When a woman with inherited wealth marries a man with limited income … Part 2 By Barbara Blouin, The Inheritance Project

In this post Deborah continues her account of her marriage with Alex, and the role that her financial support of him played in the failure of the marriage.

“What took me so long to decide to separate from my husband, as some of my friends asked me, was that for a long time I was not able to see with vivid clarity—as I now see—that our marriage had not only failed, but had rarely been happy. A big part of my frustration and dissatisfaction with Alex was connected with the way he used the money I was giving to him. To put it briefly, he indulged his many “wants,” and his buying steadily grew, but in small increments, so that I couldn’t see clearly what was happening. Alex was constantly buying things for himself—things he didn’t need. I’m not stingy; I don’t have a problem with people buying things for themselves with someone else’s money, but the scale of Alex’s buying went over the top at some point—at least as I see it. And about every two years he told me he needed more money. I didn’t ask him to account for his expenses, or to explain why he needed more money. I just gave in and gave. Looking back over a period of many years, I wonder why I was so timid. I had a right to know, after all, but I failed to assert myself. Maybe that was because of my guild over having so much unearned money.

Here’s a snapshot of just some of what Alex was buying for himself. At first it was mostly clothing, especially neckties—expensive silk ones. I never counted, but he probably bought at least 50 ties in a few years. He wore them rarely; not having a white-collar job, he certainly didn’t need more than a few, but he liked having neckties. Alex generally bought in bulk.

Since the separation, Alex’s helper and I have been going through the enormous collection of belongings that he left behind in the house. We had to do it because it was painful for Alex to be in the house.

Going back several years: after the neckties he graduated to books on various subjects. I’m an avid reader, and what irked me about Alex’s book buying is that he didn’t read many of them, or he would read a few pages and then set them aside. It was then I realized that he was a collector as well as a hoarder. He never threw anything away. It didn’t seem to matter what he was collecting or keeping, so long as he was engaging in buying things.

“The jump to more pricey purchases began several years ago when he started buying photography books. (By the way, he never bought the more typical kinds of luxuries, like expensive cars. He drove budget Japanese cars until they wore out.) I haven’t counted the photography books, but I estimate that at this point he has well over one hundred such books, many of them large and very expensive. These too he didn’t seem to spend much time enjoying. Maybe he looked at them once or twice. More recently, he again said he needed more money, and again I gave in, though reluctantly, without challenging him. I now find myself wondering how much of the money I gave him was spent on expensive books.

“It would be tedious to go on and on about these details. What matters, and what I see with painful clarity now that I am able to look back over our marriage, is that, without intending it, I was enabling Alex in a way that was unhealthy. His buying was by now looking like an addiction. He gradually lost interest in some of the worthwhile and interesting projects he was involved with for a few years. (For example, together with another man he interviewed a number of local artists—mostly musicians and writers—and created a series of radio shows that were aired by a local station.)

“But the creativity gradually faded away. He was spending a good part of every day reading blogs on the Internet. And buying more books.

“In my experience, based on having done many interviews, enabling is perhaps the biggest trap of all for a man (or a woman, though less often) of modest means who marries an inheritor. It’s an insidious process, and not easy to see. By the time I realized what was happening, it was already too late.

“I don’t believe that Alex was deliberately using me. His growing habit is what I referred to at the start of Part One as a ‘gray area.’ But I think he was corrupted by his dependency on the money I gave him; he came to take for granted the regular, and gradually increasing, deposits into his bank account.

“A pattern like this one harms both partners in a marriage; once it has settled in, I don’t think there is any way to reverse the situation.”