The Moneyist: I'm a financially bullied husband. My wife makes $500,000 — 5 times my income — and tells me to live in a motor home. What will happen if we divorce?
My wife of 15 years makes about five times what I make — approximately $500,000 a year — and she always has. She and I had an agreement, which of course has been long forgotten by her, that her money would pay for the household expenses and mine would pay for our entertainment.
We eat out once or twice a week, usually around $60 each time, with the occasional $200 to $300 meal three to four times a year, which I pay for. We also usually take a $3,000 to $5,000 vacation once a year, which I also pay for.
I shower her with expensive gifts two to three times a year. She loves quality jewelry, but I love her and love to make her happy. We have substantial savings (mid six figures). Most all that came from her earnings since our marriage. She had none to mention when we first married.
The problem is that we bought a new home a few years ago — when she still remembered our agreement. The home is out of my affordability range. She refers to it as “her house,” and has started hounding me for half the mortgage payment and saying she pays for everything so it’s all hers.
I travel quite a bit for my work and bought a motor home a few years ago to stay in while I’m away. I pay for it, but she is excited to use it for outings and calls it “ours.” I also pay for my vehicle, insurance, and business insurance along with my credit-card balances in full each month.
She has been threatening at times, telling me I can go live in my motor home and she’ll take everything else. I don’t like being threatened and just wonder how much would I be entitled to in Texas in a divorce, if it ever came about. We also have over $100,000 equity in the house.
Feeling Financially Bullied Husband
Dear Financially Bullied,
Your problems are all about money — and they have nothing to do with money. There are so many other issues here: how you speak to each other, the spoken or unspoken covenant of mutual respect in this relationship has been broken, feelings of ill-will in relation to perceived entitlements.
Sometimes, you have to risk walking away from something you value in order to save it. You can’t allow this increasingly toxic “status quo” to continue because of either your fear of being alone or your fear of economic insecurity. You can’t save your marriage by ignoring the problems.
Your wife did not forget about your arrangement. She chose to forget about it. You need a new financial and personal blueprint to make this marriage work. If you both love each other and want to return to that place of respect, it’s worth giving it a shot.
I don’t know what she was thinking, but I’ll give it my best shot. She was, I imagine, resentful by the imbalance in incomes and the division of financial responsibilities that you had agreed upon, and decided that they no longer suited her. She just didn’t inform you of her change of heart.
You have a lot of discretionary expenses — gifts of jewelry, expensive meals etc. — that you can ill-afford. She has come to expect these gifts and, perhaps, sees these gifts as a reward and/or payback for what she sees as shouldering the lion’s share of the mortgage and other bills.
A better arrangement would be to live in a house that you can both afford to split 50/50. That means splitting everything down the middle: the mortgage, the utilities, and everything else. You could agree to deposit a certain amount in a joint bank account, and keep the remainder separate.
Your traditional, some would say archaic, gender roles are topsy-turvy. Your wife is the biggest earner. That is increasingly common, although men still tend to earn more than their spouses. But you are trying to keep up with other, more old-fashioned gender roles (expensive jewels).
If your wife wants to live in a larger house that you cannot afford, and you are OK with that, you could agree to split the mortgage and other bills, as a percentage of your respective incomes. But agree to revisit that arrangement in one year. It may be that you either move, or agree to separate.
You are both having your cake and eating it. Your wife is enjoying the lifestyle to which she wants to become accustomed to with her mid-six-figure earnings, and you are trying to keep up, while enjoying the spoils of this relatively lavish lifestyle. You are, at least, splitting your lifestyle 50/50.
But while your wife’s resentments have grown, so too have your feelings of discomfort. It’s time to see a financial therapist, a couple’s therapist, a financial adviser, or all three. Put your cards on the table, talk about how you feel without judgement, and allow your wife to do the same.
The worst that can happen is not that you separate. At least, not if you are both happier as a result. The worst that can happen is living in this situation where your wife says cruel things, and you either suck them up and maintain a fearful silence, or say cruel things back to your wife.
You live in a community property state. Assuming that you did not sign a prenuptial agreement, everything you both earned during your marriage will be split 50/50. That includes your joint savings accounts and your home. Bottom line: This has gone on long enough, my friend.
It’s time to bite the gold necklace — and talk.
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