Subsidizing the Ex

16 Jun

Letterbalm Bills PaidDear LetterBalm: Five years ago, my partner and I began a relationship. At that time, he told me he and his ex-girlfriend were never in love, that they were together because she didn’t have enough money to live on her own. After we got together, his ex-girlfriend got in touch with him for financial help. I asked him to discuss sending money to her with me first, and he agreed. I just found out that without talking it over with me, my partner has continued to pay most of her bills, including her rent, utilities, cellphone and groceries over the years. He said he didn’t tell me because he thought I’d object. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t be bothered by all this because my partner is well-off and can afford these payments. But I’m upset that he’s deceived me and is tied to her after all this time. We’ve had words – he says she’s no risk to our relationship, yet he feels obligated to continue to give her money. I don’t want to lose him, but I also don’t want him anchored to the past. What can I say to him?

–Money Mad

Has your partner ever told you why his ex-girlfriend cannot afford to live on her own? Is she a drug addict or an alcoholic? Does she have a crippling social or mental dysfunction that prevents her from holding a job or otherwise living a normal life? Is she physically disabled (or gaming the system with a false disability claim)? Is she blackmailing him? Whatever his reasons, his deception over the arrangement has clouded his relationship with you for almost five years. In effect, he’s saying his connection with her is a good way to avoid total commitment to your life together. In fairness, Ms. L.B. notes that your partner may simply be a generous guy giving his ex-girlfriend money as a kind gesture. Fine, but he must understand that he has cheated you, not physically, but certainly by his attitude. Have a conversation something like this:

Hugh, we’ve had a lot of back-and-forth about Delores. I respect that you’re a stand-up guy who wants to honor his obligation to an ex-girlfriend. Your responsible nature is part of the reason why I was attracted to you in the first place. But can you understand that by hiding your obligation from me for all these years, you’ve profoundly deceived me – even if Delores means nothing to our relationship? You haven’t been honest with me. On one level, there’s a simple solution: Set up a fund or a trust that gives Delores automatic monthly payments. That would honor your responsibility and let us move forward as a couple. But on a more serious level, please go with me for a few sessions with a couples counselor to work out issues of trust and commitment. You’re the best man I’ve ever been with, and I think both of us don’t want to lose what we have.

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