Coping With Financial Inequality

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

Melissa Jacobs, 34, had a more successful experience. The social worker from Greenville, SC, married a man whose family has considerably less money than hers (his father was a transit worker; hers was a lawyer). They met in college, and since he was working to pay the bills, she would pay when they went out on dates.

“I had everything handed to me and he didn’t—and I knew that if I wanted us to do things, I’d have to pay,” she says. She didn’t mind—but she does resent paying for things when they go out with his family. “They never reciprocate!” she says. “We fly to see them, and we’ll buy them dinner. I keep thinking it’s because they don’t have anything, but it bothers me.” Does she say anything to her husband about her feelings? “Absolutely not!” she says. “We just come from different cultures, and he’s not going to change his parents at this point. I have to pick my battles.”

Just as every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, every financially unequal partnership has its own special set of problems—and solutions. And just as it tends to be easier to date someone from a similar cultural, religious, and educational background, it’s often easier to be with someone who has similar attitudes about money.

“Wealth-management people call it financial incompatibility, and it’s a very real issue,” says Helga Hayse. “Money is the one remaining taboo in marriage. It used to be sex, but no more.

Everyone goes into marriage expecting a good sex life. But they don’t talk about money.” (Nearly two-thirds of married couples who responded to a 2006 USA Today poll said they had talked “a little bit or “not at all” about finances before committing to one another).

So, is your relationship doomed if you come from different financial backgrounds? Or if you can’t discuss your feelings about money? Mine clearly was (perhaps because, as financial guru Suze Orman puts it, “Opposites may attract, but I wouldn’t put my money on a relationship between financial opposites.”)

Ultimately, a successful union is about more than the size of one’s wallet. But here’s a tip: next time your partner despairs about the size of his billfold, tell him you’ve never seen anything so big in your life.

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