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Breaking Up Over Money - Destructive Debt - Relationship Advice

Updated on March 20, 2012

Dear Veronica,

I’ve been with my girlfriend for 5 years, engaged for one. I am ready to terminate this. I’ve made the decision. I’ve had it.

When we met she had a little more debt then I did. I didn’t take it so seriously and went ahead and got involved with her. I rationalized it. I pushed it off thinking well I had more family support during college, and I knew more about budgeting. So while I had some advantages and came away from school in good shape she ran up credit card debt and would pay it off.

But that’s not what happened. She kept running up debt. She overspends on clothes, jewelry, vacations, going to the beauty salons, sending expensive gifts to people, you name it. I like nice things too and I splurge sometimes if I really want something. But all my bills are paid first. I plan for my future. I’m really not a materialistic person. But I studied hard and work hard, and I want to be able to have something to show for it. Unlike her, I don’t want to have to change my phone number every other month to avoid collection calls, or park my car at friend’s houses to stall it being repossessed. I don’t want to live like that. I want to get married someday, have kids and a house that I can afford and take care of. She (and her party friends) try to make me feel like that’s selfish. I tried to put her on a budget and help her make a plan but she would make fun of me and then get mad saying I think I know more than she does. She took it as me talking down to her. And it all just kept getting worse.

Plus she doesn’t take her career seriously. I wouldn’t care about that so much if it weren’t for the massive amount of debt she has. Do you know what I mean? I don’t want to come across sexist but if she was not into her career because she’s into something else like doing art or one day being a full time mom I would be FINE with it. But that’s not the case. She bounces from job to job, quitting because she wants to take a vacation she can’t afford. I’ve changed jobs once since college. She’s had about a dozen jobs since school, and they aren’t steps up. Most of them are lateral or steps down. She earns less now than she did at her first job, and she’s on notice now.

She started pushing about marriage. I figured that was my chance to really spear head this. I told her straight out I will not marry her while she’s in this much debt. I thought maybe I wasn’t really clear about this before. Maybe she didn’t understand how serious I am. So I figured this is one last chance, because everything else about her is great. I was very clear and told her I would help her this one last time but that’s it! I really have to see the effort and the turnabout in attitude and habits. I bought her a second hand car, and took a loan for my 401K to pay off a 10th of her debt which is what the financial advisor - that I hired for her - negotiated with all her creditors to keep them happy while she got on her feet, again, and stuck to a payment plan.

That was a year ago. Nothing has changed. She’s still maxing out credit cards all the time, not paying off her bills, and expecting me to help her out, and everything else. The only thing that’s changed is that now she tells people that I’m a tightwad and all I care about is money, like I’m the bad guy. I’m defending myself all the time. She’s being evicted, again, and wants to move in with me, again, but this time I put my foot down and said no. Her mother and brother have each approached me telling me my priorities are messed up. Her mother even said if I’m not careful I will lose her. If I’M not careful? I’m done! I’m just done with this. I have made up my mind. But I want one sane outsiders opinion. Am I the biggest asshole in the world for wanting to end this relationship because of her spending?

Michael

Dear Michael,

Your debt is a living thing. It changes, it grows. It affects many things.

Your debt isn’t just your credit and finances. It’s not just a number you owe. It’s a defining factor in your actual quality of life. It affects your employability. Employer background checks often include running your credit. Your debt affects your safety: where you can live, what kind of transportation you have to rely on, and you have to make your kids rely on. It affects your health. The amount and quality of doctor and dental visits, medicine, the caliber of food you can afford for yourself and your family. The amount of hours you work. The amount of sleep you can get. The amount of worrying you can’t avoid. Your future. Your old age. Your children and their futures.

You’re right to be very cautious. Her debt, irresponsibility and problems become yours when you cohabitate let alone marry

You took two very big, mature, and partner-like views of your mate’s situation. First you gave her the benefit of the doubt, and took circumstances into consideration instead of assuming she’s irresponsible. Second, you put it on yourself and considered the possibility that maybe you hadn’t been clear enough about your feelings.

That’s far more than most people would have done. You’ve been great. Giving someone five years to grow up and get it together is more than enough.

While you’ve been working on the relationship and demonstrating your ability to be a partner, she’s been doing the opposite. She isn’t thinking about what her spending habits will do to you. She doesn’t take your concerns into her priorities. She disregards your thoughts and your future. And she talks shit about you to her family. She’s not a partner. The issue being money or something else has nothing to do with it. She’s proven to be a poor partner. You have every reason to terminate this.

I would not be offering that advice had your email be different. For example if you had said you loved her, can’t imagine your future without her, and that you’re unsure of what to do… I’d have given different thoughts. However your email never mentions that you love her. One time you said she’s great in all other aspects but you maintain your clarity that you want to terminate this.

Also if she had been a good and devoted partner, if you had said her overspending was incurred by an ongoing illness, or that she’s been trying so hard but has made some slips, I’d be encouraging something different as well.

It’s a shame that you’ve been made to feel that you’re an asshole because of this situation. The truth is, you were mature, responsible, communicative, patient, supportive, and right. In fact it’s amazingly broad minded of you to even reach out and ask a stranger for another opinion on this.

In addition there’s a big difference between someone being materialistic and corrupt in values, and someone like yourself being responsible and careful. You’re not a bad person because you are mature, responsible. And it’s really a crappy thing that you’ve been portrayed unfairly.

I believe your instinct was correct. Do what you want to do. End this. You’ve made up your mind, and you’re making the right decision. Consider the alternative. The debt, the fights. The secrecy you’d have to maintain to keep money away from her in an account she doesn’t know about. The animosity. The resentment. Even if you took all the precautions you could possibly take to keep her finances separate from yours, there’s a legal partnership created in the marriage. Her credit rating becomes yours. Would you ever qualify for a house? Insurance? Would you lose your job or future promotions or jobs because of background checks?

And what would happen if god forbid one of you became ill. If you couldn’t work anymore, what would sustain you? Can you live like that? Can you be that unsure of your safety and your future?

As far as you’re soon to be ex-fiancé is concerned, the truth is she’s not going to change her ways as long as she doesn’t have to. Sounds like you’ve been bailing her out, and enabling her bad habits. She sees her life as temporary; something she doesn’t have to bother doing well because she’s soon to leave it behind. Your ending your relationship with her may be the wake-up call that could finally inspire her to take some responsibility for her life. And if it doesn’t, it’s really not your problem.

I’m sorry if that sounds cold. She’s made her bed and despite your patience and efforts she has chosen to lie in it. Best of luck to you.

Would you be willing to take on the debt of a person you're dating, and marry them?

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  • Paradise7 profile image

    Paradise7 

    6 years ago from Upstate New York

    I don't think he should become responsible for her debt, that she ran up when on her own. That doesn't seem right or fair to me; I'm a woman who has always been responsible for her own problems. I've never run to a man with something like this.

    He is wise to get out while he can. She would have been wise to listen to him and cooperate in ditching her bad spending habits.

  • mathair profile image

    mathair 

    6 years ago from Ireland

    Sounds to me like Michael's girlfriend has bigger issues. Spending is just a way of avoiding the real hurts in her life. Until she gets to the root of this she will not change her ways.

  • Jean Bakula profile image

    Jean Bakula 

    6 years ago from New Jersey

    It sounds to me like Michael has the patience of a Saint. She's way too immature for you, and you bailed her out enough. I can't understand why the family is dissing you. But without you to bail her out, they will have to, so that's why they want to keep you around. She's not treating you with respect. You can find someone who will appreciate your kindness and sensible attitudes on life. Best Wishes.

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