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Marriage and Finances

QUESTION: I'm afraid I may associate money with love, caring and protection. My x-husband was very selfish and would not share his money with me or our children. Now I'm in a step-family situation where my present husband is wealthy and I am not and he doesn't want to co-mingle savings and bank accounts or talk about the allocation of money. I feel resentful that he wants me to ask him for money for living expenses and purchases that I can't afford on my own income. At 41 I feel it's inappropriate for me to stoop to such a level giving him all the power to decide what and when to purchase things for the home and children as if I have no thoughts feelings or right to make independent decisions about money.

To add to the confusion, I am living with my two children in his house that is under a land trust with his children as beneficiaries. I have no financial stake in the house and resent fixing it up or caring for it when I feel unprotected if he should die because he x-wifes is a trustee on the trust and I believe she will throw me and my children out of the house upon his death.

We are now faced with another dilemma because I was just accepted into graduate school with a work assistantship and will need to take classes two nights a week and work at school. I already work 2 nights at my present job and my husband doesn't want me to be gone 4 nights a week because I will be unable to fix dinner for his eleven year old and be around to provide him with company. My children are girls 18, and 15 and are self sufficient.

He says I can quit working because he earns enough money to support us, but I have no access to this money and don't want to ask for it. Plus I feel like if something happens to him I need to be able to work and support my children like I have always done and can't depend on being left financial secure if he dies so I am afraid to quit my job. I don't want to be selfish and hurt the family functioning or give him more responsibility than he already has, but unless he is willing to provide me equal access to money for functioning I don't see any other options for me but to be gone 4 nights a week to work and go to school. I feel like my education and work are the only security I have presently for myself and children because financially I do not trust my husband to provide for us because he refuses to blend.

Are my fears realistic or is my association of money with love, protection and caring overshadowing my sensibilities?

ANSWER: Tell your husband that money is not a dirty word! When a great disparity of wealth exists between partners, discussion rather than avoidance in HOW this will be addressed is critical to the success of the marriage. Negotiate an agreement that is fair and mutually supportive. Marriage is about sharing. And equal sharing in the power of decision-making is essential if you are to feel loved and "taken care of" in this or any other primary relationship. Without working out an agreement that ensures your own as well as your children's security, you will experience yourself as a "second-class citizen" which will divide instead of blend your family relationships.

There is no reason for you to remain in the position of a child in your marriage. You are contributing to blending the responsibilities of parenthood by accepting care for your stepdaughter. It is your husband's job to contribute to your children's security as well. Membership in a family should entitle you to negotiate about the available resources, which relate concretely to your feelings of both love and protection. Many situations can be negotiated which take into account the needs and rights of previous spousal relationships and also value the needs of new family relationships. Talk with other couples and families who have worked out satisfying agreements in complex situations. The more complex your situation, the greater the need for discussion.

Marriage represents the blending of two families, including financial and emotional caretaking. It is disappointing to you that your husband has not been proactive in his consideration of your needs and the needs and protection of his stepchildren. It is your job as a spouse to communicate your needs and your disappointment. Bring to light his "blind spots" about your experience in the family. Just as it is his responsibility to let you know if he feels or fears being taken advantage of in the relationship for his money. Through discussion, you have a chance to experience your partner's reality. Equitable agreements are spawned through empathic connection, not cut-off. But discussions must travel beyond feelings alone if you are to reach a satisfying resolution to your problem.

The decision to marry one another should have ideally included discussions about the allocation of resources. This is often what prenuptial agreements are about. In your case the discussion was avoided. Why? Your fears regarding your independence are real and justified. Women have long been in the unfortunate role of entrapment historically. Sole economic dependence on a male bread winner has contributed to women's victimization in marriages in which power was not balanced in the family. This seems to have been the case in both of your marriages. Perhaps you are contributing to recreating situations in marriage that repeat patterns of devaluation.

Cultural and childhood gender roles may have dictated the decision-making that occurred in your marriage. Automatically, our society assumes women to be the emotional caretakers in the family. It is often true that women's work becomes invisible and taken for granted (unpaid). The traditional male position of economic provider has often afforded men greater deference in decision-making power in the family. When gender roles are not balanced by conscious agreements for fairness in a marriage, exploitation of women is often the result. Do not assume a caretaker role in the family that does not include equal power in making family decisions!

It is often difficult for women to shake feeling "guilty" about expressing their needs. Your childhood role models may have promoted female caretaking and deference to male entitlement based on money-making in the family. What was the agreement regarding allocation of resources between your mother and father? Did you feel that you were valued as a child and were your needs met appropriately with the resources available? Or were you left with feelings of neglect and unimportance when it came to needs that related to money? Did men and women value both the economic and nurturing contributions to the family equally or was your father "in charge" of decision-making about money because he made the money in the family?

Your attention to your educational and career development should be supported by the marriage. Work out an agreement with your husband that not only protects you and your children's welfare, but supports your professional and personal growth, too. The purpose of "family" is to support the growth and development of all of its members. This includes you!

Intimacy and affection will be hampered in your couples' relationship unless the imbalance of power is remedied. Emotional, economic, professional and personal goals must be safe areas for discussion and negotiation for your marriage to succeed.

Almost half of all remarriages end in divorce. And the most common reason for marital dissolution is prolonged unresolved conflict. Your husband's refusal to discuss the allocation of money is stonewalling any possibility for resolution. Require that he discuss this topic with you.

If necessary, seek marital counseling for support towards addressing instead of avoiding conflict in your marriage. Each day these issues remain unresolved is a step towards the potentiality of divorce. Kindly invite your husband to be a part of the resolution rather than another statistic!


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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