Coping With Financial Inequality

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Coping With Financial Inequality
Sometimes financial disparity can be a major problem in a relationship.

And that’s when I realized that our issues weren’t about money. They were about priorities and power and his need to assert himself in a situation where he felt inferior. The one way he could do it? By hitting me where he knew I’d feel it.

It goes without saying that relationships are tough work, filled with endless compromises—and many couples feel the challenges smack in their billfolds.

According to a 2006 Money magazine poll, 84 percent of respondents reported that finances caused tension in their marriages, and 15 percent said they fought about money several times a month. Sharyn Sooho, a Boston divorce attorney and cofounder of divorcenet.com, notes that one spouse earning significantly more than the other—or experiencing overwhelming success—is a leading cause of divorce.

If you think about it, that’s actually not too surprising. Wealth, and one’s association with it, alters the balance of power in any interaction; it follows that those who have grown up around money, or earn a lot of it, or have piles of it at their disposal, view the world differently than their less fortunate counterparts. While riches might not buy happiness, they do buy freedom, and the bottom line is that the person with more freedom has more options.

“Money is like an engine, it drives other things,” notes Helga Hayse, author of Don’t Worry About A Thing, Dear: Why Women Need Financial Intimacy. “People make assumptions about money, but in my experience, whoever has more of it has more leverage in the relationship.

Lola Smith, 35, is living proof. The pharmaceutical representative from Arlington, VA, once dated a man with an exceedingly large trust fund; he wooed her with expensive dinners and lavish gifts, and flew her around the country in his private plane.

Although Smith grew up in an upper-middle-class household, she was not used to such extravagances. “I always tried to pay my own way with him,” she says. “I didn’t want him to think I was with him just for his money. I also knew that if I let him pay for me all the time, he’d feel a certain amount of control over me. I didn’t want to feel like he owned me.”

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