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I am in a relationship with a partner who is significantly better off than I am, and I am struggling to come to terms with the financial differences.

To set the scene with some of the issues:

  1. She is currently a student doing her masters (After working for a while) and not only does she have enough money to afford tuition fees, but her weekly rent is more than my monthly rent, and she is still paying a mortgage on a house in another city, and she still has more spending money than I do.

  2. She regularly travels the world with work and friends, while I have only left the country once and simply cannot afford that kind of thing. For example work proposed I have a business trip to a different country and without thinking about it she said she could come with me. My immediate thought was that if the situation was reversed I couldn't do that, and ended up being quite sad rather than excited at the idea.

  3. We are also both looking at new laptops, I am looking at a loan for mine, while she just paid cash for a laptop 3 times as expensive as my stretch budget.

  4. I am not in a badly paid job, and earn slightly over the average wage here, but even before her masters degree she earned more than double my current salary, and taking into account other benefits from work I would say it worked out as closer to triple. Any new job after graduation will likely earn 4 times what I do.

  5. Her immediate family are all well off, they own property, businesses and seem to have no problems travelling the world etc. On a recent trip here her mother bought a handbag for £3000 as an impulse purchase.

I am developing an inferiority complex in some ways, and also find myself fairly jealous.

To make matters worse in my past relationships I have never actually had a partner who worked and / or had much money. From day 1 in previous relationships I have been provider, bought partners anything I could afford, paid off their debts and split everything I had 50/50 (actually mostly I gave more than I spent on myself, and as a direct result I have no savings or property and am actually in slight debt).

I find it really hard to tell her this, and my first attempt at talking about it she said we do need to be clear on money such as putting property in her name etc, and that just made me feel worse because it is clear she thinks of her money as hers and not ours.

I think what I am looking for is to ensure that we are equal in the relationship. If she wants a house in her name and pays for it then I don't mind, but where we share things it takes a greater portion of my 'free' money and I don't have the money to keep up with her lifestyle.

Question: How do I approach her about this topic without coming across as asking for handouts?

Note: The relationship is fairly new (4 months) but has become very serious for both of us (I have moved in with her, albeit still paying my own rent because I have a daughter who I take to my house when I see her). I am not expecting us to combine finance now, but I need to know not only how to handle the feelings as they are now, but how to move forwards so that when we get further into the relationship this stress doesn't drive us apart.

Note 2: I am from England, my partner is from Indonesia and is studying over here.

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    For clarification: You say you don't want her to share with you, nor that you think she would appreciate it, and you want to approach her, without coming across as asking for handouts. But you don't really mention what it is you want from her. You just point out that it isn't expecting money from her. Or at least you not wanting to appear as such. So for helping you we had to know what it is you actually want to achieve with by talking with her then. Or if you in fact would like her to be more financially caring for you since you consider her capable of, be clear about it in the post. No shame – dhein Jan 17 at 12:36
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    @dhein I have made an update to hopefully answer that. – SeriousBri Jan 17 at 13:13
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    Yes, I think this made it clear enough. Thanks for editing :) – dhein Jan 17 at 13:15
  • Hi SeriousBri. Are these two questions of any help? here and here – OldPadawan Jan 17 at 14:51
  • @OldPadawan kinda, one answer seems to indicate that I am a child rather than a man, which is pretty much a harsh way of agreeing with my own thoughts about myself, but not great advice on dealing with it. – SeriousBri Jan 17 at 19:47
5

I've been on both sides of this. I understand how you don't want to be a mooch, but you also don't want to go broke trying to keep up with them. I had an ex that made a lot more than me, and he loved to live like he earned well (understandably!). I could not afford to live that lifestyle, though. The good news is this is easy to solve by talking.

When you're both calm and have plenty of free time, ask to sit down with her and discuss finances. Tell her that you understand she wants to and can live the lifestyle she does, but that you simply can't afford to match her expenditures. However you also don't want her to feel like you're mooching off her. Say, for example, you can only afford to eat out once a week, but she likes to go out every night. Tell her you can only afford to pay for it once a week, then ask what she'd like to do about the other nights. Maybe she's happy to pay because it's no burden to her and she wants to be able to go out all the time and have you with her as she does so. Maybe she's uncomfortable paying for everything and would rather cut back to something you can both afford. Maybe you're uncomfortable going out all the time on her dime and would rather cook for you both sometimes so you feel like you're also contributing. Those solutions are all fine! The important thing is you're both comfortable with whatever you agree to. You don't need to make yourself destitute, and she doesn't have to go without the lifestyle she enjoys. You really can have it both ways. Apply this same idea to housing, travel, or anything else, and you should be fine.

Obviously if her response is "I expect you to pay to take me out every night whether you can afford it or not", then you should run for the hills, because that's not a person who cares about you. But we'll assume she's reasonable or you wouldn't be dating her, so this should work.

However, there is an issue that talking out how to divide things won't solve: your feelings of inferiority. It's understandable that you've always taken care of others, and so perhaps that's become part of your identity and how you value yourself. That's not something your partner can help you with, unfortunately. You need to sort those feelings out. It's not fair to ask her to pretend she has less money or spend less just to assuage your feelings. You can talk about how you feel if that helps, of course, but ultimately it's up to you to solve that problem. You might want to try talking to a therapist; they exist for this exact thing. You don't need to be a broken person or in a crisis to seek a third party's help in resolving unwanted feelings.

One last thing I'd like to comment on: like I said, I've been on both sides of this, including being the person who has a lot more disposable income. I'm concerned when you say you're hurt that she treats her money as hers rather than both of yours. You've only been dating a few months. Her money is her money. She may decide to spend it only on herself at any time. That's her right, and not something you should begrudge. This could mean she might travel without you, buy expensive cars you won't ever drive, or anything else, especially while your relationship is new. Maybe if the roles were reversed, you would happily spend lots of your money on her, but that doesn't entitle you to anything here. Be careful about feeling otherwise, because that will likely cause strain. And definitely keep talking about it as your relationship progresses, as either or both of you might have your feelings evolve over time.

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9

So, your life sounds similar to mine in a lot of ways. I support myself, I have a daughter and I had my own apartment I stayed in when she was with me. My now-husband's finances are still a mystery to me, to be honest. I live in the US in a southern state where it is just not polite to talk about money. We also met later in life, and for that reason it is not so unusual to have separate finances. I am sure he would answer any question I asked but I never saw the need.

The way I handled it was (and still is) to do what I can afford to do with my money. If he wants to do something he knows I cannot afford, like Honeymoon in Tahiti, he pays for that and I always ask if there is something I can contribute. Sometimes he says yes, and sometimes he just covers the whole cost.

Example: We are taking my daughter on a trip for winter break, and he is paying for the room and the event tickets, and casually mentioned (when I asked if I can contribute something) that I could pay for souvenirs, extras, etc. above the food and lodging which is already included - which I can afford to do.

I have also always been up front about wanting to assume responsibility for my own life, and finances - especially because I have a child. Keeping things separate makes that easier. While we were still dating, we did not have common possessions or property. Now that we do (he paid cash for his half of our home, and I financed my half at my insistence) if something were to happen it would be shared.

You mention that you are worried about sounding like you are asking for handouts, and I was always worried about that too.

When bringing up a vacation or gift or other activity, I would always propose an option I knew I could afford. I also told him how much money I made and how much debt I had, and asked for his advice on dealing with as time went on since he was clearly good at managing his finances.

In my experience, he has respected that boundary but also has typically contributed to make things nicer or more possible for me since we have been married. I have seen friends in this situation where the more wealthy party made the other feel bad about it, and that is not healthy. Not a situation you should remain in. In my case, our upbringings were also different. His parents were able to provide cars, college tuition, rent, etc. and mine were not so it was strange at first. I tried to always make a joke or keep it light, but still up front.

You mention you are early in the relationship so my suggestion would be to do your best to remain as open as possible about your situation and try to just work on your relationship, as if money were not part of it. I know that is easier said than done, but for me it worked to leave everything separate and not talk a lot about it. Having the kid makes that easier, too, because I needed to know I could afford whatever she was doing regardless of any relationship. Most people understand this boundary, I find.

If it works with this girl, and you are happy together, then the rest will fall into place. At some point it will have to come up, but you may have some time to adjust more before that happens. You cannot control this aspect of her life, so it is not something to feel inferior about. Just decide what you need from the relationship itself and try to work toward that.

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    What's with the text in quote blocks? Are you quoting that from anywhere? – Kat Jan 23 at 22:07
  • It was really just an attempt to call out the "actions" to take and make it a little easier to digest than one long string of text. – JenInCode Jan 24 at 13:28
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Kat's answer above is great and suggests plenty of actionable things to do. I wanted to add this answer to make sure the OP addresses the root of the problem: how to feel that you are equal in the relationship.

It sounds like OP has enough income to support themselves, so the easiest thing to do is to keep ALL finances separate. Sure, your place might be smaller than hers and your laptop of lower quality, but if they're sufficient for your purposes that's all that matters. I don't see how this would affect your feeling of equality, unless one of the following is also at play (list is most likely not comprehensive):

  1. she has offered to buy you a better "x" which made you feel bad - in this case, it's fine for you to politely request that she doesn't offer to do so
  2. you feel like she, as your partner, should help you buy something at the same tier as hers, but you don't want to come off as a mooch - this can be solved through discussion, as in Kat's answer. If she says no, then it's up to you to decide if you're okay with less "symbiotic" relationship than you expected
  3. she has made comments or done otherwise to make you feel inferior, e.g. saying that your laptop is crappy and why don't you get a better one - that would be pretty rude of her and you should confront her about it
  4. you feel like you don't belong in her life/social circle because you don't have the income to keep up with her lifestyle (e.g. she wants to take expensive vacations multiple times a year) - this is something that you should also discuss so that you can think of ways to keep you included. If this ultimately is the issue, you need to either accept that you can't participate in part of her life, or both agree that she will cover the costs for you to come too
  5. you are not comfortable with a relationship in which the other person has a greater source of income - it's okay if this is true, but it means that your current relationship will never work. If it really is important to you to be the "provider", then you need to find someone who you can actually provide for.

Sources: in my current relationship I make far more income than my partner, who is currently unemployed and I'm paying for his living expenses. This is stressful for both of us because I prefer to keep my finances independent, and he feels bad for mooching off of me. I know that I really don't want to be in a relationship where either partner is financially dependent on the other, so if this doesn't resolve soon I'll have to end the relationship. On the flip side, when I was in college I always lived very frugally so my roommates would spend more than me on food, computers, books, etc, but I didn't feel uncomfortable or inferior because we all took care of our own expenses.

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I wouldn't bring it up.

When you date wealthy people, you should first solve these issues with yourself prior to committing to a relationship, which it seems you didn't.

You are gonna have to start digesting her/their lifestyle, otherwise you would likely want to create changes to her life (somewhat and to some extent), which I wouldn't do that, especially at this time, since she is just a student with a long way to go.

I'm guessing and pretty positive that she will take care of your financial issues anyway.

Wealthy girls when they like a boy, they are very very much less financial minded and you should start becoming comfortable with that.

You might wanna watch this movie (Crazy Rich Asians). It's an exaggerated comedy genre, but it'd be good for you.

enter image description here

Bottom line: Learn to live with it and don't try to create an unnecessary problem.

Of course this answer is just an opinion and I'm sure some would disagree.


Reference

There are lots of articles, which If you like, you can go through some of them and figure things out, such as:

There are a few studies (Dunn, 2008), (Whillans, 2012), and (Aknin, 2013) that have proven that generosity in spending results in increased reported levels of subjective happiness. This type of spending has been proven beneficial throughout many cultures across the globe. Through human connection, money flows into both giver and receiver in the form of boosted positive well-being.

How Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness


However, I wouldn't spend times on these articles because these subjects are pretty complicated to understand. You don't want to know, you just want to see what's the best thing to do and here is the best thing to do:

Let it go at this time (the girl is already on the pressure of living in a fully different place - she has more stuff to be worry about)

If you want to bring things up, don't bring it directly, tell it with stories.

Good luck!

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    Hi Emma, welcome to IPS! This site does require answers to be based on expertise, not opinion. But even if you don't have personal experience with this sort of situation, we do welcome answers which cite external sources if you'd like to add that. – Em C Jan 19 at 19:20
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    @EmC Hi, OK, I see! Updated. – Emma Jan 19 at 21:33
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    Hey Emma, welcome to IPS! I see that you added an external source. Could you quote the relevant part of the article that answer the question ask? – Ælis Jan 20 at 9:12
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    @Ælis Hey there, sure! Updated. – Emma Jan 20 at 18:13

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