Q. My partner and I get on well together, but there is a money issue. Our youngest child will finish uni next year, and he sees this as an opportunity for him to leave his job (he has never enjoyed it) and turn his hobby (woodwork) into work. This would mean that I, by default, become the breadwinner. I don’t mind that in itself – I enjoy my job – but neither of us has a decent pension, and I saw the next couple of years as an opportunity to finally get some savings together, but this will be impossible. I feel so resentful. How can I confront this issue in a constructive way? Name supplied
A. I love that you’ve raised this subject. It seems to me – as someone who’s half British – that talking about money is as big a taboo as sex. And there are similar lurking dangers of moral judgements, shame and anxiety.
Having said that, I don’t see this as a money problem, but a chance to be bold and talk about dreams.
Money might be the single biggest subject that couples argue about, but a lot of the advice is about budgeting for an immediate crisis, which you don’t have. Before you talk, you could both take a moment to appreciate how much you’ve achieved already as a couple.
For your reward, you have been looking forward to a comfortable retirement. Your partner’s vision of a reward is to escape from the grind in a different way, and sooner. You might have a fear in common; that having got so far together, now the other person will stand in the way of your big life purpose.
It’s worth setting the scene with care: ‘I’d like to talk about our plans for when the children leave home. When is a good time?’ I’m a big fan of going for a walk, because it means that the conversation happens side by side. Practise your opening line, making it an ‘I’ statement, and being clear about what you want – ‘I feel worried that we want different things in the future, and I’d like to talk about how you see it.’
It’s unlikely you will solve this issue with one conversation. It sounds more like what relationship expert, Dr John Gottman, calls gridlock or a perpetual problem: it’s got a symbolic meaning, and you can’t solve it until you get to that deeper level. The same amount of money in the bank can evoke different feelings for different people, and neither person is right or wrong. The Gottman approach says negative emotions hold important information about how to love each other better.
This is an opportunity to build meaning within your marriage. How has it been for your partner in a job he doesn’t enjoy? What’s a decent pension? What has worked well when you have spoken about big dreams (like having another child) in the past?
Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.