Q: My family is fairly close. My fiancé’s is not.
My parents divorced when I was in college, and my mom has struggled financially since then. My brother, via a series of unfortunate decisions, was for a long time also not in the best financial position. He has since married and had a child and is wildly different from how he used to be.
I have always significantly out-earned by mom and brother, and I’ve also primarily shouldered the emotional labor of keeping us together, buying presents for holidays, and paying for things so we could spend time together. Fast-forward to now, my fiancé and I still significantly out-earn my family,
The issue that has been slowly escalating is that my fiancé thinks our relationship with my family is grossly unfair, and that we should stop doing anything for them because they don’t/can’t reciprocate. This is obviously not the reason why I do nice things for my family, but after further pushing from him, I did mentally take a step back and realize that, in some situations, it is starting to feel like my family takes advantage of me or expects me to pay for things because I have the money.
This has been exacerbated by us buying a house and paying for a wedding this year, and my fiancé’s penny pinching is starting to get excessive. He keeps meticulous record of who pays for what and how much my family eats or drinks when they visit us. He never says anything directly to my family, he just unleashes on me about them as soon as they leave. He constantly complains that they are free-riders and leeches. The final straw was when he told me I shouldn’t waste money getting my brother a birthday present because, “He didn’t get anything for yours.”
I’m starting to feel like I’m crazy. My family are not drug addicts, they’ve never asked to borrow money, and when we visit them, I tend to pay for things because I know money is tight for them, and it isn’t for me. Yes, they have sometimes expected me to pay for things, and it does sometimes get annoying, but I feel like I can’t gauge if my fiancé’s reaction is “normal” or if I need to change something and cut my family off?
A: Dear Anonymous,
Your family might be mooching. It doesn’t sound like that from here. But hey, maybe that part is lost in your email and they really take advantage of you.
But even if that’s the case, your partner’s behavior is way over the top.
Families help each other. Sometimes that help is financial. Sometimes, it’s not about help, it’s about “I’m willing to spend money for us to enjoy this thing together, because I know if I don’t spend it, you can’t afford to do it.” Some families, as you’ve figured out, don’t operate this way. My family does. Maybe your partner’s doesn’t. That doesn’t mean any of us are wrong or right, just that there are different ways families work.
Where this crosses over from, hm, he’s not used to families operating this way, or hm, maybe he’s an objective outsider who is seeing something you’re not, is when he starts tabulating how much food they eat at your house. Nope. Just nope. I’m finding it pretty hard to side with someone who would be that exacting about finances, especially with family.
There’s a level where you both need to agree on how that money is spent. It’s not reasonable for you to never help your family with cash, or to stop giving your brother birthday gifts (geez, dude). But maybe you and your partner can discuss what he feels would be a reasonable amount of help, a sensible place to draw a line. Because they’re your family. You’re going to want to be generous with them. But maybe there can be some easy expectations for you both to agree to.
When you have those conversations, realize that money isn’t just money. It plays into a whole host of power dynamics. And right now, the way your partner is using money is not just bizarre or stingy, but also kind of controlling.