You Can Put a Price on Love: Is Your Relationship Too Costly?

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By Geoff Williams

Anne Violette admits she has dated some "deadbeats" in her time. In particular, there were two boyfriends who lived with her but didn't pull their weight, quitting jobs and refusing to find other options, leading to Splitsville. With one, Violette meticulously tracked shared household expenses for six months. Her findings were infuriating: While she'd contributed $64,000, her live-in beau had only fronted $7,000.

"I must have a sign on my head that says 'sucker,'" says Violette, a ghostwriter and copywriter from Pearland, Texas, whose book "Men Are Like Wine," draws upon her sour -- and at times expensive -- relationship experiences.

Some relationships really do cost too much. And we're not talking about the high cost of drama or stress or the awkwardness of being a mismatch -- all of which can be potential deal-breakers -- but the cold, hard cash poured into relationships without equivalency or much happiness in return. If this sounds familiar, but you're reluctant to break up because, well, you're still in love, ask yourself these questions.

Have You Both Talked About Your Feelings?

It's one thing to throw out hints that you'd like your significant other to occasionally spring for dinner or at least say thanks for you always being the one to open your wallet, but your partner isn't a mind reader. You may also have been in this pattern for so long that your partner thinks everything is great and simply has no idea that you're a smoldering caldron of resentment. That's why it's important to have an honest discussion early in the relationship, says Lisa Brateman, a psychotherapist and relationship specialist in New York City.

Dan Nainan, a standup comedian in New York City, was once in a relationship that began with him paying for everything. So he had a very direct conversation with his girlfriend early on. "Two weeks into our relationship, I sat her down, and I said, 'We have been going out for two weeks, and in that two weeks, you have not offered to pay for a single thing. Not for dessert when I buy dinner, or the tip, or a ticket on the subway, anything. Therefore, from now on, if you still want to go out with me, you have to pay for half of everything. If we go to a restaurant, you pay half. If we go on a trip, you buy your own airline ticket and pay for half of the hotel and half of the expenses." She got up, left, immediately returned and said: "OK."

He may have been more direct than many people, but his timing was smart. Brateman suggests talking to your significant other about your money concerns, if you have any, before you're in too deep.

"Bringing it up early is important before the problem becomes monumental," she says. You especially want to have the talk before moving in together, she adds. You could start the conversation by saying something like: "I understand we have different spending styles, but I'm not feeling comfortable with how we've been handling our money," she suggests.

Does Your Partner Have Your Best Interests at Heart?

If your salary is vastly more than your partner's, it's unreasonable to expect her to constantly go halfsies on meals, movies and whatever else you're doing -- especially if you have expensive tastes. And if you're insisting she join you for outings and locales that eclipse her budget, she may be the one reconsidering her decision to be with you.

But Brateman says it isn't really about the money. It's how your partner feels about your money. If she seems to think she's entitled to have you always pay for everything, that's a red flag that she doesn't have your best interest in mind.

"You want a balance," Brateman says. "Maybe you buy the dinners, but she'll make dinner for you sometimes. Or if you go somewhere, will she occasionally buy the drinks or pay for a cab?"

Another sign that your partner doesn't think much of you, Brateman says: "If you ask her where you want to go to dinner, and she picks the most ridiculously expensive restaurant in town. If she's always picking things she would never pay for herself, that's a red flag."

Is Your Partner Trying to Resolve His or Her Money Issues?

This is really the deal-breaker. If your significant other knows that he or she is bringing money problems into the relationship but recognizes that the behavior needs to change, Brateman says that's a good reason to stick together. "Just because somebody has money problems, it doesn't mean that they always will," Brateman says. "If they want to fix things, there's hope. If somebody says, 'This is how I am, and who I always will be, and I don't care how you feel about it,' that match is probably not going to work."

For Violette, she thinks the moral of the story is that when it comes to money, opposites usually don't attract. "Always go out with someone who is at least your equal and has the basic fundamentals, like a car, a job and stable rent or a home of their own," she advises.

Of course, you may be dating someone who doesn't have the basic fundamentals but is a wonderful partner in other ways. Relationships are investments, but they aren't all about money. You're investing in your emotions as well.

But if you're always the majority stakeholder in all of the fundamentals of the relationship, the union is probably costing you too much. Alas, if that's the case, you can't take your significant other to a customer service desk and get your money back, but maybe it's time to make an exchange for something better.
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