The dilemma I’m a 60-year-old woman and although I have worked for years teaching English, I have always been financially dependent on my husband. He is very involved in the evangelist church and gives them a percentage of his salary. The knowledge of this, together with a constant struggle to get by, has made me feel so bitter. I contemplated leaving, when the children were younger, because of his strong Christian values and my strong non-Christian values and all the complications of this. But I didn’t have the courage to plunge both myself and the children into further hardship.
This issue has come to the fore again as I struggle to help one of my daughters out with university fees. How can he give so much to a church when he knows our children are struggling? It just makes me mad. But he perhaps rightly feels that it is his salary to do as he wishes with. I am aware that my dependency is my own fault. My way of dealing with all this has been to plunge myself into a number of outside activities that have allowed me, at little expense, a lovely social world far removed from my husband’s church circle, which I find so oppressive.
Mariella replies Fascinating. But it’s not really about the money now, is it? You’re aggrieved by your husband giving a percentage of his salary to the church, but we both know he should have the right to choose, perhaps not with impunity, but certainly with the same confidence any wage-earner has to spend their dosh. In a functioning relationship, finances should be a negotiation over which both sides come to a fair conclusion. You don’t seem to have been able to do this.
First of all let’s swap the sexes in this situation. As women I do think we have to be on the alert for double standards so, on rereading what you’ve written, I ask myself: would a man in your situation continue this way? Is it justifiable to keep living with a guy you seem to have no affection or respect for simply because he pays the lion’s share of the bills? I’m a feminist and a socialist, but when we want more money than we earn it’s up to us to get out there and pursue it, rather than presuming someone else will rustle it up on our behalf.
With equality (which I agree only exists in small pockets of the world) also comes the expectation that we’ll take charge of our own destinies and earning potential. Your husband would be totally within his rights to suggest you focus less on your social life and more on your earning potential if you want to further support your children economically. But this is a tough time to find employment, let alone better-paid work. Also, infuriatingly, middle-aged women – like school leavers – are more attractive because they’re often cheap. As a teacher you’re already undervalued; as a 60-year-old woman you suffer from a double whammy. Luckily, as I’ve said, I don’t think this is a financial debate. Intentional or not, what comes across in your letter is that you really don’t have much left that you want to share with your husband, so maybe it is time to make the move and split your assets fairly.
There’s also definitely scope for enjoying a happy life despite diametrically opposing views. Even political disagreement can offer a frisson that lends extra excitement to a union. Just look at ex-Tory Speaker of the House John Bercow and his Labour-leaning wife, Sally. Taste in food art, design, religious belief, even challenging geography, can be resolved by alternating or compromise. Yet you describe your husband as though you would a stranger or a work colleague, a person removed from your personal sphere who can be tolerated but not involved in your wider life.
No marriage or relationship should be a life sentence and it’s perfectly natural at this point in your life, with your daughter off at college, to be taking a long, hard look at what the next few decades might look like. In the first half of our lives we really are quite busy; there’s love to be found, babies to be made, a career to be built, children to raise and, bit by incremental bit, what was once a devoted duo expands to encompass a larger group.
You mention your daughter and her economic challenges at university as though she enjoys a bloodline only with you. Does she not have a relationship with her father where she can request financial assistance if she needs it? What I’ve discovered is it’s never about money, even when it is. I suspect even if your husband cut his church contribution, you’d still be feeling resentment that you couldn’t explain away.
Sometimes you wonder how people got together in the first place, sometimes you wonder where it was that their paths diverged, in your case you seem to have been travelling parallel paths for some time. Is it time to establish the route that you want to take and embrace responsibility for your own destiny?