My fiancé and I very recently got engaged after nearly four years together. I’m super excited and also surprised. We live together in our apartment, and one of fiancé’s big priorities has been buying a house.
Over the years, we’ve had several conversations about when we’d be ready to get engaged, and again and again he’s shared that weddings are a waste of money. He’d rather be married at the courthouse than throw a big party. This is also a conversation that comes up when I bring up wanting to travel (why travel when we should be saving money for a house), going out to eat (why go out to eat when we should be saving money for a house), etc. Funnily enough it doesn’t come up when he buys the whole sports package for TV or wants to purchase yet another pair of workout shoes. But I get it! We have different priorities! I travel with friends, he spends his money how he wants to, we understand each other!
Fast forward to now, and we’re planning on a wedding and reception for our friends and family, knowing full well that a sizable chunk of our income is going toward this, as we haven’t asked, and probably won’t be asking, our parents for help. He very offhandedly joked that we should go to an “adults only erotic hotel” for our honeymoon, and I very seriously said, “No way. We’re going abroad for our honeymoon.” Cue a repeat of the same argument we usually have about priorities, how he feels we’ll already be spending too much money on a wedding even though we haven’t even started booking stuff.
My irrational fear: he’ll never go abroad with me and once we’re married I won’t ever travel again. His fear (I think): I don’t care about our financial future and everything that leads to.
He knows travel is an important part of my identity. I know home ownership and stability are important goals of his. We probably just need to sit down and get into serious budget talk. But how do we compromise in a way that leaves us both feeling heard and respected?
Thanks for your help!
—Wannabe world traveler
A: Dear WWT,
So, I have this very uplifting toast/unsolicited advice that I give to all of my friends when they are about to get married, and it goes something like this:
The best part of being married is that you don’t get the luxury of waking up in the morning and wondering, “Are we in this thing for the long haul?” Because your ass is in it. Marriage is a long road. So don’t worry if you don’t have everything figured out right now. You’ve got plenty of time to work your shit out.
Which as you can imagine, goes over like a lead balloon. But the thing is… it is meant to be uplifting! The best part of marriage is that you have the stability of forever! So you can buoy yourself with the idea that you’ll get everything sorted out in due time, because you have lots of time.
And that’s where you are right now. You’re in one of the sticky parts where your values and expectations are butting up against your partner’s, and it seems like this really huge difference is going to set the stage for the rest of your lives together. But you’re also conflating right now with the future. Right now you and your partner are disagreeing about the relative merits of a wedding, travel, and a house. But the part where you never go on vacation and fight about these things forever? Those things are not actually happening right now! In fact, they’re not happening at all. You’re worrying about reality and hypotheticals like they’re the same thing. And that will drive you crazy in a hot second.
So with that said, y’all are clearly having a conflict of values here. He has one idea of what’s a worthwhile investment and you have a different one. Which might be the second most common marriage disagreement, after how to spend time with your respective families of origin. It needs to be said: neither of your stances are inherently right. But from your letter, I get the vibe that maybe you haven’t fully accepted that? That maybe part of you doubts your own wants and needs and thinks buying a house is inherently the more virtuous option, and is therefore subtly shifting the power dynamic in the conversation toward him. And if that’s the case (and you know, quite possibly if it’s not), the quickest and most effective solution to figuring out all of this is therapy. My partner and I were having near identical fights to yours a few years back (except over groceries instead of mortgages because we like to keep our financial squabbles pettyAF.) And within a few sessions we were able to identify a hidden power dynamic in our relationship that, once switched off, cut the power supply to our angst.
I also highly recommend a budget (and my personal favorite budgeting app YNAB, though other people on the APW team who want something slightly more freewheeling like Mint). Based on the way you’re talking about money above, it sounds like your financial goals are kind of elusive right now. Buying a house is a priority for your partner, but when? Where? For how much? You want to go abroad for your honeymoon, but again… when? Where? How fancy? Because spoiler alert: our budget currently has savings buckets for travel and a house. Creating a budget isn’t quite as easy as just downloading an app, so if you want to really get into it, YNAB has a book that is very much like-APW-but-for-money (you can read our review here).
When we first set down to create our budget, we came up with short-term and long-term goals, and we adjust it constantly as new priorities pop up (a friend’s wedding, for example). There’s no reason you can’t prioritize both your wants and needs; so once you work through the emotional source of your problems, the logistical stuff is just setting yourself up with realistic timelines. And hopefully by doing that, your partner will be able to let go of his anxieties too, which probably looks something like, “If I don’t put every spare penny toward house savings, we’ll never move out of this apartment.”
But my recommendation is to do all this now. Because while I stand by my toast, it’s much better if you figure out the money/values thing in your relationship before the wedding. Because these fights don’t tend to get better after five years of repeating ad naseum. You can trust me personally on that one.
How have you worked out conflicting financial priorities with your partner? What has helped? What hasn’t? What are your pro-tips (and current problems)?