third step! Make sure you have access to the money, or have money of your own. My husband makes way more than me, but we have joint accounts. I have access to all of our accounts. We also have our own disposable “allowances” each month that are our own free spending, so I don’t ever have to feel like I depend on him or ask permission for my own day to day spending. If we were to separate, my lifestyle would definitely change, but I’d also be single and expect it to change.
    I also understand the different backgrounds. My parents were in no way abusive, but my mom was a single mom and freely talked about our lack of money. $20 for a class field trip was a big deal, and I always felt like a burden asking for things like that, or any extras when it came to clothes, school supplies etc. My husband came from a wealthier family and never went without. We do talk about these differences though and what values we want to bring to our children. I don’t want to struggle with money the way my mom did, but I also like the fact that I know how to save and budget and balance my checkbook – all things I learned from her because she had to know where every dollar was going. I think these values/skills can still be taught to children even if you are better off. I like the comment from Justine below about learning healthy ways of creating a family – think of it as building a better foundation within your own new family unit, that way your future children don’t have to experience what you did growing up.

  • CII

    An aside: LW, you sound like a pretty impressive lady. I hope that you are proud of the accomplishments and the life that you have built for yourself. You should be.

    • Justine

      Agree! It’s a miracle what she’s accomplished without a shred of help.

  • cml

    Wow! I’m so happy to see this today, because I can relate so much to some of the feelings and worries.

    I come from a single parent household where money was always a struggle. Even though I TRY to be good with money, I’m not 100% there yet. My fiancé and I make almost equal salaries right now, and I’m on track to (probably) eventually out-earn him, but he is the better saver. He made the down payment on our home, and it is his savings that are paying for our wedding.

    Coming from a lifetime of being an Independent Woman ™ raised by an Independent Woman ™, it has been much harder than I even realized to adjust to this new reality. I have been feeling like such a burden, financially, lately. (Even though I do the bulk of the emotional labor and make the house a home and all that equally valuable stuff.)

    All that to say that, while our situations aren’t the same, I feel ya LW. Liz’s advice is so good, and I hope you can get to a place where you feel better about all of the good in your life (and all of the AWESOME THINGS you’ve done for yourself thus far).

  • Jess

    LW, I agree wholeheartedly with Liz. She wrote up a very excellent and compassionate response.

    What you have accomplished in your life is amazing and impressive. Don’t ever feel like it isn’t.

    What I would like to ask is that you think about what you want.

    Personally, phrases like “take care of you” and “provide for you” and “spoil you” and “give you everything you want” are really big Nopes for me, especially in hetero relationships. They make my skin crawl when I hear my BIL say them to my SIL, even though they do not seem to have any major issues, and it isn’t said in a power-dynamic way but more of a lovey-dovey way. Even so, I would not take kindly to R saying them to me.

    For me, this has a history of (like you) being made to feel selfish for wanting things from my mom, and also for having gifts or purchases be used as leverage by her. So, being “taken care of” always makes me feel like I’m being set up.

    It also has to do with the fact that I don’t see myself as someone who needs or wants to be taken care of. I want to contribute (the difference in tone is huge) and I want to be deeply involved in the effort of a relationship/home building/financials, not just be a benefactor.

    I don’t know how you like to be treated – are you someone who likes to be pampered, put on a pedestal, and flattered? That’s fine! You may get used to the idea of being taken care of in time.

    If you’re not, you may need to work on getting to a point where your contributions (both financial and otherwise) feel like enough and your partner stops talking about “taking care of you” as if you can’t do it on your own (which would royally tick me off).

    And if it turns out he really wants to take care of someone, and you really don’t want to be taken care of, it’s time to think about what that conflict means for you two.

    Just because the social script for women is to want nothing more than a man to provide for them, doesn’t mean you have to want it or that you have to feel bad about that.

  • Aubry

    First of all LW, you are a badass who deserves every good thing that is coming your way. And secondly, I really support Liz’s recommendation of more therapy. Because, man is being OK and mentally healthy in a couple a lot different than being OK single. Your journey to single OK was a long and hard one, and this journey to coupled and OK is more of the same water to tread through, but hopefully these waters are familiar if a bit deeper. Being vulnerable in a relationship is hard, and dregs up history you thought you were over. But making decisions on how you feel about things is hard from a place of childhood trauma. I think if you can work through some of that trauma a bit deeper, you can look at the situation in a calmer (adrenal glad calmer anyway) way and decide how you can feel secure and like you are contributing. Maybe that is financially, emotionally, family care or whatever.

    I wish you luck, and hopefully a long happy marriage and children who form secure attachments to you as a loving parent. Break the cycle girl, you’re amazing.

  • Penny7b

    As the sole breadwinner in my hetero-marriage, I think I can offer some perspective here that might be useful. I have a great career that I am very good and love dearly, and it happens to pay quite well. Lucky me. For most of our relationship my now husband has either earned very little or not earned anything at all, either because of difficulty finding work or finding work that was meaningful but didn’t pay much/anything. So on one level I “provide” for him. But the way I see it my salary provides for our household. Within that household we have a number of things that need doing, like chores, but also love and emotional support and good mental health practices. A lot of my job requires good emotional intelligence to do well. It also requires that I am well rested and not over-stressed and can think clearly to solve problems and get on with difficult people. I am very strongly of the view that I would not be anywhere near as good at my job if I didn’t have my husband to love and support me and make me the sane stable person that I am. I would not be able to earn what I earn without him. He contributes directly to my ability to bring home the paycheck that supports us both.

    But because I am a woman, there is no talk of me “providing for him.” If we go on a date to a nice restaurant I am not “spoiling him.” He does not need to thank me for earning the money to pay the bills, we just pay the bills.

    That said, sometimes being the one who earns the money puts me in the position of being in control of the money by default. And that can lead to weird power-dynamics in the relationship. We’ve had to be very careful and observant to notice when those start to creep in and address them quickly. Things we’ve done that have helped: getting a shared account that he has full access to, doing our household budget together, doing our taxes together, getting insurance, making sure he has his own retirement savings account so if we do divorce he won’t be destitute in old age.

    • AmandaBee

      As the current breadwinner, this really resonated. We’re very conscious of the power dynamics that come with earning money, and a large part of combining finances was so H has just as much claim to the money as me.

      But also, H contributes a lot and it would be hard for me to invest as much into my career and school without him. So I very much think of my money as “our” money and that really shifts the mindset we try to have about it.

  • AnneM

    I don’t have any kind of solution to this problem, but I just wanted to say: LW, you’re not alone in this. My family isn’t quite as dysfunctional and abusive, but close, and my partner outearns me. We’re talking my salary times three or more here. He pays the rent on our house, he loaned me the money for a laptop when I needed one, and in case I’ll be unemployed soon (currently looking for a job, fingers crossed), he will pay all expenses that aren’t covered by what I get from unemployment services. I’ve also decided, after two years of working full-time and being miserable, that I’d rather work part-time, thus giving up on any chance of ever coming close to earning as much as he does. I even feel that I would probably be quite happy as a housewife (which is a new thing for me, and comes from having to admit that my chronic health conditions have a bigger impact on my life than I’d like to admit).

    So right now, I’m home, looking for a job and taking care of the housework. And rationally, I know that that should be okay. I know that I should be okay with asking my partner to cover the expenses, if I do the housework. But I’m not. I feel like my contribution is genuinely worth less than his. Plus, there’s a reason it’s called house-“wife”. As long as we’re not married, I have no claims to any money he makes, I can’t really ask him to pay for my disability insurance or contribute to any kind of retirement plan for me. And even if we were married, my stay-at-home-mom is going to have a really hard time once she retires, as she didn’t pay into public retirement insurance for 16 years while staying home with us, and has no claims to what my father paid while they were married. Which isn’t exactly reassuring.

    Over all, I just want to say I very much get where LW is coming from, because while rationally knowing we should be able to figure out a way that our contributions matter equally, I have some serious trouble actually having these conversations with my partner. And I’m not at all comfortable with the thought of building our lives together while being unable to really contribute financially, thus not having the same claims to that shared life that he does.
    Which is why I love, love, love all the responses here, from people who are so much better at articulating these things, than I am. I’ll definitely steal from this thread when I’ve worked up the nerve to have this (overdue) conversation with my partner. Thanks for that!

  • I haven’t read all of the comments so I don’t know if this has come up, but something I haven’t seen mentioned is the idea of retirement funds. My husband makes a lot more than I do when I’m working (doctor/teacher) and right now I’m home with the baby. I have a retirement account from previous jobs that we continue to contribute to, even though I don’t currently have income. It definitely makes me feel better about taking time off from paid work and like my husband acknowledges my contribution to our family.

  • My fiancé and I have had conversations to this degree, but with a twist. He currently has a higher income than me and I’m sure that gap will only grow as we move forward in our careers because he works in the field of for-profit sales/marketing, while I have always (and probably will always) work for nonprofits or government. But right now, he has bucketloads of student debt, while I have a good chunk of savings. So our day to day earnings are tilted in his direction, but our overall wealth is tilted in my direction.

    We’ve had conversations about how we anticipate things changing and what our comfort levels would be if say, one of us needed to be off work for medical reasons, loss of job, or childcare. As well as, how things will change once his student loans are paid off. It’s good to start the foundation of those discussions but I also feel that we can’t truly know how we’ll handle it until we’re in that situation. Anyway, Liz’s advice was awesome.

  • LW, I feel for you! I think Liz’s advice is spot on.

    I struggle with this myself – what is the line between enough independence and enough interdependence?

    It scares me to think about taking a bunch of time out of the workforce for kids. I’m afraid that I will have lost the ability to provide a nice life for myself (and future kiddos) if something were to happen. I don’t want to switch from interdependence to straight up dependence.

    Even now I’ve had to do some strong negotiation and problem solving with my husband to give my career the attention it needs to thrive. We’ve moved a lot, so I’ve had some sub-optimal jobs and a few periods of unemployment. I make less (in part because of previous compromises!)

    Some friends and colleagues really don’t understand my desire to give some priority to my career now even though my husband makes more, and they anticipate that I will the primary caregiver of kids and that my career will go on the back burner in the future too. I’m not sure how things will shake out, but the whole cultural narrative is irritating.

  • Caittt1217

    “So your partner is right! You’re both contributing. Even if he’s making the big bucks, it’s likely that you’re pulling weight in other areas.”

    I know this line comes from a good place and I think it is important to recognize that different types of contributions are really valuable. However, I feel like it kinda might suggest that the LW is doing the majority of the emotional labor and/or physical labor like household chores and that her fiance is NOT doing those things.

    My husband pulls weight in other areas just as much as I do (if not more!). We both work 40+ hours per week at the jobs we get paid to do and love. No matter how many extra hours I put in doing emotional labor and household chores it will never make up for the differences in our salaries, especially because he takes on an EQUAL share of that stuff as well.

    So, I just don’t think that saying “it’s okay because you contribute in other ways like X, Y, and Z” is the most healthy way to resolve it, because if the high earning partner also contributes in non-monetary ways, then the low earning partner might still be left feeling indebted. There has to be another line of reasoning for why it’s just *okay* that one person earns and contributes more money than the other.

    • Shannon

      MIC DROP.

      Also what if the lower earning partner works longer hours? And the higher earning partner handles MORE of the non-monetary contributions? Admittedly, I handle more of the emotional labor (though not ALL of it!) but my higher earning partner is way more likely to do X,Y and Z around the house.

      Anyone else feeling like they are “contributing less” in both departments? I don’t often keep tabs on how balanced things may or may not be, but this post made me start to think…

  • Elemjay

    Maybe think about your plan to stay home when you have children? That could really make you feel financially trapped because ummmm you may well be. Both in terms of the financial impact in the short term and the longer term impact on your employability/ earning power. It’s a great thing to be a stay at home parent but there can be some very real financial consequences and it reinforces existing financial differences. Some parents love it of course but I happen to think it isn’t for everyone.

  • Skittkate

    I’m a bit late to this discussion, but I’d love to hear thoughts on how contributions/power/burden change if one person is not only the sole breadwinne, but also does the majority of chores and other household work. For example, I deal with some pretty limiting chronic health issues and don’t work. I don’t have a lot of energy or pain-free time, and sometimes all I can contribute to our home is not being in a crappy mood (and sometimes not even that). I feel constantly in debt and guilty, especially at the times when I can’t even be a source of support,let alone income.

  • GC630

    Dear Liz,

    I was just flipping through A Practical Wedding and almost jumped out of my bed when I started reading my own inquiry. Tears are streaming down my face right now. To you and all of the other amazing and lovely women on this thread, thank you from the bottom of my heart. For your kind words and valuable advice. Your reply was so amazing and so was much of the advice other women gave. I feel so incredibly lucky to have found this incredible community. A place where woman can talk about real issues, fears, wants, needs, without the fear of judgement, or being shamed, where the answers are honest, raw and real. A place for us to build each other up, instead of the kind of tearing down that often happens on the internet.

    I did actually give my wonderful therapist a call, btw. And she’s really helped me to view my anxiety about this money stuff from a newer healthier perspective, and to be a little kinder to myself, instead of feeling as if I’m I grateful in some way for feeling this way. My fiancé has been supportive throughout everything. We’ve made some changes in how we talk about our finances, invested in life insurance to protect against the worst, and also opened a joint account that we both contribute to equally monthly for savings. This last one has made a major difference for me because like knowing it’s a joint effort. I can’t lie and pretend I never feel anxious, but the best thing to come out of all of this, is that I feel closer than ever to my almost husband (two months!!! Woo!). Because money talks are really hard. But add in the emotional issues that were tied to me, and it’s down right terrifying. But we worked at it. We keep talking, we keep making changes, and being flexible, and we keep learning more about what works and doesn’t for each of us within our partnership.

    Liz, thank you so very much. For asking the tough questions. For being so kind, honest, and wise. And for taking your time to respond to me.

    Love to All,

    Casey