Pay Dirt is Slate’s money advice column. Have a question? Send it to Athena and Elizabeth here. (It’s anonymous!)
Dear Pay Dirt,
My husband and I are doing very well financially. We both earn six figures and I even out-earn him by a significant amount ($50K). He came from a large poor family who survived on food stamps and donations, while I am an only child who was brought up by well-off parents. We have been married for 13 years and have one child.
I suffered from severe postpartum depression after having our child. I tried therapy and medication, but neither were working, so I tried horseback riding. After five years of riding, I finally feel like my pre-baby self again. I have come out of my postpartum depression haze, I’m more confident and healthy than I was before having our child, and I have decided that I would like to take my riding to the next level and buy my own horse.
I quarter-leased a few horses off and on since I started riding, but I reluctantly stopped leasing when my husband had a fit about costs and time involvement. Our child also rides and absolutely loves it; most weeks we ride together and have a fantastic time bonding. I have mapped out all of the horse-owning financials, pros and cons, but my husband is a firm no. He hates horses, he hates the idea of owning a horse—he would be happy with me and our child riding one day per week and that’s it.
He even said, “What if I spent multiple days per week at a strip club while you were at the barn/riding?” I said that would be an unhealthy habit, and it’s an immature comparison. He also asked if I could find a different, cheaper hobby, like running or knitting?
I am a grown-ass adult, I work hard, I fulfill my family responsibilities, I can afford my own horse, and riding makes my child and me happy! His bad attitude about horses and horse ownership is ruining the fun of riding for us. I’m almost at the point where I want to quit riding altogether and hide in a cave.
—Just Want to Feel the Wind in My Mane
Dear Just Want to Feel the Wind,
I really don’t understand your husband’s objection to this. You make plenty of money, and riding is something you and your child enjoy. Your husband should not be able to veto your ability to do it solely on the selfish basis that he does not appreciate it himself. I’m sure there are things your husband does that you believe are boring or pointless or a waste of money, but I doubt you tell him in no uncertain terms that he cannot do them. He needs to understand that he is doing that to you.
His strip club analogy is also very silly. He knows that strip club visits are more loaded than a hobby and have far wider-ranging implications than whether they allow him to relax or take the edge off anxiety and depression. A better comparison would be if he were to seriously take up golf or sailing, neither of which is cheap at the middle and high end. How would he feel if he loved golfing at nice, expensive golf courses and you threw the same temper tantrum about it?
It might be a different story if your finances were tight or your hobby was something unhealthy or dangerous, but it doesn’t sound like you’re living off ramen or have taken up sword-swallowing. So his insistence that you and your child abandon something you love and can afford sounds like a control issue. He needs to understand that if he cares about your happiness and mental health, he cannot stand in the way of something that brings you joy simply because he, personally, does not understand it.
Dear Pay Dirt,
This is my third marriage, as I was made a widow young. My husband has been divorced and widowed. He has three children, but his youngest, “Cory,” lost her mother as a child. I am very close to Cory, compared to her other siblings. I helped raise her and never had children of my own (her maternal grandparents couldn’t abide the idea of adoption, so we didn’t press).
My husband and I agreed when we married to keep our assets separated since we brought wealth from our previous marriages. For example, my husband owns his own business, while I own a significant amount of real estate from my second husband. We signed a prenup over 15 years ago.
My husband lost his business during the pandemic and has serious health issues. Right now, we depend on my work and the income from my properties.
Cory has graduated with her master’s degree and we couldn’t be prouder of her. She wants to continue and get her Ph.D., but was hesitant over money. In my will, my estate has been divided between my husband, nieces, and Cory. I sat down with Cory and offered her an early inheritance. I would sell one of my larger properties and put the money in a trust for Cory, to finish her education and do whatever she wanted with the leftovers. I warned Cory that this was it. If she wanted financial assistance for a wedding or a house or business, it was on her. She agreed. So did my husband. So I went to my lawyer and put the property up for sale.
None of us expected such an outburst from my oldest stepdaughter, who’s in her 30s. She learned about the sale and demanded to know where her early inheritance was. Her father explained the money came from me, not him. The older children have always been lukewarm at best to me because they were teenagers when I married their father, but have always been civil up till now. Cory is not close to either of them.
There is a family rift now. Worse, my stepdaughter has convinced her sibling that they are being “robbed,” so they are no longer bringing the kids around. They belong to his girlfriend, but my husband had been giving them twice-weekly music and language lessons for over a year. He loves those kids, but their mother told us she has to support her partner.
My husband asked me to give his other kids a “token” inheritance by selling another property off or changing my will to include them. I told him I wouldn’t bow to blackmail. If he wants to rewrite his to exclude me—fine. He cried and told me this wasn’t fair. I told him I loved him but I wasn’t the one putting him in this position!
Dear I’m Not,
You’re not doing anything wrong. Your stepdaughter is not entitled to your money, and your husband should be on board with telling her that. If she’s going to punish him to extort you because she thinks this is unfair, then they need to work it out between themselves, and he needs to make it clear that he’s not going to pressure you in order to see his grandkids. He can rewrite his will however he wants, and they can complain to him about what he does or doesn’t leave them, but it is not reasonable to complain about what you intend to do with your own assets. Your generosity toward Cory was not an obligation; it was a gift. And it does not obligate you to support her adult siblings, with whom you have no relationship.
If your husband believes they need a token inheritance to resolve this, it’s really his responsibility to provide it. You have responsibilities to each other when it comes to finances and health and caretaking, but that does not make you financially responsible for his adult children from a prior marriage.
Dear Pay Dirt,
In 2017, our nuclear family and my husband’s extended family both suffered one-in-a-lifetime emergencies. I reluctantly switched to a different part of my professional field to earn nearly two times what I had before, at the cost of 80-hour workweeks, gross ethics, and a workplace with huge burnout problems, so I could pay for things. My husband also works, making a middle-class wage for our area.
By January 2020, family things stabilized and I was job-searching. Then the pandemic hit. Now hiring has picked up and I’m searching again, and my husband is trying to keep me at this job. He claims we can’t live on the smaller budget (we can; I budget as if we lived on our former income plus cost-of-living increases; the excess went to emergencies and our kids’ 529s). He claims we never got to “enjoy” the money and we should enjoy luxuries with it before I “burn our life to the ground.”
He’s doing a passive-aggressive “Well, what if I quit my job to pursue [hobby] full time? No? You’re doing the same thing!” The last straw was him telling our kids that I was going to quit my job and we would have to leave our home.
I don’t recognize the man I married, and I’m seriously considering divorce. Is there any last-ditch way to address this, or is this endgame material? I was trying to hold on through this terrible job until I could spend more time with my family again, but now it feels like that goal is impossible.
—Things Are Better Now, but Not for Me
Dear Things Are Better,
Your husband is being deeply inconsiderate of your needs. You are not threatening to drop out of the workforce; you are simply looking for a new job that doesn’t force you to work 80-hour weeks (which is really more like two jobs), and doesn’t make you miserable. This is eminently reasonable. If the change in income makes him that unhappy, he can pursue an 80-hour workweek in a miserable job himself. There’s presumably nothing to stop him from looking for a new job, either.
But most importantly, your husband is putting his desire for comfort and luxury over your basic needs and happiness. This is a marriage problem, not a finance problem. You need to discuss what you envision for your mutual future and what that looks like on a day-to-day basis. That includes both the minimum lifestyle needs and wants you have, and what you’re willing to do to get there. But there’s no scenario where the answer is that you work twice as much as he does so that he can enjoy comforts you’re willing to go without.
If you can’t have this conversation between yourselves, it’s worth talking to a marriage counselor who can at least help you to define concretely what you want, and can also help you talk through where you disagree without getting too heated. If your husband is unwilling to compromise or do his part to ensure that both of your needs are met and not just his, let’s be clear: He’s the one burning your lives to the ground, not you.
Dear Pay Dirt,
I’m a 49-year-old gay man, married, and we are fathers of a young son. I have a great career, and my husband and I are rather wealthy. It’s all self-made because I grew up in poverty. We have a happy life.
I am estranged from my parents and a sibling because they are evangelical Christians who threw me out of their home when I came out at age 19. I learned that my father died during the COVID pandemic, and since have received several attempts at contact from my mother and some nephews I’m hardly aware existed.
I have no interest in establishing contact. I don’t want my son to develop any emotional attachments to people who might treat him badly. We are certainly not their mission field: I have no interest in being evangelized. And I have a suspicion they know of my financial position and hope I’ll be generous with them. My husband says a conversation cannot hurt, and says that again at each contact attempt.
Am I being unreasonable by being stubborn? None have offered an apology, and I don’t want to expend the emotional energy to even find out why they are contacting me.
—I’m Sure It’s the Money
Dear Sure It’s the Money,
If you believe that being in contact with your mother and nephews is going to cause you more trauma, you are under no obligation to respond. And you may be correct that they are after your money.
But to play devil’s advocate: I grew up in an evangelical community like the one you describe, and in my experience, ideologies and beliefs can change from generation to generation. I have former classmates who grew up evangelical and came out in college and are now leading happy lives, and straight cis friends who still live in the rural Alabama community where I grew up and are good LGBTQ allies despite the fact that they grew up in virulently homophobic families. Some of them are estranged from their families; some have good relationships. Your nephews, in particular, were not there when you left, may not be homophobic, and may just be curious to meet you. It may have nothing to do with your money.
It’s also not reasonable for you to expect your nephews to apologize for their parents’ behavior. Your mother is a different story, though. It’s her responsibility to repair the damage she and your father did, and it’s understandable that you’re skeptical about her intentions.
That said, your needs are more important than your nephews’ curiosity, if that’s what it is. You don’t owe them anything, including an explanation, and they probably know that. If you’re concerned that any contact with them will open up old wounds, it’s a perfectly reasonable choice to refrain.
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I discovered that my husband of 12 years had been having an affair for six months with one of his former high school students, who is now 21. He has been a teacher for a decade and has always been liked by his students, co-workers, and administration. However, after an infidelity early in our relationship that centered around my husband only being able to get his self-worth from attention from women, I expressed my uneasiness about him teaching older high schoolers. He was, of course, offended, and he still says that he has never been attracted to one of his students, although I’m unsure of what I believe now, with him dating someone only six years older than our teenage daughter. His administrators know about the affair, but I have several problems with him continuing to teach as we work through this. He has said that he would change careers to keep our marriage but does not want to because much of his identity is tied up in being a teacher. Am I correct that this is not a good environment for him?