Vanessa L. Jackson
Richard’s mother thought “things should be given to them rather than earned.” While growing up, he lived in a trailer and bounced around to different apartments. Richard became accustomed to going without luxury—sometimes without the necessities.
Gabrielle was raised in an affluent southern city and was used to luxury. Hard work, determination and the importance of education were instilled in her at an early age.
Richard and Gabrielle crossed paths at a bar in late 2007 as Richard visited family for the holidays. They talked the entire night and exchanged numbers. Over the next few months, visits and conversation grew. Richard soon relocated to Gabrielle’s city, and the couple moved in together. Almost a year after their initial meeting, Gabrielle walked down the aisle, and they welcomed their first child the following spring.
Similar to many young couples, they struggled financially. They couldn’t afford a honeymoon. Their family was growing just as Gabrielle lost her job, and the couple had to rely on Richard’s check.
Richard and Gabrielle paid the mortgage each month, but her parent’s names were on the mortgage. Gabrielle could tell it bothered him.
“He felt indebted to them and just wished he was able to provide for his family the way he would like,” Gabrielle says.
The suspicion that you are not good enough in your relationship has been the source of all troubled relationships, according to Peter Spinogatti, author of “Explaining Unhappiness: Dissolving the Paradox.” Differing socio-economic circumstances greatly affect that fear.
“When people fall in love they think that’s it—that’s what should be the most important thing and that it will see them through all their problems,” says Dr. Karen Gail Lewis, a marriage and family therapist in the Cincinnati and author of “Why Don’t You Understand?”
Similar to Richard, Dr. Jerrid P. Freeman, Ed.D. and Adjunct Assistant Professor, came into his marriage with less money than his wife and a more frugal background. Even though he improved his educational and financial status through the course of their relationship, he believes one of the contributing factors causing the demise of his thirteen-year marriage was his economic background was never good enough for his in-laws.
Dr. Freeman says her family was extremely vocal about how he should live and raise his family. It wasn’t acceptable. He told his wife things needed to change and boundaries needed to be created.
“People have to be secure in the fact they’re creating their own family of origin when they get married,” says Sharon Gilchrest O’Neill, Ed.S., LMFT, a marriage and family therapist in West Chester, NY and author of “A Short Guide to a Happy Marriage.”
She suggests a couple is clear on the values and what’s important to them as a whole. You have to support your spouse in front of your family members and be your own team.
Think about how money affects all the scenarios that can arise during the course of your relationship. How are we going to raise our kids? What if she wants to further her education, does she want to be a stay at home mom, do you want to be a stay at home dad, what if you change careers? Would you adopt if she can’t conceive? What religion will you teach your children? Discussing these concerns will give you a better understanding of your partner. Don’t be afraid to poke around and talk.
“You may uncover some things that don’t feel so good,” says Dr. O’Neill.
Dr. Lewis advises separated income. If you both have an income, each should have their own account and then contribute regularly to a joint account. A couple may add to the joint account evenly or a percentage of their income. That is, if the wife only makes a quarter of the husband, she deposits 25% of her amount.
Coming from different socio-economic classes doesn’t mean your relationship will fail but it doesn’t make it easier either. Sometimes opposites just don’t attract. But like any committed relationship, couples must work every day to understand how your different values shape your relationship.
Simple teambuilding activities can strengthen your relationship for the rigors faced when overcoming different socio-economic backgrounds. Take a language or financial class, go dancing, take trips together and teach her how to golf on a romantic weekend.
“There’s something to be said about a husband and wife who work together as a team,” says Dr. O’Neill.
Richard now makes enough money to support his family better. He has returned to school for a medical degree. The couple isn’t there yet, but they’re reaching their goals one step at a time. When overcoming a hurdle as big as economic backgrounds, sometimes that is the only way to move forward.