Dear Penny: My Fiance Was Laid Off. He’s Fine With Letting Me Pay the Bills Forever

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Dear Penny,

My fiance lost his job nearly six months ago and got a decent severance payout. We used most of the money to pay off debt and have been surviving on my salary.

I make enough to pay our bills, but there’s very little left over for extras. We’re living like hermits, and we aren’t putting money aside for emergencies or our goal of buying a home.

My fiance doesn’t seem to think that this is a problem because we’re making ends meet. He isn’t looking for jobs, hangs out around the house all day and says he needed a break from working.

Penny, I never wanted to be the sole earner, and I hate living paycheck to paycheck. He tells me to stop nagging him whenever I ask him when he’ll start searching for a job.

How do I get him to understand how stressed I am about our finances?

-Squeaking By

Dear Squeaking By,

Try saying this: “I am stressed about our finances.”

Say it when you’re sober. Don’t say it after a hellish workday or in the middle of a fight over whose turn it is to scrub the toilet. Say it soon.

Then say: “I’d like for us to talk about our money plans and goals.” Schedule a time, day and place to have a talk.

You didn’t just wake up last week feeling the pressures of being the breadwinner. This has been building for nearly six months.

And it’s understandable why you’ve been avoiding the conversation. A job loss is often about so much more than the loss of income. We derive a huge part of our identities from our jobs. Think about how often we learn someone’s name and immediately follow up with, “What do you do?”

So it’s tempting after a significant other’s job loss to jump into the role of supportive partner and absorb as much of their burden as possible. But you’re not a sponge. You can only absorb so much stress.

It sounds like your anxieties are spilling out in the form of “You should get a job”-type statements. And any conversation with a partner that focuses on what they should or shouldn’t be doing is pretty likely to end in an argument.

But it’s much harder to argue with an “I” statement, e.g., “I’m feeling stressed about money, and I’d like to discuss that.”

Your goal in this conversation isn’t to assign blame; it’s to come up with a plan together. You’ll want to talk about what a realistic time frame might be for your fiance’s job search, how to adjust your budget while you’re living on a single paycheck, how to reprioritize your goals for now and his options for earning money while he’s unemployed.

Be prepared to listen as much as you talk. It’s not OK for your fiance to unilaterally decide to make you the sole paycheck earner, but understand that he may have serious anxiety surrounding the job hunt that he hasn’t communicated.

If you follow these steps and your fiance still refuses to talk or accuses you of nagging, I’d urge you to think carefully about whether this is a viable relationship.

You need to be comfortable talking about money in marriage. You’re not being selfish or unreasonable for wanting financial security and the ability to splurge on a vacation or a night out. You deserve someone who gives you space to communicate about your goals and what’s stressing you out, even when it’s a difficult conversation.

Sometimes silence is more powerful than words. If your fiance isn’t willing to have a dialog, what he’s communicating is a lack of respect for you. That, unfortunately, is a problem that will linger long after he’s found a job.

Robin Hartill is a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder and the voice behind Dear Penny. Send your questions about having difficult money conversations to [email protected].