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Dear Christine, Stalling in Southfield

| January 10, 2016

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Dear Christine, I am a 35 year old woman and I have been in a relationship with my girlfriend for about 5 years. We consider ourselves to be married but so far we have kept our finances separate. She has asked me several times to open a joint account with her and combine our money and assets. I have resisted and I’m not sure why. She makes considerably more money than I do, I believe she loves me and the income difference doesn’t seem to matter to her. I have always been very independent and a bit stubborn and feel like I just need to take care of myself. Right now I just pay her a monthly amount to cover my half of the household bills. The house is in her name and she has offered to add me, but like so many mortgages, it’s underwater so I don’t see the point. She says she really want us to be more like a “married couple” She really wants this!

So, why am I stalling? Stalling in Southfield

Dear Stalling,

Why are you stalling? Only you know the answer to that! Each of us are motivated by very different things, but usually we are looking to protect ourselves from further hurts. Two things that is fundamental in any relationship is that there be reciprocity and equality. Reciprocity means that I give as much as I get. Equality means that each of you are as worthy as the other. How you define what those mean is individual. This is often a problem with unequal incomes. If you earn double my income, I am not as worthy (as full of worth) as you. However, what we give to the relationship, and what we receive from it, isn’t only monetary. Time, energy, money and attention to the relationship, home and staying home to raise children would all be examples of what may contributed and received. There’s no right or wrong way to create an equal and reciprocal relationship. However, since we don’t have legal rights as married people do, we need to create legal documents to protect each other. So, if I buy a house, and I don’t put your name on it, and I don’t give you rights of survivorship, then you will be put out of the home we shared when I die. If I don’t have a will, the house will end up in probate and a judge will decide who should inherit it as my next of kin.

In a healthy relationship, we choose to be with each other and we choose to share ourselves with our partner. It takes trust and vulnerability to have an equal and reciprocal relationship. I have to trust that you will honor your commitment to me around money, family, house and shared belongings. I have had some people draw up elaborate legal documents stating who owned what before the relationship started, and who gets what that was jointly purchased during the relationship. Some detail this in a will, others make a long list and both sign it (probably not legal, but it clearly shows intent to be fair should the relationship end). Do you trust your partner? Do you feel worthy of her love and generosity, even though your incomes are not equal? Do you each give to and receive from the relationship of what you need? Do you each choose freely to be in this partnership. Do you really trust yourself, if something relationship ended? Do you trust your partner to be fair? These are some good questions to think about, journal on, and then to discuss with your partner, to find out what you both are thinking and feeling. And in this process you will learn about yourself and why you are stalling, and where you don’t feel equal or trusting or reciprocal in your relationship. Then you can choose to share that with your partner, to further the vulnerability, trust and emotional reciprocity, or you can choose to end a relationship that doesn’t feel equal or safe for you to truly be you.

Good luck!

Christine C. Cantrell, PhD.
Psychologist
Email me here!

Fun Facts
Kermit the Frog is left-handed.

 

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