Carolyn Hax: My boyfriend is 26 and his dad still handles his finances

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As the girlfriend, I know I don’t have much of a say on this now, but we have talked a lot about marriage in the not-so-distant future, so this has an increasing impact on me. I don’t want to include his dad in financial discussions that should just be between us.

For example: When we moved in together a couple of years ago, we decided the easiest way to pay for shared expenses was to set up a joint checking account that we each put a set amount of money in each month. Well, he needs to get the info from his dad for setting it up, which results in a call where his dad is explaining that a joint account means I can take all his money, which I can hear, as I’m sitting next to my boyfriend.

I just don’t want more scenarios like this where we decide something together, then have to justify it to his dad. Granted, BF always sticks up for what we’ve talked about, but I don’t want to have to do this in the first place. I also worry I will have to handle all the finances since BF hasn’t taken the time now to learn. How much can I really comment on this as just the girlfriend?

Girlfriend: You’re not “just the girlfriend,” you’re the partner he’s spent six years building a life and planning a future with. (And, remember that most of us were just girlfriends before we were wives, and we didn’t magically become the most important person in our spouse’s life when we took our vows. That moment happened sometime when we were “just a girlfriend.”)

The fact that he doesn’t back down from your joint decisions in the face of his father’s second-guessing bodes well. Talk to him. Be generous in spirit when you speak about his dad, but explain that when you envision your more complicated shared financial future, you feel uneasy with how you feel it will play out (with your FIL cast as protector of the family jewels, and you as the potential gold digger — not a healthy dynamic).

Also, that you need to know the guy in the trenches with you can handle his business! You need to be able to talk about intimate financial decisions without having to involve your FIL. Tell him how glad you are that his father is going to be such an excellent resource for both of you as young adults setting out on your own because you’re going to stumble as you figure it out for yourselves. But that’s the right role for him eventually: Father, (unofficial) adviser, supporter of young couple/family. See what he says.

You are right to recognize these red flags, but six years in you shouldn’t feel afraid to use your voice about things as fundamentally important as your privacy, finances, and romantic partnership (all at risk).

Girlfriend: Simple. “If you want to get married — to me or anyone else — do you foresee your dad handling all the money when you’re married? What happens if your father suddenly is ill or dies?”

If he does not see his father’s role as inappropriate and/or has no desire to change this in the future then it’s a dealbreaker.

And if you can’t discuss it, that’s a dealbreaker, too.

Finally, if he’s content to let others work for him, look carefully at whether this is a selective expertise thing (the way many people have a mechanic fix their car rather than learn to do it themselves) or a deliberate choice to be lazy/weaponized incompetence.

Girlfriend: This is the classic wad of knotted gold chains in your jewelry box: there’s value here somewhere, but where to start untangling? You have legal, financial, emotional and developmental issues all complicating things. Your boyfriend needs to do some growing up — lots of people rely entirely on their financial advisers, but he should be able to set up a joint checking account without help. Dad is right to raise issues about shared money, but one checking account with limited funding makes each of you equally vulnerable to losing your money to the other.

You have, in the father, knowledge and skills that other people pay big bucks for, and taking advantage of that is wise. Relying entirely on the advice of one person is not, regardless of that person’s skill. In the meantime, you live together, you share finances, you see a future in which you are legally bound to each other, so you clearly are not “just” anything. If you’re partners, move ahead as such, with equal say. (If you’re not? Separate. Now.) Learn as much as you can from his father, who might welcome having his smart, careful daughter-in-law as a partner. Better to have him as your partner than as your rival.

— Been There, Done This

Girlfriend: Are there other areas in your relationship where your boyfriend cedes authority or declines to own his life? It might be good to ask whether this is a general pattern or just a feeling of incompetence around money. I also think you have every right to discuss it with him, as an issue that affects you both: “I’m concerned that we aren’t on the same page when it comes to being a team managing our money together. Here’s the issue for me. What do you like/not like about the current system with your dad? Is it your long-term plan to keep letting him do X? Would you be willing to hire an independent financial adviser that we could both consult together?”

If it’s a problem for you, and he tries to minimize it even when you calmly engage and propose alternatives, then that would be a flag for me — maybe counseling would help him to figure out why he’s stayed so oddly dependent on his father in this one situation, or why taking responsibility for his money (or other things) freaks him out so much. My own partner was, at the beginning of our relationship, very unwilling to take over laundry duties, because his mother had made laundry and ironing seem very technical and complicated — because she saw that as her turf and part of her identity. Once we unpacked that narrative, we were fine (and he irons a mean shirt now!). Something like that might be going on here …

Girlfriend: Boyfriend and Dad are fine with the situation. This is your problem. Decide on your boundaries, tell boyfriend, listen to his response carefully, then make your decision based on his response.

Every week, we ask readers to answer a question submitted to Carolyn Hax’s live chat. Read last week’s installment here. New questions are typically posted on Fridays, with a Monday deadline for submissions. Responses are anonymous unless you choose to identify yourself and are edited for length and clarity.



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