When I met my partner, I was aware that he was financially better off than I am as he has an exceptional job, but he lives modestly and is not an impulsive spender. We recently had an in-depth conversation about finances and, much to my surprise, finding out exactly how well off he is put me into a panic. Suddenly, the only thing going through my mind was how our being together was a burden on him. While I’m relatively stable financially in my own right, I do have roughly $30,000 in outstanding debt between line of credit, credit card, school and car loans, plus the house (which builds equity, so I’m not concerned about). On top of this, I’m crippled by the thought that I can’t now, or expect to ever, contribute equally to a future household.
In our conversations he’s been wonderful and understanding and has flat-out said that this is a non-issue for him. We talked about how we’d split household bills in the future when we marry or live together. I proposed we split things proportionally to our incomes, to which he disagreed, stating that at that point it’s OUR money and OUR life and it’s not fair for me to still not be living with the same financial access he has.
But despite all of this, I still have this nagging feeling that I’m bringing a burden of debt into our future. I’m starting to see that my independence on this issue is going to burden our relationship if I don’t learn to get over this and take the situation at face value. What can I do to help myself feel better about being the lesser contributor in the relationship? I feel ridiculous that THIS is the issue I’m stuck on, but I know I’m obsessing and need to deal with it. Any advice you can offer is appreciated, thanks. — Building Equity
I’m not going to give you financial advice because I’m far from a financial advisor, but I would advise you to speak with a debt counselor if you haven’t already. I’d be curious to know what such a person would say about buying a home in your early- to mid-20s without the ability to build up any emergency savings, let alone retirement savings, while working two jobs and living paycheck to paycheck. Since I’m not a financial advisor, I’ll stick with relationship advice and tell you this: You have more value than your monetary worth. You have more value than your debt and your equity, and you are not what your possessions represent. A person who falls in love with you sees you, loves you, wants you in his life and his future — not what you can or can’t financially contribute, not what titles or deeds you have to your name. Your boyfriend wants you. You — your smile, your laugh, your companionship and ideas and dreams, the way you care for him, the care you take in being a decent and loving person — all of this and all that you are means so much more to him than whatever his money can buy.
Maybe in addition to a debt counselor, you could book an appointment with a therapist to help get to the root of why you base so much stock in your financial net worth, as if the other things about you mean less. Your self net worth is comprised of so much, and only a tiny fraction of it — a fraction that most people don’t give a shit about, particularly someone who has a lot of money already anyway — is financial.
I was once like you, so I get it. I met my now-husband when I was well over 30K in debt (credit card and student loan), and, like you, I felt really freaked out by the financial burden I was bringing to the relationship. As we got more and more serious and talked about marriage, I couldn’t fathom how I would “make up” my deficit. We worked through that and I moved on and then I got pregnant and we decided together I would stay home with our baby (now kids, plural) and again, I felt a pang. What was my worth as a woman and a person if I wasn’t financially contributing equally to our household? I’ll tell you what my worth is: I manage our household and make sure it runs smoothly, happily, and successfully. I maintain order, I make sure everyone is fed and clothed and safe and nurtured and that our cabinets and our hearts are full. (I don’t do this all alone, of course, but without me life in this family would be very different. I’m the glue that holds everything together, and I work hard to keep it that way.) I contribute so much that I no longer measure my worth by the money I make, but by the care and love I provide to our family and our community and, in some degree, to society at large. (I do this by my work here, connecting people and advising when I can, and by spreading awareness of issues that are important to me, and in donating to charities that I value. And by voting! And volunteering!)
The best way you can get over measuring your self worth by your financial net worth is by shifting your focus and your energy. Instead of focusing so much on building equity, you could focus on building a community. Volunteer when and where you have time. Do kind things for others. Be generous. Share yourself — your time, your energy, your love. And when you do that, you will begin to appreciate how much that is worth. And if you don’t, then, again, I’d recommend therapy to address WHY you place such a strong emphasis on your monetary net worth instead of all the other aspects of yourself that are more valuable to the people whose paths you cross, including your boyfriend who is trying his best to assure you how much he values YOU.
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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.