I earn more than my partner, but get irritated about him not paying his way – The Guardian

Your unhappiness may not really be about money. You should have an honest talk with him about what the disparity means to both of you
I am a divorced woman in my 50s and for the past four years I have been in a long-distance relationship with a kind and considerate man. He runs his own business and visits me for extended periods; we spent most of 2020 together at my house. He is helpful with chores, and was very supportive of me through an intense work-from-home period.
Material wealth is not a priority for me. Having a good income myself, I don’t need to consider my partner’s income. I earn significantly more than him and I have always been clear that my main priorities are building a pension and supporting my children, who are now at university.
I pay most of the costs for us visiting each other, and other trips. I have also helped when he has had cashflow problems. Recently I’ve found myself more reluctant to do this, and get irritated when he asks for help. I’m at the point where I think this relationship may not be viable in the longer term.
My parents’ relationship was a traditional working man/stay-at-home wife. Is my current discontent a reflection of that? Am I unconsciously harbouring a desire for a “patriarchal” male role in the relationship?
To be clear, this is not on the scale of ‘The Tinder swindler’ but it would be nice if he occasionally stepped up to meet the costs for shared activities or reworked his business to avoid cashflow crises. His business will probably never bring in that much money, and his relaxed approach is precisely what enables us to spend more time together. I just find myself wishing he earned more.
In a way it doesn’t matter why it’s happening, but something in your relationship is making you unhappy. It’s really important to take note of these feelings instead of reasoning them away. Is your partner aware of how you feel?
The patterns we observed growing up do tend to inform us – we either copy them or we try to do things differently, but I wonder if your “current discontent” is less about wanting your partner to earn more, and more about making you feel more looked after? And maybe that does involve money for you. Money might mean very different things to each of you, but it can also be a sign of who takes responsibility and who doesn’t, because someone who habitually doesn’t pay their share or doesn’t bother with bills often doesn’t take responsibility for themselves, either.
You talk a lot about money, but say material wealth doesn’t matter to you. I wonder if it stands in for something beyond safety, security or freedom? If you could tap into what this is, it may help you work out whether this is fixable or not. Your partner may feel he looks after you in different ways.
Psychotherapist Alivia Rose wondered if this was less “about money than you mothering your partner and then resenting it. Do you feel you’re not worthy of an equal relationship?” Rose also wondered if you were “afraid to set boundaries in case he’ll leave you. We only really confront people we feel safe with. You have money now, but what if you got ill or couldn’t work – would he equally support you through those difficult financial times?”
I think you need to have an honest conversation. Paying constantly for someone else is exhausting and can end up making you feel used. Be brave, give him the chance to know how you feel and give him the chance to fix it.
Every week Annalisa Barbieri addresses a family-related problem sent in by a reader. If you would like advice from Annalisa on a family matter, please send your problem to ask.annalisa@theguardian.com. Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions.
Conversations With Annalisa Barbieri, series 2, is available here.
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