How Do I Tell My Partner He Needs to Make More Money?

I think I just need more from him now

man and woman sitting together

Q: After five years of dating, four years living together, and three years being pet-parents, my partner and I finally decided to get married!

I love this man more than words can express. This sounds cheesy but he makes the mundane stuff so fun, we share the same values about life, and he adores me. But our road so far hasn’t been easy. He’s in a creative field with very few jobs and fierce competition, and hasn’t had a single full-time job since we met, whereas I’m in a much less exciting field, but with a steady income and benefits. He’s a really hard worker and an early-riser, often times combines teaching jobs with commissioned work and other forms of hustle, but money is always super tight somehow. When he has any, it seems to disappear instantly into more creative projects that aren’t generating income. Saving for retirement or a house has never even been a consideration.

Our way to deal with this has been to live very frugally and split our living costs in half (basically rent, car and groceries), while I cover most of the extra stuff for both of us like eating out or traveling or house repairs. I don’t mind living under my means at all; in fact I think it’s really healthy to need less and consume less. I’ve also never had a problem making more money than a boyfriend. But the constant hustle that I found exciting at first is giving me some anxiety now that I really, really want to have a kid. Two years ago, he decided that the best way for him to achieve some job security would be to get a masters degree. It was a tough decision that pushed back our baby-making plans two more years and would put us into even more financial stress, but as a guy in his thirties, it seemed like a now-or-never kind of thing, and I gave him my unconditional support.

As these two years are coming to an end, I can honestly say they have been the hardest in my life—in a brand new city where I have zero friends, working a job that’s draining my soul to support the both of us, and barely seeing him because his program is so demanding. And as the end of his degree is approaching, I was hoping for some clarity, but it seems like our future is hazier than ever. We need to decide where to live and what kind of work we’re both going to do. He really wants to launch a business together, but it could require years to take off, and we need health insurance and some minimum stability to have a baby. Now I’m wondering if we should postpone the wedding until we’re really certain we can build a functional life together and he proves to me that he will step up and take a job, any job, when we have a kid. I would consider being the provider if he took on the childcare, but that is extremely unlikely to happen. He can’t stand being cooped up in the house for a day, much less for months on end with an infant.

I am estranged from my family, and he is essentially all I’ve got. His family is my family, and I really, really want to see “us” work. I just have that nasty little voice in my head popping up sometimes saying, “You’ve been together five years and this guy has never been able to provide. What makes you think he will be able to now?” Or, “If he really loved you, he’d be less selfish about his career and put our family plans first,” or “Is it reasonable to marry someone with massive student debt and no proven record to make any money to pay it off?” I’m getting to an age where I can’t keep waiting to see if things develop in the right direction. More than anything, I want to build a family with someone and can’t imagine it being anyone else than him, but I also want a partner I can rely on.

How can I discuss these things without seeming accusatory? A lot of resentment has built up over these last two years of supporting his dreams, and I don’t want to go into marriage bitter.


A: Dear Anonymous,

I’ll take a leap and assume your partner doesn’t know that you’re feeling this way—bitter, resentful, unsure. But does he know the rest? Does he know that you hope this situation will someday swap, that he’ll have the lucrative job and pay the bills? And while we’re asking some questions, is this arrangement (you paying the bills, him chasing dreams) something you agreed to, or something he just eased himself into and took for granted?

I know you fully supported his decision to go back to school, and that’s awesome. You signed up for it, you agreed to it, and it’s finally starting to wear on you (completely understandable). But the rest of that stuff—the creative field that forces him to wait around for an opening, the extra cash he’s throwing into side projects. Did you agree to all of that? Or did you expect you’d both share the weight of financial responsibility, both invest together in your relationship, and instead he’s just traipsing around, assuming that you’ll pick up his slack? Because man that’d be deserving of some bitter resentment.

Career decisions are joint decisions. When you’re in a relationship, these things make a huge impact on your partner. They determine where you live, how you live, and how much time and money you have at your disposal. You need to be a part of the decision-making process. And that goes double or triple for starting a business. If that’s his plan, it’s only doable if you’re completely on board. A small business will assuredly take over your life for a stretch, and as you point out, probably won’t offer much in return for a little while.

So, have you talked about it? Are you both involved in the decisions about his career path? Did you know that the end goal of this extra degree would be entrepreneurship? Does he know that you want children, that you hope that he’ll get a steady job with a fat paycheck, that you’d like to stop being the financially responsible one in the relationship? Or, has he always known that his career wouldn’t be lucrative, that it would be emotionally but not financially fulfilling one (in which case, this guy is not your breadwinner, now or ever)? If these chats haven’t happened, get on it.

I see three possibilities here. The first is that maybe this stretch of you-as-breadwinner was supposed to be short, he expected to find a job, he expected to make this career lucrative and it just hasn’t yet. Or, two, he knew this career path wasn’t going to make him rich, but he chose it anyway, works hard, and finds it emotionally fulfilling; he’s not motivated by money. Or, three, he’s sort of a slacker, he’s not motivated by money, but he’s also not motivated by anything—like needing to pay rent or watching you slave away. To figure out which one of these is going on, I would need to know how much you’ve talked about this and what’s been said (and I don’t).

Lots of us have been in this exact place. So many of us carry the burden of responsible adulthood while partners go for their Master’s (me) or finish law school (Meg) or go to nursing school (Stephanie) or start a small business (also me), even moving across the country to follow a partner’s career (Meg again). Carrying that weight for each other can be a really important part of marriage. If you think about it, that means that we can accomplish more as a team than we can on our own. Because you took care of the worries about rent and bills, your partner was able to wholly focus on his education. That’s kind of awesome!

But you’re writing because it’s worn thin, and that’s fair. If we’re going to do this for our partners, shouldering the extra burdens, making sacrifices, it has to be done with some boundaries. You get a say in what’s happening, and you’re allowed to cry “uncle!” when it’s too much. It’s only fair to request a time limit or an end goal, and if that end goal isn’t met within the time limit, you’re allowed to ask for a plan b. You’re allowed to expect that what you want is also considered.

That last part is the important part here. This kind of shouldering burdens requires mutuality. You’ve gotta be able to take your turn if needed, to know that what you want is also being weighed as an important factor. So, is it? Or, does this one irritating situation demonstrate a clash in priorities and personalities? Is he maybe the kind of guy who isn’t motivated to earn the rent, is kind of lazy about taking care of himself? Worse still, is he just the kind of guy who is content to sit back while you do all the work? If this is a narrow situation—he’s just focusing on this offbeat career, he’s just pouring himself into his education—you can get through that with some therapy and some conversation. But, if this is just one example in a trend, it might be a bigger problem.

Either way, I said it—therapy. Feeling resentful after all of this time is only normal, but man, it’s not a great idea to keep it bottled. Plus some conversations with a professional, objective third party can help you address all of these unknowns about the future and figure out if you’re dealing with a one-time stint, or a guy with a bad habit of dropping the ball and expecting you to catch it.


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  • CMT

    Oooh. I don’t think it would make much of a difference if your partner did start to make more money, LW. It seems like the problem here isn’t really the amount of money, but rather the fact that you seem to have pretty different financial priorities. From experience, I am guessing he’s not going to wake up one day and suddenly think, “I should open a 401k and then make sure I have my health insurance figured out.” Please don’t marry him without figuring out if and how you can be on the same page about financial priorities.

    • Her Lindsayship

      Or really just life priorities. It’s not just about money – it’s about different definitions of fulfillment. Many things in the letter come back to the question of how/when to manage bringing a child in, and it doesn’t sound like a priority for the partner at all. (At least in this limited view of the relationship.)

      • Lisa

        Part of the issue around men prioritizing children is that they typically haven’t been conditioned to think about the logistics of it like women. If you asked my husband, he would say that having kids is a priority for him, but he had never thought about timelines, what he’d want to have in place before having kids, or how many years it would be before those things should take place. I was the one who had to walk him through the logistics of all that.

        • Ros

          My husband once said “oh, we can do this! It’ll work out, it always does!”

          And i blew up at him and was like “it always works out for YOU because I’m scrambling in the background arranging everything so it works and juggling everything so nothing falls. This is the planning stage that gives us the resources to make it work! It’s WORK, ok, it doesn’t just magically happen!!!”

          He has since gotten better at seeing/contributing to the logistics, but, yeah. “Wanting kids within the next 2 years” does not necessarily equal “and have broken down that timeline to work on the things that need to be accomplished before we can do that”, especially if you have someone with few project management skills. Which… not to generalize about creative people, but, I married a musician, and there’s a reason they tend to have managers…

          • Courtkay

            Wait, is your husband my husband? That line – “Everything will work out!” is his go-to, and it absolutely makes my blood boil. He uses it mostly to shut down a conversation when he’s distracted or doesn’t feel like talking about something. But your response is perfect, and I may have to steal it. Because that’s exactly it – it works out because I’m doing all this work he doesn’t notice. Arg!!

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          • Courtkay

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          • Ros

            Yeah… that was the toddler. Accidentally. The perils of trying to post places while wrangling a newborn AND toddler and then leave the phone out while changing the baby’s diaper… Speaking of background work. (I love my kids. I’m grateful for Quebec maternity leave. I’m also very grateful that the toddler is in daycare for most of the week and I’m VERY grateful I have a job I like to go back to.) ;)

            Short summary of the deleted post: my parents (who got together as teenagers and are still happily married, for the record) had this dynamic of my dad having great ideas of things he wanted to do! try! achieve! Etc! and my mother scrambling in the background to make things work, and after 30 years of that dynamic and he… kind of acknowledged her contributions? But mostly was convinced that he was just brilliant.

            And then she had a health crisis right as he had Another Great Idea, and she was like ‘I can’t help, and This is the stuff that needs to be thought of’ and he was like ‘yeah, yeah, I’m good, I got it! I’ve always had it before!’ and she was like ‘because I did all the background work!’ and he didn’t concede that point and she decided to… illustrate it.

            So for the entirety of that project she shut up and kept notes about what she’d normally be doing. Things like ‘Date: normally alter the following things on our grocery list to These cheaper options and put the 100$ in this account’ or ‘Date: sign up to teach this class, make 500$, put it in this account’ or ‘Date: call X person to cover Husband for this responsibility on this weekend so that he can do Other Thing’. Like, a half page of annotated background work with dates of what she would normally do and wasn’t doing this time, and, when needed, background documentation to show how it had happened in prior years (years of budget lists with the grocery budget dipping and associated money transfers to another account, and that account being used by him to fund his Thing, for example). Like, she was THOROUGH. (And to be fair: his ideas always DID work out and make money, but you need money to invest to get through to the end…)

            And he wound up 6 months in, underfunded and overworked and occasionally triple-booked and he came up to her to complain and say that he didn’t understand and she just handed him the list and walked him through the exact background work needed to make his stuff work out. Let’s just say he developed an immediate appreciation for what was needed for his ideas to succeed, and has been very appreciative and vocally sharing the credit ever since. And I’m pretty sure that wound up saving their marriage, because she was about ready to strangle him at that point. ;)

            I’m not saying everyone should do this – it’s VERY heavy-handed for a newer relationship, or a relationship where you’re not also running a business together. But for a 30-year-long marriage and business arrangement? It was SO EFFECTIVE.

            And I am in awe at the cold-blooded ‘Oh, you don’t need me and you’ve got this and you feel that allowing my contributions are you indulging me and giving me a sense of importance? Fine. Let’s document this and have it out. I’m fucking DONE.’ and letting him faceplant and fail.

            And honestly I’m also really impressed that he picked himself up and recognized that he’d messed up and hadn’t appreciated his success and FIXED it. Like, went to therapy, worked on his business AND relationships, everything. He made it work. And we all know SO many dudes of that generation who wouldn’t have.

          • AmandaBee

            So, like, nothing this extreme happened to us but the summer I was working on my candidacy exams (while working full-time) and was thus fully out of commission for household tasks for 10 weeks, my (now) husband admitted that he never knew how much stuff I was doing behind the scenes until he had to try to juggle it all and we ate takeout several nights in a row.

            So, there is something to pulling out and letting someone figure out it. I really think that summer, shitty as it was, made us strong enough in our relationship to get married.

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  • Lisa

    LW, I feel you. As Liz said, so many of us have been there (or are currently here), and you have to communicate clearly what your expectations are to see if they align with your partner’s. For what kind of career is he planning now that he’s graduating? What concrete steps is he going to take to make that happen? What is his back-up plan? (Preferably it’s not building a small business with you because that doesn’t sound like something you’re interested in taking on.) If none of these pan out, would he be willing to take over primary caregiver duties for the hypothetical kids so you can focus on your own career/bread-winning?

    I’m in the throes of this situation, too, and it’s really difficult. Clearly your needs aren’t being met, and after years of prioritizing on your partner’s, it’s time for you both to sit down and see what you can do together to even the scales a bit. If you come away from those conversations feeling like you really can’t reach a compromise, then it’s time for you to consider whether you want to move forward with the wedding and baby-making plans.

  • Amy March

    I think it’s a hard one, because it’s a values disconnect. He is a hard worker and he is hustling and he also values his creative field which might never yield financial results. Have you talked about it? You say savings has never really been a consideration- have you asked him how he sees life playing out? If he even wants a house some day? I think it’s perfectly fine to ask him if he’s willing to put more of a focus on finances, but you need to be prepared for the answer to be no.

    • Amy March

      And it’s bring back such fond memories of my high school boyfriend. I broke up with him because he completed his college applications in pencil (I’m still aghast) and his life is pretty much how I would have expected it to go. He’s a musician, cheesemonger, never has much money but he’s also passionate, creative, generous, and loving his life. We just wanted such different things from life – both great things – but incompatible.

      • gipsygrrl

        That’s a really good point – about both being good people and both paths being worthy. Certainly having a 9-5 job and a 401k isn’t the only way to live a good life. I’ve probably been vilifying LW’s dude a bit and I’m sure he’s a wonderful person. But if LW isn’t down for that life of creative… uncertainty, she needs to move on.

        • CMT

          Yes! I am so glad there are musician cheesemongers in the world to supply me with music and cheese. It is definitely not the lifestyle for me, though.

          • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

            God bless the musician cheesemongers.

          • Cellistec

            Add that to my APW t-shirt wish list.

        • Moose

          Yes. 100%. And also, yes, values disconnect 100%.

          I’m probably a lot like LW’s fiance (creative, reinvests money into my creative career, not willing to give up), and I was living with someone who suddenly said that I needed to face facts – my artistic ambitions might never come to fruition, they were eating up too much of my time, and I needed to choose between them and him.

          I left.

          I’m not saying LW is like my ex, but there’s something elemental that my art gives me where I wouldn’t be myself if I wasn’t able to practice it without guilt.

          • NSU

            Right, but then you have to acknowledge if/when your art precludes financial stability, it’s at some point selfish and precludes having children (a common reason to be child free) and potentially relationships (unseemly to “require” a relationship to pursue your personal interest at another’s expense)…?

          • Amy March

            Nope. Being poor or financially insecure does not preclude having children or being a wonderful parent.

          • Tulsaloosa214

            no but I knew darn well that it was unfair to children to purposely have them in an environment that could not support them.

          • Moose

            Your values system places financial stability higher than mine does.

            That’s okay.

            But it doesn’t mean that your values are the “right” ones.

            Also, what’s wrong with requiring that one’s partner gives support (moral or financial) for their creative pursuits?

          • NSU

            Overgeneralizing any and all comments isn’t useful. We’re all different. I am responding to LW’s query, which you may have noticed placed value on financial stability and expressed anxiety about imbalanced financial support.

          • Moose

            Ah. I misunderstood, then. Because you replied to my comment, I assumed you were responding to me/my situation as opposed to speaking to the letter writer and about her values.

          • I had broke-ass artist/prioritizing other things than financial security parents and I’m sure glad that they *did* decide to go ahead and have children.

            Of course there were downsides to growing up without certain financial resources, but I had great parents and I would never in a million years describe them as “selfish” for having us.

            I think LW should probably think hard before having kids with her partner since they seem to have dramatically different priorities, but no, life choices that lead to financial instability to not preclude having kids and relationships.

    • Ella

      Yeah, the values disconnect thing is interesting given LW says “we share the same values about life.” It sounds like that’s felt true so far, but “we need health insurance and some minimum stability to have a baby” and “…he proves to me that he will step up and take a job, any job, when we have a kid.” suggest maybe not in this case. Does he agree with LW’s definition of minimum stability? Does he agree with how much kids cost (in time and money)? Those need to be clarified before you can start planning how to achieve goals he may not share.

  • Kendra D

    See, I’m the one in the creative field(music) who earns considerably less in my relationship. I’m about to hit two years with my current studio, and I’m still making way less money than I would like. Especially considering we live in LA.

    So we’ve made the decision for me to go back to school too. But, this decision is also one for me to leave my creative field. Sure I love teaching music, but at the end of the day it isn’t fulfilling to feel like I’m underearning. I was demoralized when we bought a house and my salary wasn’t considered toward the mortgage.

    What helped me make the decision was talking joint future goals with my husband. And realizing that as much as I enjoy teaching music, that we weren’t ever going to get to where we want to be if I keep doing that.

    I think that’s where you have to start. And since it sounds like your expectations are so different, I think a neutral third party would be helpful for you both. It’s ok for you to want him to earn more and have more stability. It’s ok for him to not want that. But you need to talk to see if you’ll ever be on the same page.

    • MC

      YES, so well-put – at the root of it, it’s not about the amount of $$, but about the goals both people have for their life together. For me & my husband, framing that way made it so much easier to talk about money & budgeting.

  • Pingback: How Do I Tell My Partner He Needs to Make More Money? | Wedding Adviser()

  • Angela’s Back

    This is tough! I’m in a very similar position in fact, sans the partner going back to school—I’m the breadwinner, he’s a writer and that’s how it’s going to be for the foreseeable future. For us, I can live with that because if/when we have kids, he’s excited about being a stay at home dad, and that’s the kicker to me about your letter. If your partner is a creative person and he wants to exercise all his passion and energy in that direction, that’s fine. I married one of those and I get it, my husband couldn’t stop writing any more than he could stop breathing. But thankfully he recognizes that this means I have to work and that he has to therefore take up things like being the primary caregiver for future offspring because there’s only so much one woman can do. If you’re going to subsidize your husband’s creative habits and you all are on the same page about having kids—which is unclear from your letter but it seems like you’ve already talked about it at least a little—then it seems like your guy needs to move past not wanting to be cooped up and recognize that in a relationship, sometimes you have to take one for the team, just like you’ve been for the last two years while he’s been doing his master’s. How you broach this conversation, I don’t know, but I think the thoughts/doubts/concerns you’re having about his commitment or ability to provide are completely fair and reasonable and you shouldn’t let the fact that you love and care about him keep you from asking these questions and expecting an answer, if not immediately because this shit is hard, then over the course of a whole bunch of conversations where you figure out what’s going to make sense for your relationship going forward.

    • MC

      Yeah, that part of the letter definitely made me side-eye LW’s dude a bit if that is really how he feels about being a primary caretaker & not just LW’s interpretation of it. Could be he has never thought about the logistics & cost of raising a child because it’s not something that men are generally primed to think about… but still, I’d be super hesitant to have kids with a partner who was not willing to consider being a primary caretaker if that’s what worked best logistically & financially.

      • gipsygrrl

        Agreed. This guy sounds like he wants to have his cake and eat it too… creative freedom, fluid job opportunities, not having to stay home with a baby… sure, who wouldn’t want that? At some point, though, you have to work for what you want. And you have to be an adult about coming to a joint decision with your partner, which often means compromise and/or sucking it up for a bit to do something for your family vs. just yourself. Adulthood – woo!

      • Honestly, it’d bother me regardless of logistics and finances; if I died, I wouldn’t want my kids left with a parent who wasn’t interested in parenting. It’s the ‘dads aren’t babysitters’ thing – if he wants to be a parent, sooner or later that’s going to involve being cooped up with the kids for a period (if I’m sick, or travelling for work, or there’s a family emergency at the other end of the country, or even if I’m on holiday with my friends!) regardless of personal preference.

        • Amy March

          It doesn’t say he isn’t interested in parenting though. Just that being cooped up all day every day with an infant isn’t for him. I think concluding from him not wanting to be a stay at home dad that he wouldn’t be interested in parenting is unfair.

          • I think you’re right, and part of this is I’m coming from a UK perspective, where maternity/paternity leave is usually 6 – 12 months (you can split the the leave and the statutory pay between you, or one of you can claim the whole lot). When people talk about primary caregivers, I clicked into thinking of parental leave, rather than being a STAHP. The gendered assumption that a woman being primary caregiver is the default, but for the man it’s being ‘cooped up’ is what got me, because it’s a male privilege thing to assume you get a choice.

    • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

      I would start it by asking him to sit down and work out a budget. It sounds like he doesn’t have a predictable amount of income, and it sounds like the money he does make disappears into the ether without much accountability. Our LW wants stability and predictability and financial security, so start with the concrete things. How much is the LW consistently bring in, and how much are they spending on necessities like rent, food, transportation? How much would all of that leave free for him to spend on non-lucrative creative projects, and how does that compare to how much he has actually been spending? How much are his student loans going to be once he graduates? How much does she think they should be paying into health insurance or retirement? How would they pay for a child and what is the average cost of childcare in their area? Would they need to find a bigger apartment, and if so, how much would their rent increase?Are they going to be able to answer all of the financial questions? No, probably not. But a very real need she has now — to feel like she’s not pissing away her hard work and money on a bottomless pit that doesn’t really contribute a whole bunch to household finances — would open the floor to a whole bunch of related discussions about what they both prioritize and expect.

      • Ashlah

        Agreed. They might not have 100% joint finances yet, but they do have shared financial responsibilities and (presumably, or hopefully) shared financial goals, so the fact that he spends any money he has on his own projects struck me as really unfair. If they were to create a budget, they could agree to a fair amount for him to spend on creative pursuits. Him spending what little spare money he has on his own pursuits, when LW is worried about making ends meet and increasing savings, is something that will continue to breed resentment if not addressed.

        • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

          He probably doesn’t mean to be unfair to her, even if in practice he is. Two individual people who have always functioned as separate individuals with their own finances don’t think like two people who are pooling their resources. PADude and I make very different incomes, and have vastly different relationships with money. We did the math to make sure we could afford the bills together before I bought our house, but it wasn’t until we got engaged and had to plan for a wedding that we both collected our bills and bank statements and started planning a joint budget. We’ve opened joint accounts and changed the way we independently approach money, and it’s been good, but I think it can be really easy to allow your relationship to change and progress without stopping to catch your financial relationship up with everything else.

          • Ashlah

            Absolutely! He’s not a bad guy for doing it this way so far, because you’re right–there’s a transition time between individual finances and joint finances where things like personal spending are a little grey. It’s definitely something they should discuss during their engagement.

          • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

            Talking about a joint budget is also a great opening to say things like, “Hey, it’s really important to me to have a savings account with a 6month cushion, because the idea of living paycheck to paycheck keeps me up at night.” Or, “I really want to prioritize having a retirement account, because I don’t want to work this hard until I die.” Or whatever. Financial priority, and the thing about your life that you value that influences that financial priority.

        • Courtkay

          It sounds a little bit like the financial equivalent of whoever is most annoyed by the mess ends up doing most of the cleaning. He’s following the rules as they’ve been laid out: they each pay half the major bills and what’s leftover is theirs to spend as they see fit. So on the surface, it seems like he’s holding up his end of the deal, and he probably feels like he’s not doing anything unfair. The issue is that the LW is spending her leftover money on things that benefit both of them – dinners out, travel, and house repairs – and he’s spending his leftover money on himself. She’s probably doing this not because he asked her to, but because she cares about those dinners out and having a nice place to live.

          But it IS unfair, and these things, along with things like savings and retirement, need to be calibrated into the budget as things that they jointly contribute to. It’s complicated, because on the one hand, combining resources and budgeting accordingly could help to solve the problem, but on the other hand, combining finances with someone who you’re not sure has the same financial values as you could be disastrous. It’s tricky.

          • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

            Agreed, but you can join your budgets without putting everything you both own into one joint account. They can continue to keep their separate accounts, but reallocate how they spend their money. They can also keep their separate accounts while opening a third, joint one from which to pay bills.

          • Courtkay

            Yes, that definitely sounds like a good first step.

          • (My husband and I have been married for several years and have had joint budgets the whole time, and still have completely separate bank accounts)

    • sofar

      YES. If he’s willing to stay home (meaning no daycare expense), he can follow his career dreams. Otherwise, he needs to be willing to over-contribute his time in order to make up for under-contributing financially.

      • Amy March

        Would you say that about someone committed to being, say, a pastoral counselor making hardly any money? At what level is someone contributing enough financially to deserve to have a career instead of being told they have to stay home and take care of the house and kids?

        I feel like this is a situation where neither of them are wrong- he can absolutely follow his dreams, she can definitely want a house, but their dreams aren’t in synch.

        • Katharine Parker

          Yeah, I dislike the idea that any career that isn’t high paying has to automatically be the less important one and it falls on that person to do more at home to compensate. So often that has meant that women give up their careers to stay home with the kids. Both parties in a relationship can have individual career and family goals. Figuring out how to best serve all of those goals is part of being a couple (and money shouldn’t be a trump card, in my opinion, but one part of the discussion).

          • BSM

            Yes. There is a pool of work that needs to get done and an amount of money necessary to live the lifestyle you want, but figuring out how to tackle the work and the money is a joint effort that can be split up a bunch of different (oftentimes, seemingly unequal) ways. It’s important to be on the same page about the stuff and the money and then be making a joint effort to do the stuff and make the money, but the way that looks, particularly to the outside world, can come in a billion different variations.

        • NSU

          “At what level is someone contributing enough financially to deserve to have a career instead of being told they have to stay home and take care of the house and kids?”
          The level at which your comp breaks even with childcare, when money is tight.

          • Amy March

            Surely, at a minimum, the level at which you make half the cost of childcare if you have a partner, since you are both parents and both responsible for the kids not being eaten by wolves? We talk about this all the time with women- even if your salary is equal to childcare a) that’s the wrong math and b) there are other financial benefits to working.

          • Emily

            I would agree with this. There is the current cash flow concern and the net present value concern. People who are currently cash flow neutral / negative can have positive NPV associated with the decision to hire childcare in those early years due to remaining in the workforce leading to higher salary sooner as well as 401k contributions / social security work history.

          • Lisa

            Except that’s the kind of thinking that typically ends up putting women years behind professionally. The types of jobs populated by women tend to be lower-paying and under-valued so, when the idea of “Your salary needs to cover childcare” comes up, the woman is the one who is usually punished. You diminish a woman’s future earnings by forcing her out of the workforce like this.

          • NSU

            Right but that’s in the privileged context of having the other person make enough to offset the difference. As a working mom, I completely agree: there is value to staying in the workforce (i.e. future earnings), but I get to choose that because a. I make enough money, and b. my husband makes enough money. Now imagine we were just scraping by, paycheck-to-paycheck– it ends up being an investment to work, and that investment needs to be NPV positive. Considering LW’s guy is plowing the little money he makes into low-returning ventures, it’s unlikely to pay off. Which again, wouldn’t be an issue if they had enough money to begin with, but it doesn’t sound like they do (or at least enough for LW to have the future she wants with kids).

          • BSM

            It seems like you’re saying two things:

            1) If money is tight, the partner not making enough to cover childcare should quit their job and take on childcare duties,

            2) But, if Partner 2 makes enough to cover the money from Partner 1’s salary that’s “lost” to paying for childcare, Partner 1 can keep their job.

            Maybe I’m misunderstanding, but that seems like a pretty narrow way to view making decisions in a relationship. It also, as Lisa and Amy March bring up, ignores the other benefits of having both people stay in the workforce. If it works for you, great, but I would venture that there are many, many other ways to structure your family/career/childcare situation that work just as well (or better).

          • NSU

            No. This has nothing to do with what “works for me” (two working parent household over here) and everything to do with the anxieties LW is voicing about trying to build a life and likely raise kids with someone who doesn’t seem to be on the same page with her on finances.

          • BSM

            Then why are you saying that any partner that makes less than the cost of childcare should quit their job if money is tight? The LW isn’t asking about that.

          • Emily

            I kind of think that what NSU is trying to get at is that the NPV argument for staying in the workforce is a great one (and one I agree with – I see women get screwed over with the “you don’t make enough to pay for daycare” argument), but it doesn’t really matter what the NPV looks like if you don’t have any liquidity to get you to the land of the positive NPV – ie you don’t have enough cash to survive those two years or whatever it is of really expensive daycare. I could see a situation where LW is making enough to cover housing / food / essentials, but having a kid and a net negative cash flow associated with partners earnings – childcare would mean they wouldn’t be able to make ends meet.

          • BSM

            Yeah, I understand that there are nuances to every argument, NPV included, and that’s actually what I’m advocating for. I’m pushing back – hard – on NSU’s premise that, when your comp doesn’t cover childcare, you should quit your job and take over childcare.

          • Jenny

            But often times the other benefits of staying in the work force are things like insurance coverage, and retirement benefits, and not losing the raises/COLA etc that you get. In the context of the letter writer it doesn’t seem like those things apply.

          • Jenny

            I mean there are a lot of factors that contribute to staying in the work force even if your paycheck only breaks even with childcare, like retirement, health care, not having gaps on your resume, networking, the overall impact on raises. But it seems like really none of that applies in this case, save maybe gaps on resumes and networking. I’m all for not having people stay home with kids if they don’t want to, because yeah, that sounds awful to me (much as I love my child, I also love coming to work). But I don’t really think you can do non lucrative “dream” work if the other partner doesn’t make enough to cover expenses. Or at least it sounds like that is not an option that the LW is interested it.

        • Courtkay

          Totally agree – this is the logic that is so often used to persuade women to give up their careers, because they don’t make enough money for it to be “worth it.”

          On the other hand, I think in this particular case it’s not just about money, but also time and–something else, but I’m not sure exactly the right word here? Maybe commitment? It just sounds like he’s hesitant to get a traditional full-time job, but he also could never see himself cooped up at home with a baby. And that’s a little tougher to justify, only because at the end of the day, someone has to earn the money and the health insurance and someone has to care for the child. And if their combined income isn’t enough to cover childcare, then they either need more money or someone’s going to have to find a way to be home. It sounds like LW is afraid that she’s going to end up being the person doing all of these things while he works out of coffee shops, and that really wouldn’t be fair. Ultimately, based on what’s in the letter alone, I’m questioning whether their values are really the same after all. It doesn’t sound like he’s all that committed to the idea of a family, and she’s very much interested in that.

          • Ashlah

            Only jumping on your comment because it’s the most recent one I’ve read, not because it’s any more critical than others, but in regards to everyone pointing out that he doesn’t want to take on the primary child care role, it’s another piece of the letter that, upon re-reading, sounds like something they haven’t explicitly talked about. She says she thinks it’s “very unlikely” that he would because he doesn’t like to be cooped up at home for a day. She might very well be right that that translates into him not wanting to take on full-time childcare, but has she asked him that? I also assumed my husband would never want to do that, but he’s voiced interest in being a stay-at-home dad a few times now (not in the cards for us, unfortunately). I’m as guilty as others of jumping on the fiance based on what’s written here, but it does seem like yet another topic that they really need to discuss the nitty gritty of, rather than her assuming his intentions without discussing her desires.

  • Emily

    Ugh this is really hard LW – I feel you. I once broke up with a guy for very similar reasons. He was very into a certain type of civic involvement and had structured his life around that (and worked at it) but it meant that I picked up our bills and had to do the hard work / heavy lifting of financing our lifestyle and planning for the future (he too, didn’t have health insurance). I think what drove us apart in the end was not his involvement in non-remunerative work, but rather his refusal to see that there could be other things in life worth compromising that involvement for. I think we all have things we really like doing, but sometimes something more important (our partners, our children, our health) mean that we have to make certain compromises to make our overall lives and the people close to us happy and better.

    Once you have hitched your wagons to someone else its no longer “is this career right for me / what I want to do” but is this career / path right for “us” and what we want. It is unfortunate but it takes money to do many things in life (buy a house, raise a child, retire…) and so there always needs to be some discussion of “is this job going to support our broader financial / life goals” and there are jobs where the answer to that, no matter how much you love that work, is “no.”

  • Rebecca

    LW, I am feeling you on this situation. You need to have a deep discussion with your fiance where you discuss what each other’s expectations are, especially if you want to have children and stop feeling the throes of resentment towards him. His career may never make much money, and you may have to decide whether you want to continue being the bread-winner and if he would be willing to step up as primary caregiver to any hypothetical children. If that is not something either of you desire, you would need to have a long hard look at your relationship and what has been keeping you together. Either way, I wish you all the best.

  • Emily

    LW, I don’t think this has anything to do with money at all. Echoing what others have said, this isn’t about “taking one for the team”; it’s about the actual team–can you continue to work as one unit towards mutual goals? From what you said it sounds like maybe past decisions have seemed like partnership but only because he was the partner reaping the benefits. I hope that if the switch is flipped he can step up for you!

    • toomanybooks

      Yes. I think it’s possible we’d see a similar letter if LW was in this exact situation, but her fiancé had a trust fund or something that paid out every month and he could just live on that. In fact, I feel like maybe there’s been a letter like this before? Where maybe the writer was married to a guy who was rich and didn’t feel like he had to work?? Idk.

      The issue seems to be more that the fiancé doesn’t show much of a motivation to do things for anyone but himself – putting a good deal of his energy and money into personal creative projects that aren’t being made for a particular assignment/gallery show/client/ whatever to make money. The attitude about not wanting to be “cooped up” in the house for even a day taking care of a kid is the biggest reason I feel this way. It seems to me that if he felt any kind of drive to contribute to the relationship, he would jump at the chance to have something to do (taking on childcare) that wasn’t dependent on the tricky job market in his field. And I don’t want to be dismissive of how difficult it can be to find stable employment in one’s field – but it seems like that isn’t his goal.

      He wants to start a business with LW, but what kind of business partner would he be?

      • H

        GREAT point about a business partner – I think that’s a really good perspective to have!

        • HarrietVane

          Yes! I mean, is he going to all the fun stuff he loves… and she has to add up the bills and make sure taxes are paid on time? That definitely works if both people are invested and passionate and feel like a team, but not if he just wants her to be the one who is basically support staff.

        • Yeah, that’s a bit of a red flag to me. Sounds like LW’s partner wants it but she’s more focused with some other goals. I think they both definitely need to talk it out and get on the same page first. And yes, therapy.

      • SLG

        In my partnership, I’ve always been the one with a lower income (although the gap is closing slowly over time), and I’m also the one who would probably go into depression if I were a full-time stay-at-home parent. I can totally relate to that fear of being “cooped up taking care of kids.”

        So I don’t believe it’s a simple “my income is lower, therefore I should provide childcare” equation. It’s as a number of folks here have said — this is about what’s important to the two of you, together. If you have a shared vision, you figure out whatever you need to do together to achieve it. But if you don’t share a vision for life and you can’t find one you want to share, better to put that on the table now than 5 years from now.

  • NotMotherTheresa

    In my case, I am the partner who is just sort of…floating by, adrift in a sea of not knowing what I’m doing with my life, while the other person works hard to build a life for us.
    Here’s the thing: You have to be realistic. In this case, your partner *might* find a steady job and become an awesome breadwinner and all of that jazz, but he might not. In fact, there’s a decent chance that he won’t, at least not anytime in the near future. He just doesn’t sound like that kind of guy. (I’m not saying that as a dig at him! Again, I am similarly adrift, and I have been for YEARS! There is no land in sight. I have a lot of great qualities, if I do say so myself, but “steady breadwinner” is not one of them!)
    Are you willing to deal with a lifetime of him floating through through the seas of creativity, nary a steady job in sight? If not, end this relationship now! Staying together would not be fair to either of you. Because as it is, I see two very likely possible outcomes on the horizon: (1) He never does find the steady job you crave, and you continue to resent him for not pulling his financial weight, or (2) He does take whatever job that comes along, and he hates it, and he resents you for “making him give up his dreams”. Neither one of those options bodes well for a happy future together.
    There’s more to a relationship than liking one another and both being good people. You have to be fundamentally compatible about boring things like jobs and money, and from the sounds of it, I realllly don’t think you guys are.

    • quiet000001

      I really feel like I was lied to in kindergarten. They made it sound like it was going to be so EASY to figure out what you wanted to do with your life. LIES!

      • NotMotherTheresa

        Oh my gosh, yes!!!! And to top it off, this idea that 18 year olds should be able to make wise decisions about how to spend their next 50 years?
        I am so stoked for those people who figured it all out, but at this point, it’s pretty clear I’m never going to be one of those people!

        • Another_drifter

          Thank you so much for this comment and thread! I’m the drifter too. I do many things well, but earning money isn’t one of them. Luckily my husband is okay with that.

    • anoymoose

      And although I was the workhorse in my relationship and not the drifter- you basically just summed up why I ended my engagement/6 year relationship.

      You can both be good people and be on completely different pages…

  • Sara

    I agree with what everyone else has said but I want to follow up on the point of kids. Does he know you want kids this badly? How does he imagine that work out? If you’re living this tightly and he’s not contributing financially or emotionally to children, how does he expect to raise them? Is he a ‘I just gotta get my big break. We’ll get rich from that and then this will be worth it” type of dreamer or is he a ‘I need to put in the hours to prove my talent/worth/promise and then I can get hired somewhere worthwhile for us” kind of guy?

    If he knows you want to have kids like tomorrow and isn’t willing to stay home with them OR get a steady, insured job, then I do not think he’s on the same page as you for the future. Therapy for sure will help sort this out.

  • toomanybooks

    In my relationship (we’re both women), I’m the one in the creative field and she’s the one in the Respectable Field That Connotes Money and makes more than twice as much as me. But. I have a full-time desk job in my field, with health care and benefits and a 401k into which I contribute the max amount that my company matches. When I was graduating from art school, I absolutely knew I didn’t want to be the kind of person just sort of making fine art on my own without an “assignment,” hoping to have gallery shows and pieces in museums. I could see myself in my current job forever because it’s good, steady work. My fiancée and I both have a priority to be ok financially and not ever be left with nothing.

    By the way, despite the fact that I went to a fancy art school and she went to state school for a traditionally respectable degree, she is the one who has student loans, and I’m the one who doesn’t. Why is that? Because my parents paid for my college, while hers could not and did not. The student loans themselves are not a sign of lack of work ethic so much as lack of economic privilege. But I can understand, as the “I have no debt and haven’t had actual financial hardship” partner, the fear inspired by the idea of debt, especially when the fiancé went back to school and LW isn’t sure if he’s working toward the goals she thought he had with going to school again.

    For me, it was always a big priority to find a spouse who had similar basic feelings about finances and wanted to be well-off.

    Here’s the biggest problem I see here: He can’t be the breadwinner, but you want to have kids and he also doesn’t want to stay home and take care of a baby. Does he want kids too? How much work is he going to put into taking care of the children? Do you think the current issue will be magnified exponentially if he behaves the same way about having a family? Is he going to let you do all the work at the office and then raise kids mostly on your own/with childcare while he does independent creative work because he’s just too much of a free spirit to be tied down by other people?

    • CMT

      I’m trying not to project too much of my past experience onto this LW and her partner but it is absolutely important to examine just how much of a “free spirit” he is before having kids. (And before getting married, but definitely before having kids.) And to take a look not just at what he says he’ll do or what he says is important to him, but whether he backs it up with what he does. It would be terrible to end up with a partner who is always using their own work as an excuse to get out of splitting the responsibilities that necessarily come along with having a family or being in a relationship or just being an adult who has to pay rent.

  • GpedJane

    You definitely need to talk about it, however he’s not done school yet. So you don’t know how this is going to pan out yet. It’s not like he graduated and it’s 2 years later and nothing. He clearly went back to school and has drive to start a business. If you want someone to be strictly goals orientated and to support you instead then move on. I do the supporting and paying of the bills in my relationship so I know how it is, it’s not easy but I signed up for it.

  • H

    I don’t know exactly what field your fiance’s in, but going into debt for a masters degree in a creative field is at best a risky move, and a worst a very bad idea. Speaking in very generalities, because again I don’t know the situation, it will probably take him a long time to pay back that debt.

    I don’t know what kind of small business he wants to start, but again starting a small business is a very risky thing to do. About half of small businesses fail in the first few years, which would leave him in even more debt.

    It sounds to me that he just did a very risky thing, and he wants to take another big risk. When you marry him, you own that risk, that debt. I would think very, very hard about doing that. It seems to me that this is less about him being able to “provide” and more about whether you can count on him to pull his own weight and whether you want to take on that risk – both for you and the family you want to build.

    • gipsygrrl

      That’s a really good point about the risks he’s taken/wants to take. Sure – we take risks because we hope they bring rewards, but to just consistently throw oneself into questionable situations… that doesn’t seem healthy. He needs to be carefully weighing the risks – and maybe taking some time between those risky ventures to work a normal job and build up some reserves.

    • toomanybooks

      Yes. I’m an artist (idk if the same sort as LW’s fiancé) and the only reasons I know for going for a masters (other than general aimlessness about what to do next) are 1) so you can teach, because teaching jobs tend to require a masters degree, and 2) I’ve heard it can be helpful for getting into museums?? I think? Not my path so idk.

      If he needed the degree to open up jobs that were closed to him because he didn’t have a masters – such as teaching – I can see that being something he probably felt like he had to do. Other than that… my parents paid for undergrad but told me they wouldn’t be paying for a masters and my response was “cool, so I’m not doing a masters because I can’t afford it and there’s not a good reason for me to do it” – it just seemed like an avoidable nightmare of debt for me.

    • HarrietVane

      Also, I’m not sure what kind of creative field would require a master’s to start your own business (NB: I work in a creative field, as do many of my friends). It seems like, moneywise, he could have taken the loan and put it into a business or taken the loan and put it into school– otherwise, what was the point? Going to school for job security and then deciding to start your own business (the opposite of job security) just doesn’t seem like following through on the original plan that she has been working really hard to support.

      • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

        We don’t know what his degree is in. He has a specific business in mind that he would like to start, and he’s getting the degree with the goal of establishing financial security. He could be studying finance.

        • HarrietVane

          I believed it was a master’s in his creative field (aka not business) but that might have been a misreading on my part! However, it doesn’t sound like he and the LW originally thought that ‘starting his own business’ was the financial security that they could expect from his degree though, which I think is the more troubling bit for the LW.

    • Jennifer

      As a person with a Masters Degree in a creative field, I can tell you there are many, many reasons this can be prudent, if not necessary. Teaching is one of many reasons to get your masters– you may need to make contacts in your field, develop a portfolio that employers will take seriously, refine specific skills, or earn particular credentials. Graphic design companies start you at a higher salary with a Masters. If you want to be, say, a preservation specialist in a museum or a collections librarian, you MUST have a Masters. They look for it in the performing arts if you want to tutor privately. We also don’t know whether he received any financial aid or scholarships–most Masters programs give scholarships.

      Any college degree is risky. They’re expensive, and Millenials know the dividends can be weak. But that’s not the point here. They both agreed to the Masters program, and LW wants to see monetary rewards as a result of that degree. While they’ll probably come, that might be a long process. It depends on the field. What does LW need to see to consider her partner “providing?” What are those exact parameters, and how likely is his career path to meet them? Is she really willing to have him be the primary parent–and if so, has she asked if he will? Many creatives take on that role in their families.

      If she can decide what she can live with, financially speaking, than he can decide if he’s willing to “provide” that for her. It’s the only sensible way to address the risk you’re talking about.

  • rg223

    Just want to say Liz has great advice (as usual), because as someone who personally identifies with this letter (as the creative/working freelance jobs forever person in the relationship), I am reading a LOT into this letter, and keep having to pull myself back in and remind myself of the many thing we don’t know for sure here. Liz is great at NOT doing that – this is a very even-handed response!

  • gipsygrrl

    I just want to say that it’s not at all shallow to want your partner to at least *think* about making more money to contribute to your family. It’s smart. It’s also really smart of you to address this now, before you get married – so cheers to you! I also hear in your letter that you’re really looking for some validation from him – and gratitude too, for making this move with him and shouldering the weight that you have. That’s super-important… he needs to acknowledge that and acknowledge YOU. If he can’t do that… hmmm.

    • H

      Agreed – especially now more than ever when the already-meager social safety net is being slashed everywhere you look, and you don’t have the support of your family to fall back on.

    • Em

      I think it’s even broader than this – it’s not shallow to want your partner to think about making more of a *contribution* full stop to your family. When I go back to work after grad school it looks like I’ll be making multiples of what my partner will be – in a city and country we’ll be moving to for my career (and to be fair, there was a much lower difference in our salaries in our home country + he’s going to be reskilling before our move and will have a bit of a paycut as a result). But our family is built on the assumption that he will be the primary caregiver to the children we have down the line – because that’s the contribution he wants to make while I make the money (which is an arrangement I am definitely 100% fine with, I have never, ever, ever wanted to be the primary caregiver to children.) But right now it feels like the LW has the worst of both worlds – her partner isn’t contributing monetarily and doesn’t want to contribute non-monetarily, at least in the way she would prefer he contribute.

    • Eenie

      I just keep thinking, if he didn’t have the LW, what would he be doing? Living at home?

      • Lisa

        Probably taking out more loans, relying on his parents for help, and supplementing his income with some teaching like he was doing before school. That’s what I saw from most of the people I know who study fine arts (like myself and my husband).

        • Eenie

          That makes sense. But oh man would that be difficult for me if that’s what my partners passion was. I feel so much for this letter writer. I really hope she finds a way to address her concerns and fears.

          It took a while, but we’re finally both on the “job is a means to an end” kind of thinking for the two of us (I was the holdout). It’s simplified a lot of our discussions since we no longer rely on our 8-5 job for satisfaction. It’s great if we’re having a good stretch at work, but we are really carving out time/money for things that fulfill us outside of work. I have my husband to thank for changing my mind and showing me you don’t have to love every second of something that provides a paycheck.

          • AP

            Late to this thread, but I found myself nodding vigorously to this comment. I’ve been in both roles, and for a long time I was the breadwinner stressing about the future and wishing my partner would contribute more. After I’d had enough of that I swung far in the opposite direction. When I met my husband, I was living in a studio apartment doing the minimalist thing, working 3 jobs and every spare dollar I had went to travel. I loved it. I had a ton of freedom and flexibility, but no health insurance or savings. I was one crisis away from disaster. My husband convinced me over time to find a better balance- a job that actually pays the bills and then some, and a fulfilling life outside of work. (And right now I’m lucky to have found a job that has meaning to me as well, although that’s no longer a prerequisite for me.)

            I think there’s a false dichotomy happening in these comments that the partner can either be happy/full-time pursuing his creative career dreams, or miserable/forced into crappy job or stuck home with a kid. Really there’s a whole world of options in-between.

          • Eenie

            Yes! This is what I was trying to say. You can be somewhere on the scale of fulfilling job to soul crushing, and the same thing with the payscale for whatever you’re doing. There’s not necessarily a right or wrong way to do it (a soul crushing low paying job is probably not ideal), but both partners in a relationship need to be ok with where both people are on the respective spectrums. And the LW doesn’t seem to be on the same page in this instance.

          • orangie

            “a soul crushing low paying job is probably not ideal.” Where were you with this advice 5 years ago?!?!

          • Yes, I was going to comment about there being choices in-between “being an artist” and stopping pursuing the art to earn money and/or raise a child. Perhaps there is a “yes and” solution that is a sort of compromise? It might not be the ideal that anyone would have chosen if they were single, but maybe it’s the ideal in the context of the relationship and shared life goals?

            In my 20s, I figured I was working hard and paying my dues and would eventually have a full-time, well-paying arts career doing what I loved. In my early 30s, I realized that my expectation of how long the “paying my dues” would take was off by a lot. Later in my 30s I started to realize that my “dream” version of being an artist and making a livable income at it might never happen and I might need to re-consider how I defined success as an artist and how I wanted to pursue my artistic goals.

            But I think my personality type might be different than the letter writer’s partner. I have always wanted to be able to support myself financially and not have debt, so I’ve worked day jobs throughout my life and then pursued my artistic goals in my “spare time.” It’s hard, but I have liked having a stable source of income, even if at times over the years it was barely enough to live on. Thankfully my last “day job” that I started over five years ago turned out to be a fabulous match for my skills and interests and I really enjoy it. It’s the kind of thing I’d enjoy doing as a primary career if I weren’t doing art at all. It’s four days a week, so it does allow me some time to “hustle” on the side with my artistic projects (or my other freelance work which earns money).

            But all that to say, perhaps there is the possibility of the partner finding some sort of stable part-time “day job” that could allow for more guaranteed income. Besides, knowing the artistic rhythms and patterns of artists and how artists tend to work better under time limitations, maybe this would benefit his art and make his creative process more efficient? (Not sure, I guess this could depend on the field. If he needs to practice an instrument 4 hours a day, etc., maybe the time is necessary?) Generally I think artists tend to wait for inspiration a lot then it comes out when time gets short. So reducing his available time to do art might actually not hurt his creativity. It could even make his creative process more efficient. I learned this in a workshop with a time management expert for artists (who have a different rhythm/process than “normal”) who talked about this. It made me feel so much better about working a day job in addition to “being an artist.” Anyhow, I wish you both the best as you try to get on the same page about your life, career and financial goals!

  • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

    Throughout this whole letter I keep thinking, 1) Does he know any of this? and 2) What if he doesn’t fundamentally change? Can you live with that?

    • Sara

      You just succinctly and perfectly responded to this letter. That’s it. Boom.

  • Laura C

    What does he think he is contributing to your partnership and what does he think he should be contributing/hope to be contributing in a year, two years, five years? It sounds like he’ll be done with school at the end of the academic year? If so, you have a couple months to talk it over and strike a bargain — and it sounds like he needs to be willing for it to be one that works for you a lot better than the current set-up. It’s easier to make a change when you’re already making a change (finishing school, moving, changing jobs, whatever), so what are the changes you’re asking for?

    I identify with a lot of this letter, I have to say. Money is not the sticking point for me and my husband, but our life has been very much driven by his career — a move for law school, a move for a job, a move for another job. We have a pretty clear bargain around that stuff — he’s taking some time off before the next job and will do full-time childcare, and if I want to change jobs, I get priority next time — and it’s all made a lot easier by the fact that I have a job I can do from anywhere. But even so, things are wearing thin right now and I’m not sure how to renegotiate midstream or to what extent it’s possible. We have less than five months before things get to be a little more where I want them based on the current plan, and I’m thinking about what else we need to plan on, what stress points have been revealed by our current miserable-for-me arrangement that need to be addressed. But you do have to be able to be renegotiate and I guess what’s not clear from this letter is how much you’ve negotiated to begin with, how much he understands what you’re putting on hold or sacrificing for him, and how much he feels a responsibility to similarly step up for you going forward.

  • BSM

    Also, LW doesn’t mention this, but, when I was following my husband (then-boyfriend) around the world for his job, it definitely weighed on me that I was the woman in the hetero relationship doing the sacrificing for my partner. It didn’t really change the discussions we had about life goals, priorities, finances, careers, etc., but I think recognizing it and explaining those feelings to my husband helped us have more productive conversations.

    • Her Lindsayship

      Ooh, this is huge and definitely important to articulate. Maybe it doesn’t even factor into LW’s feelings but it probably does factor into our interpretations of the situation at least a tiny bit.

    • Second this. I left a city I love very much to be with my now fiance, and even just talking to him and letting him know how that feels brought him to a better understanding of my situation.

  • Abs

    I’m hearing a lot of impatience with the fiancé, and I want to push back against that a bit. There’s nothing in the letter to suggest that this guy is a slacker, and I feel like there’s a certain amount of gender expectation in the assumption that he must be lazy if he’s not making money.

    I’m in the fiancé’s position–I have an advanced degree in a field that I love where there are very few jobs (academia), while my partner makes many times my salary doing a job that he likes fine. We have recently moved to a place we would never have chosen and where we know no one so that I can have a shot at a career. My partner has been amazingly supportive, but I can see that it’s wearing on him, and I know that soon it’s going to be a case of putting our life plans on hold while we chase my dream around. We’re not there yet, thankfully.

    I just want to say that this is a really hard situation for everyone. I know that I might never make the kind of money that would allow my partner to be the stay-at-home dad that he wants to be. Does that mean that I “step up” and become a stay-at-home mom, even though I fully expect it would make me miserable? Do I walk away from the 7 years I have invested in training in my field and start over? Do I keep on chasing the dream, because it might still happen?

    My point is that everyone has a lot of feelings wrapped up in this, and it’s not as simple as saying that your partner has to step up and provide (either money or childcare). It’s really hard to be told that your hard work just isn’t as valuable as your partner’s hard work. LW and her partner clearly have to get on the same page about what they want out of life, and figure out a situation that works for both of them, but that doesn’t necessarily mean telling the partner to just go get a real job.

    • MDBethann

      I was afraid it was gendered at first, but as I read the letter, I didn’t feel that way so much. It sounds to me like for the 5 years or so they’ve been together, she’s shouldered a lot of the responsibility so he could chase his dreams and, for the last two years, go to grad school. But as Liz pointed out, in a partnership, it shouldn’t be just one person supporting the other all of the time. Goals and dreams need to become shared, especially if marriage and children are in the future. How is he willing to contribute in the future? If not monetary responsibility, is he willing to be the primary parent responsible for childcare and other family/household responsibilities (and this doesn’t necessarily mean “staying at home)? If she wants to change career fields, is he willing to do what it takes to support her career aspirations and goals in the same fashion she has supported him over the last several years? Any partnership that is one-sided can be physically, emotionally, and financially draining for the partner doing all of the supporting. They need appreciation and “replenishment” or the partnership is going to fail.

    • Laura C

      I feel like this has been a pretty careful conversation — I don’t see the assumption he’s lazy coming up much, or that his role as a man is to make money. What I see more in this conversation is the view that he may not be carrying as much of the weight of the relationship as the LW, which is a different thing.

    • CMT

      He doesn’t sound lazy, but from the letter it does sound like the things the boyfriend chooses to work on are just for him and his own fulfillment and the LW is the one who has to take care of making sure he’s able to do that.

    • BSM

      “It’s really hard to be told that your hard work just isn’t as valuable as your partner’s hard work.”

      I totally get this, since my field is inherently less lucrative than my husband’s, plus he’s got 5 years on me, so he’ll likely always out-earn me, but I didn’t get the sense that the LW, Liz, or most of the commenters were making a real values-judgment on LW’s partner’s work. To me, it’s more that there is a pool of work that needs to be done in a family if you want to be financially stable, save for retirement, own a home, have and take care of children, etc., and it’s not clear that her partner is participating equally in any of that. It’s also not clear whether he wants those things, too, so I agree that getting on the same page will be really key for LW and her partner.

    • Exactly. The LW was very clear about her partner being hardworking, yet words like lazy are still cropping up. I am an academic as well who works extremely hard in addition to doing all of the primary childcare because of the assumption that I’m kind of home not doing anything anyway. I definitely think some of the attitudes around this conversation are a bit gendered and along the lines one person’s more traditional desires and expectations being more right or valuable. They have got to hear each other out, see what each is willing to do (and just as getting more stable employment should be on the table, so might delaying or thinking about what parenthood might look like, broke artists have and raise happy babies everyday) and each decided whether what is being asked of them is something they can live with.

      • I concur with pretty much everybody here about communicating, getting on the same page as far as vision and goals. It sounds like the LW has been an amazing partner, and she’s completely justified in her frustration, her resentment, and her concerns. But I guess, as a person some aspects of this letter could have been written about, find myself wanting to speak up a bit for the voice we are not hearing, even though some of the details in the letter indicate that he might be taking advantage. I am in community with a lot of creatives with families, and I have seen people come up with some interesting ways to make it work, (like buying a multi-unit and living in a much smaller space than they could have had alone to have income to make up for lack of full-time jobs, one partner homeschooling to have flexibility for creative projects but saving money on moving to a better school district, etc.) but doing that collaboration requires a process that’s not so much, “this is my vision, grow up and get on board”, “but what do I want for us, what do you want for us, this is what I am doing to work towards this, how do you see what you are doing working towards it, is there any way we can get closer together, here are my ideas, what are yours?” It’s hard and different and there are less models to follow but there is possibility for life with children that’s not a precarious shitstorm of debt and deprivation outside of the two 9-5 jobs and own a single family home paradigm, which the political economy of this country and many major metropolitan regions suggests is expiring anyhow. Ultimately that kind of life just might not be for her, and her kind of life might not be for him, and that’s really hard and sad to face, I know far too well. But I want to believe in a world where two people deeply in love who have these really difficult differences can find a way to be together…but, that that would require both sides of the difference really being taken seriously, even if they are outside the norm of what we think of as right.

  • honeycomehome

    What’s missing in this letter is what the fiance is willing to do for the relationship. It seems like the LW is and has been willing to do a lot: be the financial support, adjust her timeline to his, move for him, and live in a place she hates for him.

    I agree with everyone who points out that a really serious conversation is necessary. But I also think he needs to do something to prove he is as committed to building a life for her as she is to building a life for him. That might mean getting a job outside his field that allows them to have money, it might mean being willing to take on primary child care duties, it might mean something else. But he has to invest in a way that is meaningful for her, because I doubt he’s done that, yet.

    • Amy March

      I think what’s missing is conversation. Maybe he doesn’t ever want a house or a 401k or financial security. But it worries me that after 5 years they haven’t hashed this out. It sounds like she’s been sort of carrying on assuming things will change with no real basis for that assumption. You can be committed to a realationship and contributing while working jobs here and there and not doing childcare after all, just maybe not in the way she needs to see the commitment.

      • CMT

        “It sounds like she’s been sort of carrying on assuming things will change with no real basis for that assumption.”

        Oh man, I have been there, done that, and got the t-shirt.

        • Amy March

          Haven’t we all?

        • PAJane aka Awesome Tits


      • Her Lindsayship

        This is so true. I think especially when you’re the one in the relationship with ideals that are more culturally accepted or visible (save money for retirement, buy a house, etc.), it can be easy to assume that the partner with different ideals is just still growing up a bit. I have a friend who I think is falling into this trap in his relationship. He’s always had stable, white-picket-fence type dreams, but he’s dating someone wildly different who does a lot of partying and traveling and risk-taking. And he keeps saying he thinks she’s going to calm down at some point, but dude, that attitude to life is not just a “phase” for everyone.

        • NotMotherTheresa

          My mom spent 20 years thinking my dad would grow out of that phase! He never did. They could have both saved themselves years of grief if she would have taken him at his word at 24 that his plans for life were to travel and have a good time.

  • SD

    I just want to take the discussion in a bit of a different direction. My husband and I both work in creative fields and for the first time in our respective careers we both have good, full-time jobs with benefits. (I’ve been luckier than he until recently in securing this type of work–but I also started my career earlier than he did.) I find this type of work to be very important both to me and to society at large, and personally fulfilling, and I know my husband feels the same. In order to do this work we came to a mutual understanding about the type of lifestyle we would lead and what our priorities are for luxuries–however we personally define that.

    There have been quite a few comments implying that LW’s husband is not motivated to make money or contribute to financial security but LW does write this:

    “He’s a really hard worker and an early-riser, often times combines teaching jobs with commissioned work and other forms of hustle, but money is always super tight somehow.”

    It does sound like her husband is hustling and working hard for his career. And perhaps this is not so much a question of money but of lifestyle preferences. It’s important that both partners be on the same page about the type of lifestyle they want to lead, and how they define “luxuries” or leisure activities and how they prioritize them individually and together. Barring the bit about not wanting to be the primary caregiver because he doesn’t like to be cooped up at home–because I agree, take turns taking one for the team–I think maybe we are too quick to judge…

    • HarrietVane

      I think that he seems like he is really committed to his career! It just doesn’t sound like he is committed to the kind of partnership + future that the LW wants. I certainly don’t judge him as a person– I think part of the reason the LW feels guilty asking for what she wants is that he is a really good guy. It’s just that he doesn’t seem to see how him taking on a huge financial risk (starting a new business) + them having children in the near future + LW being the only guaranteed breadwinner + LW being the primary caregiver doesn’t seem to add up to reality.

    • AmandaBee

      YES – I don’t see anything in here that suggests a lazy dude just skating by. I do see a whole lot that suggests a mismatch in financial and lifestyle priorities, coupled with a potential lack of communication.

      I’m the kind of person who CANNOT work in a job that I don’t feel fulfilled in. I mean, I’ve worked retail and all that, but I would be absolutely miserable making that my long-term career. I would 100% take a lower-paying job that mattered to me over a higher-paying one that didn’t. In fact, I’ve recently made that exact decision, moving into a career field that, while it doesn’t pay badly, will make me less money than the one I was in.

      It sounds like LW and her fiance are operating on different thresholds for what counts as financially stable, and also different assumptions about how important it is for work to be meaningful. And if that’s the case, there needs to be some communication to see if their expectations can be more in line, But that communication cannot start with the assumption that her fiance is wrong or selfish for hustling to build a career he enjoys.

      Or maybe I’m wrong and this is just a difference in risk tolerance and timelines, in which case they can communicate about those too. But her comment about him working any job as long as he made more money was a bit of a red flag to me that their priorities may be misaligned.

      From my own perspective, if someone came to me and said they needed me to start working a high-paying job regardless of how fulfilled i felt doing it, I would leave that person. Not because I think those priorities are bad per se, but because that demand would communicate that what I need and what they need are not aligned.

      • Ella

        All of this.
        It might help LW to approach the conversation in terms of a shared goal (kids?) and agree on how much money and time that will involve. (It might take a while to get on the same page about that.) Then LW can say “this is how much money and time I could potentially contribute. More time means less money and vice versa. Can you provide a plan for the other half of the money+time?”

  • La’Marisa-Andrea

    Chiming in to say what others have already said: this is about the fact that you have different values and view money as having different purposes (based on how things play out — savings not being a consideration suggests that perhaps he sees money as purely functional) rather than the amount of money you have. He seems like he’s ok with having not so much money and you aren’t, at the very core. Of course, the two of you need to sit down and kind of break this down.

    • Amy March

      And I feel like it gets lost a little that lots of people don’t have much money, by circumstance or design. In a way, I find the person who pursues their passion and eats rice and beans and winds up couch surfing from time to time and takes strange short term jobs for the adventure inspiring. I would never want to become financial and life partners with them, but they probably also don’t want my uptight lifestyle of commuting and student loans and a 401k.

  • Cellistec

    Oh, I feel this. In my case, I make twice what my husband does, though he has potential to earn more and I’ve pretty much leveled out in terms of salary. What’s worked for me, to balance the love for him with the occasional resentment about feeling trapped in an unfufilling career, is to focus on a vision that we both share of our future. We agree on wanting to buy a house and adopt kids, and we agree on the timeline, so with that in common we can explore the different options for accomplishing those things. That way, our rubric for decision-making isn’t “who pays for this?” or “who’s responsible for this?”, it’s “does this fit our vision?” I agree that therapy can help you articulate that vision together if you think a third party would be helpful to facilitate.

    • BSM

      Shared vision. This, so much.

      My husband and I both have jobs we like fine, but the best thing about both of them is that they pay us salaries that we can put towards our shared vision. We make essentially all life decisions with our vision at the forefront.

  • Katharine Parker

    “Two years ago, he decided that the best way for him to achieve some job security would be to get a masters degree.” This prompts two questions from me–does he still feel this way? And what does job security mean to him and to you? Without knowing what kind of a master’s this was, it’s hard to give concrete advice, but the fact that he went into this for job security should be part of the conversation you need to have about where you are going individually and together.

  • zero

    Yeah, I think you need to tell him what you really want. Not necessarily in terms of what HE needs to do in your opinion, but that YOU want to have a kid and higher degree of financial stability, with both partners working towards these goals. I would try to find out whether a) he shares these goals, especially about having children, and b) if so, what he is ready to contribute towards reaching them, in terms of earning more and/or taking over primary caregiving responsibilities.

    I feel for you, since I’ve also just laid my cards on the table with my partner, giving him somewhat of an ultimatum to either get on board for kids very soon or be ready to say goodbye to having kids. I feel the need to resolve this question in my life and I’m not sure we truly have compatible views on children and how to share caregiving responsibilities. I want him to want to be a dad and take over 50% of caregiving responsibilities, but I do not want him to do something he does not want to do. It takes courage to be open and take the risk of things not working out they way you want them to, but it’s worth it.

  • thebluecastle

    My thoughts after reading this: 1) yep, totally agree with Liz on therapy. that sounds really helpful and 2) is it possible for him to get a full time job where he makes more money and has more stability (possibly not in his field) and turn his creative interests/training into a side hustle? I ask because a lot of people who want to start creative businesses (myself included) start with something small. In my case I’m opening an Etsy shop but your mileage may vary based on the field he’s in. Even something like photography or graphic design you can work an unrelated full time job (with a salary and benefits) and still pursue your passion part time. It takes a lot of drive, commitment and planning but it would at least be a step in the very important direction of financial stability.

    Does it suck to have a full time job that isn’t related to your passion? Yeah, it can, but it doesn’t have to. Is it giving up on your dreams? No, because you’re still pursuing your passion you’re just also acknowledging that we live in a world where rent and bills need to be paid regardless. Good luck OP!

  • Lawyerette510

    There is so much good advice in this thread, so I’m not going to duplicate any of it, but I am going to be very blunt in what I don’t think anyone has said super directly:

    Before you get married you need to figure out if your values align about finances, career and having children!

    I’m not saying you need to have it all worked out, in terms of what it looks like, because it will shift overtime, even if you think you have it all worked out now. But if you don’t know that you have compatible values, then how will a marriage succeed?

    And right now, it sounds like there hasn’t been a lot of discussion of the foundational values, only discussion of how things might look.

    This is hard and scary and I think the suggestion of doing this with the help of a therapist is a really great idea.

  • In my marriage I am the starving artist-intellectual who put several years into my creative work and a PhD, much to the detriment of my marriage, not so much because of lack of shared vision, but because a lot of misunderstandings and miscommunication and a very different timeline for achieving that vision, which led to a misunderstanding of perception of efforts we were both making towards a vision. Where I virtually sped through a a PhD program, finishing in five years, because of my eagerness to get into a position to contribute more financially, to my husband and outsiders who do not understand my field I think I have often perceived as a flaky freeloader with no Plan B and no expectation that I would ever be called upon to bear my load in supporting the family. As I had already started my studies before my marriage I didn’t feel that the expectation to abandon my career path was fair; my husband never really understood and took seriously the things I tried to tell him about academic careers to know whether his expectations of when I would finish and how the job market process would work were reasonable. From what the LW has shared, this guy is not some lazy freeloader, as I know I am not, but there is a misalignment and lack of clarity of expectations, and lack of a unified plan that both people are prepared to compromise and sacrifice for in order to execute. For example, I was not willing to give up finishing my degree, but I thought that if was willing to train and the network at the same time for alternate career plans, limit the number of years I would spend on the job market, and only apply for positions places my partner desired to live, he could relax a bit on the house and kids timeline…but that was just not the way things worked out. We each had individual plans, but were never on the same page. I also wonder if there is a gendered dynamic here, where men are judged more harshly if they fail to “provide” and a man is talked about more as potentially lazy and irresponsible if he is contributing less financially to the household. My husband’s and general societal expectations that he should be the one to provide I think perhaps shielded me from some criticism, at least at first, and possibly inhibited some conversations that would have happened earlier and in more depth had our situation been reversed.

  • z

    Well, kinda… I mean, we aren’t born knowing what it costs to raise a child and retire. If the LW has caught on to long-term financial planning in the past few years, after the relationship started, that may be part of what’s going on here.

  • z

    I would wonder if he actually does want kids. People who truly want things tend to find a way to make them happen, and that means thinking about how to do it and laying the groundwork. I wonder what his thoughts are here. I’m not saying he has to give up his creative dreams and take literally any job, but sometimes if you want something, other wants have to go on the back burner temporarily. Small children and small businesses are shockingly cash-intensive in the early years– they don’t necessarily fit together well.

    The original letter raises some concerns to me about financial management. The letter says that money “seems to disappear instantly into more creative projects”, but really, it isn’t disappearing of its own accord– the fiance is choosing to spend it, right? Choosing that over long-term savings– why? Long-term financial planning and management skills are critical for frugal parenting and for small business ownership, so if the fiance doesn’t have those skills, now’s the time to acquire them. If he isn’t able to control his spending or manage his personal finances, red flag.

    It seems like this couple needs therapy to facilitate this challenging topic of conversation, and a few sessions with a creative-friendly financial planner. To raise a child and save for retirement on a creative career salary, starting in mid-30s with no savings, is going to take some serious commitment.

  • Oh holy wow, does this resonate.

    What saved us was him realising what the life he wants costs, and that those would never be more than dreams if he didn’t step up on the earning front.

    I thought I’d be a low earning writer and he’d become a qualified tradie who would earn the majority of our income. As it turns out I’ve doubled my income by changing careers and wound up supporting him through many bouts of unemployment and underemployment over the years. There was definitely a lot of enabling and codependency at play. Now we have a much better balance and he has taken on more financial responsibility and has a much better idea of what life costs (where I used to do everything) and the role has to play in that. As a result he has been looking to make more to fund the life and things he wants, and takes pride in that.

    But we are wanting to start a family in the near future, and that’s what worries me. I earn 2/3 of our (modest) household income and affording time off for a baby is going to take a shedload of saving and planning. And that’s assuming everything goes to plan and I don’t have health issues! It’s a lot for one person to bear – bringing in all the income and having the kid to boot. I’m fine with being the breadwinner while we’re DINKs but when you start to think about having kids that changes the picture significantly and it gets HARD. It gets messy. I can’t help but feel a bit jealous/resentful of all the women I know who can comfortably take a decent maternity leave, because their husbands earn enough to support the family.

    I just wrote a very long, raw post about this topic this week, and have been blown away by all the responses and comments – which you can see here.

  • quiet000001

    Unfortunately often what the degree represents is the other factors that someone can be missing out on even if they are very talented – I did my degree in a creative field and we had a LOT of people drop out in the first year because they had talent, but couldn’t handle the demands and expectations of a college course with deadlines and project specifications that weren’t what you were Inspired By and so on.

    Actually working in a creative field, especially one like Graphic Design, often involves a lot of things like communication skills and time management in addition to artistic talent. That’s really the biggest part of what you’re showing by getting a degree, that you can manage yourself in a professional environment and be reliable and trustworthy.

    Of course, the thing to remember is that having a degree is not the ONLY way to demonstrate those abilities, so if someone feels they are qualified for a job but lacks a degree, it may be worthwhile applying or trying to network to get your foot in the door anyway, and think outside the box in terms of what things in your life you’ve done allow you to demonstrate that you can be professional and are a good person to work with. (Volunteering, for example. Or that job you had in school that wasn’t anything to do with your degree area, but where you really helped out and were part of the team.)

    All of that said – even if you don’t do a degree, it’s often not a bad idea for creative types to study some basic business concepts, through college classes or whatever works for you. That was something they really emphasized for all the creative areas at my college – even the super artsy folks like the dancers – because one of the big areas of stress and difficulty for people in creative fields is often the practical side of things – communication, business plans, money management. (I’m not saying you have to be GOOD at these things, but you can’t pretend they don’t exist, either, so you have to figure out some way to handle the practical stuff.)

    • I totally agree that it’s great for creative types to learn something about the more business-y side of things. I resisted this idea in more early years out of college, but then have realized since then that it would have been good to follow the advice of the person who told me to take some sort of business course, but at the time it sounded so dry and uncreative. Anyhow, I have since written someone at my undergrad to say how I wish I had had some sort of business class for creative arts that included budgeting, grant writing, copyright, contracts, filing taxes, etc.

      • quiet000001

        That’s a great idea, to have a targeted class or classes. Especially if it can work as a pre-requisite for ‘pure’ business classes so if people take it and like it more than they expected, they can continue in the subject without having to go back and take normal business 101.

        (A not small number of the creative arts performer types at my college ended up double majoring in business once they took a couple of classes. I think it wasn’t as dry or difficult as they were anticipating, plus it gives you a solid skill set should you be unable to perform professionally due to injury or illness.)

  • quiet000001

    The thing is that isn’t always true, so people always think they have the one example otherwise. (One of my friends matured and did settle down a LOT in his 20s. He still enjoys traveling and having fun, but he’s way better at balancing it with practical life stuff and compromising. He really did just need to finish growing up. I wasn’t always in frequent touch with him during that period just because of Life Stuff, so it was always kind of surprising to meet up with him again and see the changes.) I think that makes it easier for people to convince themselves things will work out?

    But that’s a bad mindset to be in, thinking you have the one who WILL change. Because maybe they won’t, or maybe they will but in a different direction than you were anticipating. Especially if they’re flat out telling you they’re happy as they are – believe them.

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  • NotMotherTheresa

    Heck, my husband took it one step further: He had a very firm timeline, and a very firm idea of where he wanted to be financially, but he never actually took the time to put two and two together to figure out how to accomplish said goals! It’s like he thought that if there were enough candles on his birthday cake, he would automatically turn into a zillionaire CEO, and therefore totally be ready to have kids by his arbitrary date!

  • KL

    LW, I think you’ve been awesome through all of this — supporting your partner’s dreams, grad school, the works. I think you need to take the time, in therapy or on long walks or whatever works for the two of you, to do some serious relationship visioning. 1. What are all your hopes and dreams, no matter how unrealistic? and 2. then unpack together the steps you need to take to get there. I said to my partner the other day, as an example of why we were again talking about dreams, “Sailing around the Caribbean can be a dream, but first we both need to learn how to sail.”

    I’m the practical planner in my marriage. I’m also the creative one, a painter who takes it seriously, and the steady 9-5 job holder. This is my compromise that my partner fully supports — he would support me if I wanted to be a full time artist — but I also want to eventually have a house in one of the most expensive real estate markets in the country, I love to travel, and most of all, I love to not worry about money.

    His career is freelance and I have twice expressed that I needed him to make more money/figure out his career because it was burdening me and he’s always done so. I think our continuous discussions of our future help with this because he shares my reasons why and this has also helped us work out our values as a couple. It’s hard sometimes — we’re I think the only ones among our friends still renting an apartment — but having this conversation over and over helps me feel like we’re in the right place for us. It also helps to ask the questions over and over again because it changes. I wouldn’t have cared about my salary fifteen years ago but I’m really glad I have it today.

    In my previous marriage, I wanted to be the artist and eventually figured out that my ex didn’t want to work at a job or in the home and that he wanted me to do it all, while he blogged, but didn’t want to voice that because it wasn’t very feminist. It seriously took me years to work this out because he never would have told me. So sometimes, even with conversations, you need to see if their actions clearly back it up.

  • Penny7b

    “It’s only fair to request a time limit or an end goal, and if that end
    goal isn’t met within the time limit, you’re allowed to ask for a plan

    This. So much.

    I had a similar situation with my now husband. I’ve got the steady bread-winning job while he started a business and still does not yet draw an income from that. We agreed to do that, but also agreed that it would be my turn next and in a few years we’d work towards my dream of buying our own home. A few years down the line and the business isn’t really giving us the return we’d hoped for. He started talking about using what little return we were getting to expand the business and I had to remind him that he promised we’d work towards my dreams first. I put my foot down and insisted on an exit plan for the business and a timeline towards home ownership.

    Even good feminist husbands can sometimes be a bit pre-occupied with their own dreams and blind to what it costs their partners.

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  • z

    Also, it seems like one of the main reasons for graduate school was to improve earning potential. But now he is talking about starting a businesses and delaying earning potential even further into the future (and maybe never)! So maybe he is the one who is changing plans, if not temperaments.

  • Eh

    I agree that therapy is a good idea.

    I’m the breadwinner in my relationship and my job provides up the steady income and benefits – I get the stress and weight of the responsibility. My husband went to school for IT (he was in college when we met) but when he graduated the market for IT jobs in the city we lived in was really crappy (and still is four years later) because a couple major IT employers shut down so there were lots of people with IT experience looking for jobs. My husband was pretty frustrated but we discussed the situation and he agreed to continue to work as a restaurant manager instead of trying to find contract work in IT. (The IT market is so bad that one of his friends is actually working part-time as a supervisor at my husband’s restaurant to pay their bills and does IT contacts on top of that.) So an option is for your partner to find something more stable even if it’s not what he went to school for or what he really wants to do.

    Also, there is no reason to be cooped up with an infant for months (obliviously it’s a bit harder in the winter if you live in a cold place – but I live in a cold part of Canada and we got out with our daughter a lot in the winter). You just need to find things to do with an infant and you can start taking them out as soon as you are comfortable (for some parents that only takes a couple days other it takes weeks or months). Lots of libraries and book stores have story time and there are play groups. You can go out for walks. Meet other parents to hang out with. My husband stayed home with our daughter for six months. He would be perfectly happy staying at home and never leaving but I made him go out at least twice a week to social things (a story time and a play group) and he also took her for walks almost every day.

  • Letter writer, to answer one question coming from the voice in your head…no, it is not reasonable to marry someone when they have a shit-ton of student loan debt and won’t even open the envelopes and fucking deal with it. I say this as a person who was once in the role of your husband. I had a ton of student loan debt and also a lot of hustle, but I was sort of resigned to always being broke and didn’t really care or take my financial choices seriously. I was just financially…immature, for lack of a better word.

    You know what got me to change this way of thinking? Someone who I cared about and who I was planning a life with who saw all this shit firsthand and was like “yeah, no.” Who made it clear that he wasn’t going to (or able to) bankroll my being irresponsible/impulsive/etc., and who wasn’t going to pay for all the stuff around the house while I bought whatever I felt like or took whatever job I wanted without thinking about the financial aspects of it. Who, in short, was not here for my excuses. I don’t know if I would have gotten my shit together financially if it weren’t for that…and I certainly wouldn’t have done it when I did. Up to that point, my decisions only affected me, and that was fine. Realizing they affected someone else, someone I cared deeply about, forced me to grow up. So I agree that you need to have this conversation, that you ABSOLUTELY get a say in this, and I think you should hold the fucking line…because your position is the correct one, and being financially immature (but a creative spirit! with hustle!) isn’t super defensible when you’re an adult in a committed relationship.

    That said, there’s a TON of shame surrounding financial choices, career choices (especially for creative types), and debt, and I can imagine it’s even worse for men who have been conditioned to believe that they need to provide. I’ve written in the past that my financial self-image was actually super similar to my shitty body image…there are really similar themes about morality and self-control with both food/weight and also finances. So I’d be mindful of that and approach this as sensitively as you would if you were talking to a friend about her weight (assuming you’d be sensitive to that, of course). Yes, I needed to be told to get my shit together, but the more harsh comments/frustration/judgment from my husband really stung and probably weren’t necessary.

    Also, guys, my 401(k) is currently banging, I pay my student loans on time, I understand my health insurance, and I’m probably going to out-earn him for the first time this year. So whether you’re the breadwinner or the financial fuckup, I can tell you…things can absolutely get better, and sometimes a partner is what lights the fire under someone’s ass. <3

    • Sara

      First of all, congrats. Second of all, I think your story is the literal embodiment of what people mean when they say their partner “makes them a better person.” This is it, right here.

    • arc4242

      I know you wrote this 10 months ago, but THANK YOU. Right now my fiancee is the one who just realized he can’t keep being financially immature (great way of putting it, by the way) and has to face the music on his student loans, which is going to cost us (because now it’s an “us” problem, and I fully understand that) many tens of thousands of dollars over the next few years to clean it up, and then even more years of rebuilding his credit to get to a place where we can get a home loan together and where we don’t have to rely on my income and credit alone.

      It has been a really hard reality for us both to face, and I’ve tried to approach him in the most loving, understanding way, while still emphasizing the fact that he needs to DEAL WITH HIS DEBT after putting his head in the sand and not opening those envelopes for close to 10 years. I am so happy things got better for you and for your relationship, and I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to say the same thing about my own relationship soon too. And congratulations on your 401(k)!

  • Sara

    Oof. So many angles here, and LW is understandably jumping from Point A (not married) all the way to Point Z (kids!), seeing the Big Picture and trying to make sure she gets the life she wants and deserves. Sometimes I think it’s tough for guys to see the Big Picture (I’m SUPER generalizing here). I wonder if the LW has ever shared her complete, detailed vision of the Big Picture with her partner? Has he ever really HAD to think about it? Because I think if the things that are a priority to her – marriage, kids, etc. – were also an equal priority to him, he would have had his ducks in a row by now. Or gotten new ducks. Or switched to geese. Or whatever it took to make it happen, really, because that’s what you do when you really want something – that’s what the LW has done for herself. It kind of sounds like he is just taking his time and isn’t really worried about the same end goals as the LW – which is the real issue here, as Liz points out.

  • lady brett

    “he decided that the best way for him to achieve some job security would be to get a masters degree.”

    this seems really key to me for a couple reasons.

    one, it may just be semantics, but “he decided” is a problem here, going forward. it’s really easy early in a relationship to make really huge decisions while still thinking of yourselves very individually instead of as a team. (of course you are still individuals, but) when you choose to attach yourselves together through major transitions, those decisions become joint decisions, no matter how much they wouldn’t have been in the past. *your* career, *your* car, *your* money – all of those things have a direct impact on *my* life, which means that *we* make those decisions together. Even when the end result is the same, there is a huge difference between “the person i love has decided to get a masters, and because i love them i am supporting them through this” and “we have decided that it makes sense for us for the person i love to get a masters while i support them through that.”

    but more immediately, it may not be a direct contract, but *this* is the understanding under which you made your decision to support his masters. and as such, he very much owes it to you to at least try. as the most immediate of all of these issues, it would be super reasonable and not accusatory to just say “look, i understand that _____ dreams would be fucking fabulous, and i’m not saying they’ll never happen, but the last two years have been really hard for me, and i figured it was worth it because we went into this so that you could find some more job security. right now, i need you to try to do that.” which will probably lead into some discussions of all of the other things, since they’re related, but that basic bit is pretty simple.

    also, at some point, you need to settle on a plan going forward. of course it will be loose, because you can’t know what’s coming. but there is a lot less resentment involved in overworking yourself for a goal, than just out of love.

    • Yes, the wording of “he decided” stuck out to me too…and I agree with your distinction between deciding individually and as a team and the discussions that could be had going forward…

  • Breadwinner

    My husband works in a creative field, and part of his time goes towards projects that may or may not reap actual money when they are completed. He has had several projects come to fruition and pay off in a way that it makes sense for him to continue, but of course- there are no guarantees, ever.
    All of this has been WAY more okay with me since we had a kid and he became a part time stay at home dad, probably because he is devoting less time overall to these side projects. And of course there are so many benefits to him caring for our son part time and having a flexible schedule for when things come up (his part time job is largely work at home). It’s a pretty sweet set up, actually. He usually utilizes nap times to get extra work done.
    The LW mentioned her partner probably wouldn’t want to care for a baby full time (and mine was the same way), but what about a part time situation? Money is tight for sure, but I have found it to be such a bonus to have only one of us working full time, with the other freed up for childcare and baby related tasks.

  • Nell

    I also think age makes a huge difference – they’ve been dating for 5 years. At 25, I had really different ideas about money than at 30.

  • LBFrank

    “It’s only fair to request a time limit or an end goal, and if that end goal isn’t met within the time limit, you’re allowed to ask for a plan b.”

    Even more than that, if there is no Plan B, if there is no compromise, discussion, understanding, and commitment, you are allowed to walk away. I understand that this has been a long term relationship, that you have invested years, that you love him more than anything. I also saw that you are “estranged from [your] family, and he is essentially all [you’ve] got.”

    I lived a similar journey, and thank God that I walked (or really, after lots of angst, circumstances tore me) away from a kind man that I truly and deeply loved, but who fundamentally disagreed with me (and couldn’t compromise) about how to live life, pay for it, work, and have a family someday. You are not a bad feminist, you are not a bad person, you are not “giving up” or “selfish” or undervaluing how precious love is by insisting on a balance of love and stability.

    I’m obviously projecting my own circumstances on to you, LW, so please forgive me – but know that what you want and your values are important and worth fighting for and protecting, even if it means heartbreak. After lots of lots of discussions (therapy is great!), if it doesn’t work out, I wish you so much bravery and strength.

  • Anna

    My husband is an artist, and I have a full-time job. I appreciate all the discussion here – it makes me feel like I’m not alone! Thanks! It seems that originally, paying more didn’t bother you. But now you’re giving too much (of your money, of your goals, of dreams), and that needs to be discussed. First, notice you have a difference in perspective and planning. My husband doesn’t plan ahead. Second, fund your retirement (or whatever matters to you) before funding his dream. Funding someone else’s dream when you’re depriving yourself indefinitely just makes you resentful. He probably thinks nothing is wrong if he’s paying his half or rent, and you’re paying for date night. The third thing is to talk more about finances and plans without being accusatory. “So if we were to have a kid, who would pay for childcare? What would you contribute? What’s a reasonable expectation?” Open the books and budget more with him. You might fight sometimes, but it’s better than feeling resentful – or worse, like the adult in the relationship.

  • Lovely story…!!! thank you for sharing the lovely story.

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  • Katie

    Everyone has said so much about finances, priorities, shared responsibilities, etc. I agree with most of it. Liz’s advice is good, as (almost) always.
    I’d like to mention one thing nobody has mentioned (or maybe I missed it?). It’s about you, LW. Your life and your job and your family. It sounds like you’re running low on all resources – you don’t have a family of your own, you hate the job you’re slaving away at, you live in a city you didn’t choose, you’re not surrounded by your friends. I’m guessing the stress of it all is eating away at you, so your health is just about to give up, too.
    Please, don’t hate me for this thought. But. Maybe you’re clinging to this guy exactly because of all those reasons – you don’t have anything else in this life. I don’t doubt for a second that he is loving, creative, funny, charming and all that. But when you don’t feel strong, you’re very inclined to lean on on whoever’s around – and in LW’s case it’s the financially irresponsible partner.
    Maybe his not earning money is not even the issue here. Maybe it’s time to revise your whole relationship, irregardless of money. Maybe… just maybe, he’s not even that into you anymore while you’re completely blind-sided. Whatever his “character” or “nature” is, no loving partner would be just swinging it for 5 years in a row, hoping the other would pick up the slack. It’s a hard question to ask yourself, but it might save you a lifetime of unhappiness. Does he even love you as much as you love him?

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  • I feel like I want to ask about the way decisions are getting made by your partner, here. I could be reading into things, but I get the feeling that you’re trying to build a team together where you both work on a joint timeline, and he’s thinking of himself as the leader and you the sidekick?

    Things like: He’s *now* decided that after his Masters he wants you two to open a business together. But joint business ventures are joint decision, and take months if not years of long-term planning and very focused,directed effort towards even the launch date. So I kind of wonder how that conversation went. Was it a mutual conversation in which he suggested that one option for your future together could be this business, and how did you feel about that, and something you’ve both revisited over the years? Or was it some exciting Grand Plan he dropped into the mix like some sudden whimsy of his that *of course* he expected you to be excited about and willing to participate in, on the assumption you had nothing planned yourself for the future, and which he has no concrete outline for?

    Spouse-to-be and me have a plan for our future – we want to buy a little bit of land, build our own home and live there, keeping some animals and growing some things, but not relying just on that for our needs. We frequently discuss how we’ll make money at that life, and one venture we revisit is the possibility of us running a natural woodland burial ground. Although we’re not yet certain if that’s the business we want to pursue, we already have timelines in place. We’ll keep our current jobs or whatever other work we need for the next 3-4 years. In that time I’ll learn to drive, he’ll study electrician and/or plumbing, and we’ll put away savings. (Once the wedding is over this year we’ll have more time AND more money for all of that!) Once we have enough savings (or more) I’ll quit my job, get a caravan and volunteer around the country at similar smallholdings (it’s called WWOOFing and there’s a whole organised way of doing it) to gain skills, scope out locations with affordable land, and learn more about the risks and income sources we’d need. I’ll also keep an eye out for any existing green burial grounds that have vacancies and apply for those. Meanwhile, he’d keep working full time, downsizing into a smaller rented place, and I’ll reduce the impact on our savings by taking online freelance work and temp jobs where I need to. This will go on for… a couple of years. After which point we should have an idea of location, costs and income. Then once we find the land we need we’ll go for it, hopefully informed and experienced enough to have a fighting chance of making it work.

    It’s a dream. We couldn’t pull it off if we were planning on having children or other things that required stability. And it’s a risk. But it’s a joint decision that we’re both willing to make and accept the risks for. And our timeline is stretching out over *several years* to make it work.

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  • Texasboy

    I’m neither married nor a parent … Precisely because I made that choice. I know if and when the time comes for me to be a parent (I am a 41 year old male) I know what I don’t want … Talk about “having​” to take care of the kids. Children should be a joy and blessing to parents who view caring for them as their yes responsibility because the parents made them but also a joy because they didn’t have to make them they choose to. It that difficult to understand? You two need to figure out what you want. My sister is 38 no children says she wants a baby but her boyfriend hasn’t wanted any yet. They are still together … By “choice”.