‘Am I crazy?’ I’ve paid my fiancée rent for 9 years and spent $10,000 improving her home. She’s also listed on my health insurance. What should I do?


I have a situation that is causing a lot of issues in my relationship. We have been dating for 17 years, have lived together for close to nine years and have been engaged for six. 

When I moved into her house, we agreed I would pay $600 a month in rent. Over the years, I have increased how much I pay in rent and have taken on other expenses, such as the $300 cable-and-internet bill. I have also contributed toward some home improvements, spending about $10,000 in total.

Additionally, when we go out to eat, which is probably 60% of the time, I usually pay. 

I am now paying $1,100 a month in rent. She has retired and is listed as a domestic partner on my health insurance. I am also paying her $200 health-insurance premium.

However, her previous employer reimburses her health-insurance costs, and she keeps that money. She says she “subsidized” my rent nine years ago to help me out financially, and this is now “payback” since I am debt-free. 

‘Her previous employer reimburses her health-insurance costs, and she keeps that money.’

Wait, what? I paid her exactly what she asked for back then without question, and there was no discussion that the agreed-upon rent was below market value or being “subsidized” by her.

This has caused a rift in our relationship, as we view money very differently. I am pretty generous with it.  

The cherry on top is that we both have trusts, and she refuses to tell me any details about hers. If she were to die tomorrow, I would be in the dark. She knows all the specifics of mine, including the fact that she is included in it. 

Am I crazy to feel this way about the rent, the health insurance and the trust?

Appreciate Your Guidance

Dear Appreciate,

You’re not crazy. You’re stuck in a rut.

We could go back and forth all day about who is being unfair to whom. But whether or not either of you believes the original rent was below market value, you both agreed to it. It seems likely that you believed it was a fair price. There were no blindfolds or lottery tickets involved. You came to an arrangement that suited you both at that time, and you both walked into that arrangement with your eyes open. And over the years, you and your fiancée have benefited from living together: You have a place to live, and she gets extra income.

The problem, I believe, is bigger than that $200 health-insurance premium. It seems that resentments have built up over time, perhaps due to the amount of money you have spent on renovations or on the health-insurance premium, or perhaps because of the underlying imbalance of financial power. I suspect it is a little bit of both, perhaps with more dissatisfaction due to the latter: She is the homeowner, and you are the de facto renter.

There are no victims here, only volunteers. You volunteered to live in her home for the past nine years and to pay for improvements that added up to $10,000. I agree that’s a lot of money at first glance. But keep in mind that houses are expensive to maintain — property taxes, mortgage interest, gas and electricity, etc. What’s more, that $10,000 equates to about $93 per month over the years you have lived there. Chalk it up to wear and tear, goodwill and miscellaneous contributions. 

The other inequity relates to your respective trusts. Your partner is not transparent about how much money is in her trust and whether you are a beneficiary. Once again, this is part of a larger problem: A curious lack of financial faith. It’s curious because you have hashed out your financial responsibilities, and yet your arrangement has so many deep-rooted problems for both of you. This may be one reason your engagement has stretched to six years.

‘If you feel your options are limited, you may be more willing to agree to things that make you unhappy.’

With the important caveat that I have only heard your side of the story, there is a certain callousness at worst, or insensitivity at best, to your fiancée’s comment that she was subsidizing your early years of rent. While it’s your responsibility to be aware of the rental-market rates, this is yet another important nugget that was left untouched (until now). Resentments are like dry rot in the structure of a house. They grow deeper over time, weakening the fundamentals of the relationship.

I have a few questions for you: Do you want to remain living in her house after you get married? Do you have a home of your own? Do you have enough savings that you could buy your own home? Assuming that living with your fiancée is Plan A, what is your Plan B if you break up? Is this an otherwise happy relationship? My reason for asking: If you feel your options are limited, you may be more willing to agree to things that make you unhappy.

By picking up the check in a restaurant, you may feel like you are restoring some kind of financial equity to the relationship, but that is fleeting. You are the one in charge on that night by virtue of paying for your fiancée’s meal. But (a) that is part of a long, gendered social contract that is changing with the times and (b) it does not alter the fact that you are living in your partner’s home — and if the relationship ends, so does your living arrangement.

Ultimately, it’s important not to hold up your $10,000 renovations or $200-a-month health-insurance payment as leverage in the overall balance of power in the relationship. While those gestures show a great deal of goodwill, they also come with a “gift tax.” The more you pay and the longer you live under that roof, the more you may feel that you have a right to live in your fiancée’s home indefinitely. But the hard truth is that there is only one person’s name on that deed.

And that’s the person who ultimately calls the shots.

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You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com.

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