A little background, I grew up in a family with more financial means than my boyfriend though my parents didn’t spoil me and often hid that they were well off. I’m currently in school full time getting a graduate degree and working part time. My parents made a deal with me that while I’m in school they will help me with half my rent and two other essential medical bills. My boyfriend grew up in a family with almost no money and besides currently living with family to save on rent while he’s in school, he’s had no other financial help from them.Anonymous, /r/relationship_advice.
So the ultimatum… we are planning on moving in together in less than a year and we recently started having some really open and honest communication about what our expectations are. This was all going really well until he told me that when we move in together I have to cease all financial help from my parents. If I don’t do this then he is very uncomfortable with this and will end the relationship.
The thing is, he’s asking me to do this exactly at the time that I would be significantly cutting my work hours and entering the work for free part of my graduate program. He says that one of his reasons is because he doesn’t want to be with someone who can’t show that they can live completely on their own with no help from their parents. My objection is that it would only be for the first 9 months of us living together that they would continue to help me while I finish school and why would I put myself in an even more stressful situation financially during a time where my life will be consumed with working long hours for no money and little time for anything else. I know how it sounds, and that many people don’t have a choice to not be in that situation. I am incredibly grateful that I even have this option.
He says that when we move in together our finances become entwined and that if I really need it he will help me, that he doesn’t want my parents to have any control over us (they wouldn’t) and that I need to show I can do it on my own. So I’m wondering, is it normal to tie finances together when you move in together? Is this a reasonable ultimatum? I am happy to show that I can budget and handle my finances fully on my own I just don’t get why I can’t do that 9 months into living together and when I’m back to actually working a full time job where I’m getting paid. He won’t budge on the matter or discuss any compromises. Thank you in advance for reading this far and any advice is greatly appreciated.
Your situation is very layered. There is a significant disparity between how you were raised compared to how he was raised, which has manifested in the form of his ultimatum. While his ultimatum is straightforward, the rationale behind his ultimatum is also incredibly complex. The vision for the future of the relationship is in direct conflict with the reality as it stands. So let’s first talk about ultimatums.
Ultimatums are an extreme statement of a non-negotiable boundary. Often, ultimatums are communicated in the form of a relationship-breaking statement of intention. And in your case as you’ve discovered, it is stated as a very rigid “take it or leave it” ultimatum, with very little room for discussion or flexibility. Such a stringent statement has no place in adult relationships where growth and change is to be expected over time.
Let’s consider the following.
This ultimatum is owned entirely by your boyfriend. It could be that his frugal upbringing has taught him a very difficult life lesson about financial independence as essential to his own adulthood. Maybe he thinks that financial dependence on anyone’s parents reflect such a disqualifying attribute in his partner that is unbecoming of the relationship. It could be that he had a previous bad experience with a former partner whose parents constantly overstepped their bounds to dictate what their child’s relationship with him should have been. Perhaps he feels envy or jealousy as his upbringing wasn’t as affluent as yours, and feels that your partial financial dependence in your parents puts a stop on progressing through to the next step of his relationship with you.
There is a right place and time to assert a non-negotiable boundary like an ultimatum. But an ultimatum is almost always delivered in a way such that your relationship is held hostage with no winners. Even if we assume that you adhere to his ultimatum and break off with your parents. How are you supposed to be financially independent on your own if you have to depend on your partner for housing? How are you supposed to communicate so with your parents without it reflecting negatively on you, your partner, or your relationship? We currently live in a very unique circumstance with COVID wrecking job economy. There is no guarantee that you’ll find a job post-grad either. He is in essence asking you to take up an immense financial risk for the sake of his perception of you. There is just not a reasonable upside to his ultimatum other than the continuation of the pleasantness of his company, maintaining the status quo of the relationship. Downsides are innumerable.
Financial entanglement should not be assumed.
What I am surprised by is how his rationale – “he doesn’t want to be with someone who can’t show that they can live completely on their own with no help from their parents” – is entirely and immediately contradicted by his solution – “when we move in together our finances become entwined and that if I really need it he will help me.” Is his assumption that you are to go from a partial financial dependence on your parents to a partial financial dependence on him? What exactly is his plan here? To isolate you financially and from your family?
I am further perplexed by is that he knew to what role your parents played in your life prior to the considerations to live together. And based on what you’ve shared, he should have known that your current financial predicament is temporary. And when you further provided an alternative plan as a compromise, he immediately shut it down without any reflection. There really isn’t any good-faith argument to be had here about how unwilling he has been to communicate why he feels so strongly about this.
I also want to touch on this. I get the feeling that a lot of folks immediately assume financial entanglement as a lighthearted commitment, as if it is something that just naturally happens over the course of any romantic relationship. I strongly disagree with this expectation that you are to intertwine your finances with your partner at any given point in your relationship.
Financial entanglement is one of the most serious commitment you can make in any relationship. One of the reasons is that it is notoriously difficult to become unentangled once your finances are enmeshed. When there are shared expenses that apply to your shared account, how can you determine which portion of your shared money is really your money? Furthermore, it can be incredibly vulnerable to be open about your financial standing and expectations. With shared finances, you won’t have financial privacy to spend as you wish. If you are financially dependent on your partner, then he’ll have a sense of authority to further dictate your actions and behavior. Most couples don’t merge their finances when they move in. And fewer and fewer folks are merging their finances post-marriage nowadays. So no. I don’t think your boyfriend’s expectation regarding merging finances when you guys move in is the standard.
Flexibility as a virtue
Flexibility and compassion is frequently an overlooked attribute in a relationship, as it gets incorrectly compared to weakness. Constant water flow between rocks over years can carve massive canyons and valleys that no drill can accomplish. And there is a distinct lack of compassion and flexibility in how he has approached this disconnect, however dire. It is simply not a mature way to conduct this particular conflict and many more conflicts to come. Mature folks manage problems together as a team, with an aim to better understand each other in the process.
Your answer to his ultimatum need not be a yes or no. Even if this ultimatum isn’t catastrophic to the status of your relationship, it might be time for you two postpone moving in together or enmeshing your finances together. Take some time to hammer out if this is a level of commitment you want to engage on with your partner and what changes you two will need to see from each other in order to compromise to an acceptable level. You’ll both need to figure out a better way to coalesce and reconnect that isn’t as one-directional as an ultimatum.
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