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Dating out of your financial league? This is what you need to know...

It’s a tale that’s old as time: penniless woman meets wealthy man, they fall in love, and the rest, as they say, is history. In fact, it’s the very premise of rags-to-riches stories such as Pretty Woman, Maid in Manhattan, even Cinderella…and the list goes on.

While these storylines have been traditionally rooted in a ‘white knight’ dynamic with a happy ending, what they never show are the inevitable complications and hard conversations that arise when dating someone who is out of your financial league.

What happens when it comes to dividing up the household expenses? Or when one person in the relationship is expected to support the other’s financially challenged family members or dependents? “In real life, these are the kinds of situations that arise if one person in a relationship earns significantly more than the other,” says Provincial General Manager for Metropolitan Gauteng, Queen Malobane.

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Queen notes that two scenarios might occur when one person is a little more Maputla, and the other closer to Kunutu. “In a healthy relationship, regardless of whether one partner has far more money than the other, each party treats the other as equal. They recognise that contributions to the relationship can take multiple forms and are not solely financial in nature, such as managing the household or family admin.”

Enlightening that the second scenario is where money shifts the power dynamic in a relationship. “When one has the upper hand financially, they might start to act as if all decisions are theirs alone to make, and doesn’t give their partner as much say.” She adds that sometimes this can even escalate into a form of abuse, where one partner controls the other’s actions and movements through withholding access to money.”

In some cases, especially in more traditional heterosexual relationships, sometimes the man can start to feel insecure and emasculated when his partner out-earns him, which may result in poor behaviour. “The root of this behaviour might not be immediately obvious as it is often disguised in the form of another argument or issue, but it is often the underlying problem,” she says.

She asserts that while it can be challenging to navigate a relationship where one individual is much better off than the other, it is possible, but requires a great deal of transparency, honesty, understanding and effort on both parts.

Look at how your partner behaves

Before getting into a serious commitment with someone, Malobane says not to listen to what they say, but rather to watch how they behave. Perhaps they’re good earners but treat cashiers and waitrons poorly. Or perhaps they earn less than you but tend to borrow money from friends and never repay it, or expect you to foot the bill for everything without making any effort to contribute where they can.

“People reveal a great deal about themselves without even realising it and this can indicate how they will act in a relationship. If they treat people who have less money than them as inferior, you can bet that at some point, you’ll become their subordinate. Or if they get into debt and make no effort to repay it, you can expect the same problems in your relationship,” says Queen.

Protect your partner

It’s important to understand your partner’s family dynamics. Sometimes in a relationship where one comes from money and the other doesn’t, it is not always the relationship between the couple that is the problem, but rather the way the family of one individual treats the other. For example, a wealthy family might feel that their family member’s partner (who doesn’t come from a well-to-do background) is not worthy of them.

“In these situations, it’s up to that person to manage their family and protect their significant other, drawing clear boundaries about how they will allow their partner to be treated.”

Prioritise a joint financial plan

When co-creating your financial plan with your partner, be reasonable about what each party needs to pay. “Ask yourself if it is realistic to split expenses 50/50, when one earns double what the other earns. What inevitably happens in these cases is that the higher earner still has the disposable income to spend on luxuries, while the lower earner struggles to pay their share of costs and has nothing left over for themselves, becoming stressed and resentful,” she says.

It might make more sense to split the expenses in proportion to one’s income. For example, if one partner brings home double or triple what the other earns, they could consider splitting their joint expenses 70/30 or 80/20. “It is also important to treat our partner with respect. If they cover all of your personal care or clothing expenses, it’s important to not spend their money wastefully or frivolously.”

Another option is to consider how you can each contribute in different ways. Perhaps one pays the children’s expenses but the other handles the bulk of the household day-to-day management, or one picks up the bill when out on a date while the other cooks when the couple is at home. “There are so many different ways we can value our partner, and it’s important that regardless of where we rank on the income scale, we bring our best to our relationship.”

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