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Dear Joint Accounts,
My wife and I keep all our money in joint accounts. She’s generally pretty good with our finances, except when it comes to her adult daughter, whom she spoils grotesquely. Whenever my stepdaughter asks for money — which she does, often — my wife hands it over, to the point that I’m uncomfortable with it from a financial standpoint as well as a parenting one. But when I bring this up to my wife, she shuts it down with comments like, “You seem to have a lot of unresolved anger toward her.”
I’ve also discussed this issue with my therapist, who advised me to separate our accounts. But that seems drastic to me — like the first step toward a separation. Am I being overdramatic on this? Should I move my money so my stepdaughter’s requests are no longer my problem, or am I better off trying to get my wife to say “no” to her daughter?
Reluctant to Separate
It sounds to me like there are two issues at play here: Your conflicting views on parenting, and how that conflict is affecting your finances. It’s hard for me to get into the parenting stuff without knowing your wife’s side of the story, but if she thinks this is about unresolved anger, and you don’t feel that way at all, then there’s a disconnect happening somewhere. It’s time to find it and fix it.
You mentioned you’re in therapy, which is great. Is it possible to bring your wife to a session? With ongoing conflicts like this one, it can be especially helpful to have some third-party guidance. If that’s not doable, you and your wife will need to sit down and have an objective conversation on your own.
But you’ve probably tried this, and I’m guessing that every time you do, the conversation turns into a fight. If that’s the case, examine your approach. Think about the way you two talk to each other when you have this discussion. For example, one partner might be anxious about conflict, and the other responds by getting defensive. In this case, a little self-awareness can go a long way toward breaking out of those patterns.
At this point, the goal of the conversation isn’t to persuade the other person to see things from your point of view, but to understand theirs. Why does your wife think you have unresolved anger? What’s giving her that impression? And why does it bother you that she’s giving your stepdaughter money? If she gave her a lower amount, would that bother you less, or is it the fact that she’s giving it at all?
Try to think critically about your emotions. Do you feel dismissed because you’d like to take more of a team approach to making financial decisions with your wife? Do you feel resentful because she doesn’t seem to grasp that you’re on a tight budget? Try, too, to keep your stepdaughter out of this, and stick to communicating about how this situation affects you. Talking about your feelings obviously isn’t going to magically solve this problem, but it’ll make it a lot easier to find a solution.
And then there’s the matter of money. You seem reluctant to take your therapist’s advice, and you should do what makes you comfortable, but keep in mind: Separating your accounts doesn’t have to be a drastic move. Plenty of married and unmarried couples keep their finances separate and make it work.
If you do decide to go this route, keep in mind that you should still have financial transparency in the relationship. This means you should be privy to each other’s spending, savings, and debt, even if the money is coming from two different places. Separating your finances should not be an excuse to hide anything from each other.
Additionally, you and your wife should both be comfortable with the logistics. Maybe you can agree to keep joint finances for joint expenses, and separate accounts for separate spending, including your stepdaughter’s allowance. You might choose to contribute a certain amount to your stepdaughter’s fund, or you can agree that it will solely be your wife’s financial responsibility. Alternatively, you might keep your finances completely combined, but agree on a plan to slowly wean your stepdaughter off of her financial dependence.
Whatever compromise you reach will depend on what you both discover when you sit down and talk about the root of your issues. Your wife has her side of the story, too. You might not agree with it or care to go along with it, but you should at least try to understand it. A healthy relationship isn’t about agreeing on everything — it’s about respecting and empathizing with each other even when you don’t.