Commentary > Everyday Money
Marrying into money ain't all that
Bash Joe Millionaire's women if you will. But they're just chasing a myth lots of us still believe.
February 10, 2003: 8:43 AM EST
By Jeanne Sahadi, CNN/ Senior Staff Writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - I'm often accused of being a romantic, but the truth is my inner pragmatist gets the upper hand at least 65 percent of the time.

Take marrying for love. I'm all for it, but I see no reason to set yourself up for financial ruin (or just a lifetime of teeth-grinding aggravation) by marrying someone who shows a stunning inability to make a sound living or to handle money responsibly.

But by the same token, I cringe whenever the idea of marrying someone wealthy is touted as the road to Nirvana. Such is utter bunk if ever there was.

Don't get me wrong. There's no doubt money can make life easier and more enjoyable. It's certainly more fun to jet off to Belize for a three-day weekend than to fight for three months about how much house you can afford. And there's nothing saying you can't have a wonderful marriage to someone who might buy Belize one day.

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But when one partner (and no, it's not always the man) comes into the marriage with a lot more money than the other, don't think the other partner gets a free ride to the gold coast.

"Money has some very funny strings attached. ... For as many problems as it will solve, it can create many others," said Barbara Stanny, author of "Prince Charming Isn't Coming" and daughter and heir of Richard Bloch, co-founder of H&R Block.

So whenever you find yourself fantasizing about having a wealthy spouse (perhaps after barking at your short-of-a-million honey), consider some of the potential challenges you'd face:

"Controlling share" is not just a corporate term. Making decisions in a marriage is always a bit of a power struggle, but if your partner has 1,000 times more wealth than you, does he or she get 1,000 times more say in how money is used and how much you get to spend?

If your spouse is proprietary about money and you accept the premise that money is power, then "the person with more money ... has more controlling power," said Barbara Blouin, a co-founder of The Inheritance Project and author of "For Love and/or Money: The Impact of Inherited Wealth on Relationships."

Money doesn't grow on trees. It's made by Type-A personalities who may rely on sweat shops. Sometimes a partner's wealth, whether earned or inherited, can become a source of conflict when you learn how the money was made and realize those methods clash with your values.

But surely you'd know what you were getting into before taking your vows, right? Nope. Lots of times the way money is made is hidden from view, and it's only a few years into a marriage that you might feel comfortable enough to ask more pointed questions, said Dr. Dennis Pearne, a wealth counselor and co-author with Amy Domini and Sharon Rich of "The Challenges of Wealth."

Or, even if you're fine with how the wealth is made, you may not be fine with an absentee spouse. Often people who amass riches "are highly motivated by wealth and the power and prestige it brings. ... They're Type A, driven workaholics who are hardly ever home," Blouin said.

Meet the parents. They may be running your life. If your partner inherited money, his or her family may have a lot of say in what you and your kids will be doing for the next 20 years. Conditions of trust funds may include which schools your kids must attend. And the culture of wealth may start to overtake your daily living in ways you'd never expect.

"The general lifestyle the couple lives tends to get subsumed by the family and lifestyle of the wealth holder," Pearne said. And that can make you lose a sense of who you are.

How's 'bout you help manage the money, honey? One way to preserve your identity in a marriage of unequal means is to keep pursuing your career. But what if you luck out and marry a rich spouse who not only wants to share the wealth but wants you to make like Melinda Gates and take an active role in managing it? Now all of sudden you've not only married into money, you're being asked to make it your life's work.

"It's a much larger proposition than one imagines to divest oneself of one's career," Pearne said.

Like filling bottomless pits? Sometimes it's not you but your partner who has an identity crisis. Sometimes the wealth holder can't get over the suspicion that you only married him or her for the money. That mistrust, sometimes ingrained from a young age, "puts an extra burden on the spouse" to show the wealthier partner he or she is truly loved, Pearne noted. Having to constantly reassure your partner can wear you down or make you feel inadequate if you don't succeed.

And if that mistrust is mixed with an already controlling nature ... well, breaking down those barriers can feel like trying to split rocks with a broom.

Bad news. Prince Charming can leave, die or fail. This is a particularly troublesome fact for women who become dependent on wealthy husbands after making home and family their focus, but it also applies to working wives who leave all the money management to the wealthier spouse.

Since rich husbands can lose their fortunes, trade in their wives for younger models or die before their better halves develop a sense of independence financially and socially, Stanny's advice is to make sure such wives take an active role in managing the family money, keep their own bank account and credit lines, and continue saving for their futures as if they have to.

"It's wonderful to marry money," she said, but at the end of the day, "you're your only source of security."

Jeanne Sahadi writes about personal finance for CNN/ She also appears regularly on CNNfn's "Your Money," which airs weeknights at 7 p.m. For comments on this column or suggestions for future ones, please e-mail her at  Top of page

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