My wife wants joint ownership of the house I bought. I'm not so sure.
September 6, 2019 11:45 PM   Subscribe

We've been married for 10+ years, no kids. A few years ago we found a home and I bought it with my money (inheritance). It's in my name, but we talked about the possibility of making her a co-owner. Now it’s come up again, and she wants/expects to be a co-owner. That’s the way married couples do it, she says. Relationship background ahead…

Our finances have always been separate, although I contribute more than she does to our joint expenses and pay the mortgage (I make more than she does). I like being generous; for 5+ years she made little to no income and I paid for everything; I also contributed to an IRA in her name. She has been supportive of me, emotionally, and I of her, and we have a lot of fun together. But our relationship hasn't been easy. We haven’t been intimate in a long time (no sex) and she has anger issues (I avoid conflict). I’m seeing a therapist, but she isn’t; her schedule makes that difficult. We tried couples therapy but that didn’t go well. There are times when it seems like our relationship is untenable (when she gets angry), but most of the time we're fine.

My therapist says it's okay if I want to stay the sole owner (different couples do things differently, she says), but my wife has made it clear that it’s not okay, or at least a huge disappointment; even the fact that I haven’t already automatically made here a joint owner is hurtful to her, and in her words, may cause "permanent damage." She talks about me leaving her; sometimes about her leaving me. Usually, when she's upset, everything smooths over in a day or two, but it’s clear the homeownership question is bringing up long-standing issues (financial power imbalance, insecurity in our relationship). She expects me to do what other couples do. The way she tells it, the issue is about how she feels, not about a specific practical need on her part. Not being an owner makes her feel like we don't have joint ownership of anything (ex. she wants to pay for the repair of a piece of furniture, not share the cost, so it's clear the item's hers, not mine).

I'm half inclined to go ahead and make her a co-owner because I don't want to feel greedy about holding onto value in a place that I mostly didn't produce myself. I want to honor our long partnership and fulfill her dream of owning a home (she really likes the place and has put work into making it nice). I also want to avoid conflict. Then again, we have real issues. Another complicating factor is that there are problems with the house and the neighborhood that have made me want to sell it (my wife talked me into keeping it). Part of me doesn’t want to give up the power to sell, although as my wife puts it, any such unilateral decision to sell is tantamount to calling the divorce lawyers. And by the way, if I hold onto full ownership and we split, she promises she’ll get what’s coming to her. I get that, although I wish she wasn’t so brutally blunt about it.

I care for her and want to take care of her and give her everything in my will (we haven't done that yet), but I don’t know if it’s fair or smart to gift her half of this valuable asset when there’s a chance we might not be together forever and/or I need to sell the place. Then again, we love each other, however dysfunctionally, and there’s a good chance we'll grow old together. Bottom line: I want to do the right thing for her, me, and us. Advice?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (61 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
If you want and intend to stay married, make her the joint owner. It’s important to her and it’s a long standing power imbalance in your relationship. And leaving it to her in a will makes things complicated at a time when grief is making everything hard. It’s very much not the same thing as just already being a joint owner of the home.

You’ve been married over ten years and found a home together. If you want the power to unilaterally sell it, sell it and call the lawyers. Either get all in and make her a joint owner or admit it’s over and move on.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:57 PM on September 6 [70 favorites]


So, whether her name is on the house or not, you recognize that if you were to divorce, she'd likely be owed some proceeds from the property. And then, yeah, if you unilaterally decided to sell the house that she lives in, that would be a deal-breaker for her. It's unsurprising that she earns less money than you-most women earn less than their partners and especially over a lifetime. That's how the system was designed. I think you guys are on the wrong track in terms of marriage as a partnership. The issue of sex in your relationship may or may not be intertwined with the power dynamics at play. I think you all should find a way to commit to a new partnership, go backwards, start at the beginning and figure out what your role is to each other for now and into the future. If you want to be equal partners, you will share equally in your largesse and your use of it. Perhaps you can make marriage counseling a stipulation for finding your way to an equal footing. I think you need the help of a professional to unpack your feelings about money, partnership and maybe to unlearn some things.
posted by amanda at 12:16 AM on September 7 [17 favorites]


No sex? She talks about divorce a lot? I think you should call it quits and move on.

And by the way, if I hold onto full ownership and we split, she promises she’ll get what’s coming to her.

This is not the way people talk to each other in a healthy relationship. She may be right to be mad but wow! You supported her for years but she would be calling the lawyer to try to get part of the house? Damn. That's cold as hell and it reflects a really fucked up way of interacting with each other.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 12:19 AM on September 7 [122 favorites]


Also given the issues involved here you should talk to a divorce lawyer about the likely outcomes here. You may be looking at someone who is planning divorce already and you should be prepared. I would not just assume she'd automatically get a ton of the house; maybe, maybe not.

You may have not worked for this but your parents did (right?) and it's not exactly kosher to give it away to someone who seems to kinda hate you. YMMV on that one.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 12:24 AM on September 7 [24 favorites]


It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the lack of sex is due to her not feeling like a partner and being insecure as to where the relationship is at. This doesn’t mean I think you should hand over half but I think these issues are all intertwined. It’s hard to be intimate with someone if you think they have one foot out the door - and you’ve as much said that you’re hanging onto the house because you’re not sure the relationship will last, so there’s truth to that.

I think you should try marriage counselling again. I also think if you’re talking about selling the home, you should do that and then buy a different one together, where she’s on the mortgage for 50%. (It sounds like she’s now earning an income, yes?). That way she’s invested in it and it’s not just you paying for everything outright. A true partnership. I wish you all the best, this is tricky.
posted by Jubey at 12:33 AM on September 7 [17 favorites]


most of the time we're fine

This question makes it seem overtly and plainly that you are not in any way anything close to fine. Either you are not characterizing the relationship very well because you want it to be more justifiable that you don't share equally in the proceeds of your lives as partners, or you need to do some serious assessment about whether this is true. I'm not saying that the first is necessarily the case, just like... this all sounds very, very deeply unpleasant and not at all like a situation I'd want to be either party in.

If you're mostly fine, these arrangements eventually get ridiculous. What're you going to do when you're long retired and trying to make assisted living plans or cover something like cancer treatment with wildly different assets? Either you eventually have to treat it all like both of your money, or, what, you're going to tell your wife she can't fill her prescriptions or move into separate retirement homes? But you don't sound like you intend to still be married at 85. You don't sound like you still intend to be married in five years. On the other hand, you don't sound like you're seriously addressing the planning involved in splitting up.

Seems to me like it'd suck, a lot, to stay married to someone until you're 85 always thinking that the other party will have filed for divorce by then. Your different jobs are a very small part of your net shared lives together, in the long run. Either start thinking about this like it's at least potentially the long haul, or start working on disengaging so that you can make long haul plans separately.
posted by Sequence at 12:36 AM on September 7 [36 favorites]


If you live in a community property state, she may already be an owner, even if the house was purchased with your inheritance.

Your wife is telling you really clearly that this is a huge source of resentment and she is willing to divorce over this. This is not "oh she's upset and things will blow over." Do you love your house and your unilateral power to sell more than you love your wife?

From a purely practical point of view, making her an owner also protects her in the event of your death. My aunt died in 2014 and her estate is STILL in probate. She had a will and everything. (It sounds like you don't; that's a great way to roughen things up for the surviving spouse!)
posted by basalganglia at 12:37 AM on September 7 [22 favorites]


The thing that stood out to me is that you frame her anger issues as separate from your conflict avoidance issues, when they might related. Those dynamics can work in tandem to create a negative environment for both parties, but it’s easier to place the blame on the “angry” one and see the conflict avoidance as “normal” when that can actually also be a problem. That may not be the case here, just wanted to mention it.

Your wife is financially dependent on you and dependent on you for a place to live. That can create a sense of defensiveness and instability, which is not a good thing for building a healthy marriage. There’s a big inequality in your relationship and that needs to be addressed. Divorce could be on her mind not because she wants it but because statistically she is likely to be financially ruined by it and it scares her.

The best thing would be to get into joint marriage counseling together, but if you can’t do that, I would encourage you to work with your therapist on how your power in the relationship and your avoidance issues may be contributing to this negative dynamic.
posted by notheotherone at 12:37 AM on September 7 [58 favorites]


It's where you live? If this was an investment property, I'd say it was valid to keep it in your own name. But not owning where you live -- especially given that a huge portion of many families' wealth is their home -- would lead to a real feeling of instability, for me at least.*

That said, it seems valid to say that you want to go to couples therapy to make sure the talk of divorce stops. Unless that talk of divorce grows out of this issue, which would totally make sense (why else would you be holding back from giving her half-ownership, she would very understandably speculate).

(* Side note: I remember a really long thread either here or on Reddit where the vast majority felt the same way. I remember people making the good point that the non-owner partner would still likely be helping to pay for maintenance and be investing a lot of loving energy into making it a beautiful home, or would have to choose not to.)
posted by salvia at 12:45 AM on September 7 [15 favorites]


she has anger issues (I avoid conflict)

I really don't want to minimize this - I've lived with people with anger issues and it's awful, and I hope never to do so again.

But it's also true that hot anger isn't the only way to hurt someone or the only way to do damage. When she talks about how much your unilateral approach to money and power hurts her, that's something to take seriously. You may be conflict-avoidant in terms of not wanting to address things directly, but it sounds like you've created a source of conflict and don't want to own that or commit to action on your part to resolve it. I don't know if your calculations are ultimately right or wrong for your future, but you need to understand that just because you're not yelling doesn't mean you're not striking a blow.
posted by trig at 12:53 AM on September 7 [75 favorites]


Bluntly, just going by the statistics, if her services around the house were valued at market rate, I bet you'd be looking at a substantially different calculation of who contributes what to the household. Keeping your wife in this state of off-balance financial insecurity is deeply unkind.

That said, without trying to sort out the blame from only one side of the story, you don't particularly sound like you still want to be married to her very much. I agree with the people above that you two need to agree to try to go back to the drawing board or you should go ahead and get divorced. If the former, make her joint owner. If not, the question becomes moot.
posted by praemunire at 12:59 AM on September 7 [64 favorites]


I came into my relationship with my own house and I also earn more than double what my husband earns, though it is likely he will be able to earn similar to me in the future. He didn't have any assets. I made the decision that if I'm going to get married it was because I believed I would be with that person forever, so we split everything. All our accounts and credit cards have both our names on them. We sold my house and bought another, together.

For us, this has definitely paid of psychologically. We are a complete team. I have no regrets about organising things in this way, even though it means that we have to communicate about money a lot more than we would otherwise. A marriage is so much more than assets and money, but I think how you organise your finances can have a huge impact on how safe both partners feel in the marriage.

The fact that your wife will pay to get a chair fixed because it is 'hers' makes me really sad. I think this is very unusual even in marriages in which things are split. Honestly, your marriage sounds very unhappy. I would consider divorce if I were you. I don' t think she is unreasonable to ask for co-ownership on the face of it but the whole situation sounds toxic.

After reading a few other comments I want to add: My husband is the most important person in my life and I feel secure in knowing that if something happened to me he would still be able to have the house. He would be able to make all decisions about what to do with it. Do you feel this way about your wife? Because if not...that is probably a really terrible sign.
posted by thereader at 1:00 AM on September 7 [53 favorites]


“I don’t know if it’s fair or smart to gift her half of this valuable asset when there’s a chance we might not be together forever and/or I need to sell the place.”

A lot of your post is written from the position of speculating about the future. What about this person who lives in your house and you’re sharing a life with right now? What would your answers to your questions be if you commit to the idea for today, not tomorrow?

For example, imagine changing the sentence above to selling the house today, rather than in the future. And more importantly, may I kindly suggest you frame it as ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ needing to sell the house? Because your partner would be 100% part of this (and you would be 100% part of this too*) regardless of what the paperwork says.

*it can be problematic to view relationships as a zero sum game where each of you aim to contribute equal halves. Ideally, you bring your whole selves, as fully as possible. The relationship is the product of that. Withholding behaviours such as avoidance, accounting and future tripping will get in the way of you being the present person you need to be for this relationship to succeed. The house is just a house regardless.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:03 AM on September 7 [10 favorites]


I agree with others here about the chair. It is profoundly sad to me that your spouse feels the need to frame things this way in a losing bid to speak your language about this relationship. It’s apparent in the idea of ‘gifting’ half the house to them, in them bluntly pointing out that they’re already entitled to more than what’s being overtly acknowledged. It’s in your perception that you could sell the house now but that autonomy goes away if they had a legal stake in the matter (would their opinion on selling the house not factor into your decision making currently?). And it’s interesting that your desire not to feel greedy is put ahead of your honour and recognition of how much work they’ve put into the home you’ve build, and again ahead of their dream of home ownership.

That’s what I see in the text. It’s also the language your partner is working with and responding to, but with all the history and emotion and actions that go along with it.

These are subtle things, but they matter. The become the thousand cuts.

Just as heartbreaking is your resentment and pain I see in these words too. I don’t feel the need to point out examples, you wrote them and you know how you feel. But it’s seen too.

I also agree with others that more counselling (together, separate or both) is going to be helpful in untangling and reframing all of this. For your partner, betterhelp.com might be a good option where there’s time/scheduling complexities.

Good luck and treat yourself kindly.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:40 AM on September 7 [12 favorites]


I read your question as if the house is an investment property but others are commenting as if you and your wife live in it - which is it?

I also think it's noteworthy that you bought the house a few years ago and ownership of it was an issue then, then the issue went away awhile, and now she's brought it up again. What's triggered her bringing it up again? Are you sure she isn't planning for divorce?
posted by sunflower16 at 2:09 AM on September 7 [6 favorites]


I came into my marriage with a lot more money than my wife. I decided the right thing to do was to give her half of everything in spirit as well as legally, in part to help her with her feelings of insecurity and the anger issues that came with it.

Didn't help a damn bit. The gaps for an angry and insecure person are an unfillable hole, at least by anyone but that person. It doesn't matter if you do the house or not, I guarantee you the exact same issues will carry on until she does a lot of work on herself.

After several years of living in an angry house in a dysfunctional relationship I decided to pull the plug. I was scrupulous about making sure she got half of everything we owned (the state would have given her a lot less), but that was entirely to keep my integrity intact. By then I had realized that her experience of things was being driven by an internal narrative that had little to do with me and that trying to take care of her was pointless.

There you go, obviously the words of a bitter man. I don't know that that makes them invalid though.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:30 AM on September 7 [53 favorites]


It seems like you don’t want to be married to your wife, but you also don’t want to go through the disruption of a divorce, and the house has become a symbol of this attitude in your marriage. It makes you feel good by giving you this idea of future independence and makes you feel bad because it contributes to an ongoing bad dynamic in your relationship (avoidance/anger). Whatever feelings of control or freedom or power the house is giving you are really just symbolic and not having much to do with actual ownership.

If you want a divorce, get a divorce. If you don’t like your wife and don’t want to be married to her (which comes through pretty clearly in the question), get a divorce and let her find someone who does care about her.
posted by sallybrown at 3:30 AM on September 7 [26 favorites]


If this were the ONLY thing coming between your relationship, then I would say you should sit down with a mediator and/or financial planner and figure out some sort of co-ownership. But, this isn't the only issue. It's far from the only issue. It's something precariously stacked on top of a relationship that seems full of cracks and ready to break at any moment. And I'm sorry you're going through it.

But giving her co-ownership will not fix this relationship. The way she is asking seems more akin to emotional blackmail than feeling unequal. It doesn't sound like you're holding this home ownership over he head. And I also feel that if it were a good, healthy relationship then you would have been able to come to a compromise of some kind before now. There's a big difference between couples arguing and disagreeing, and couples continuously mentioning breaking up while agreeing or disagreeing.

It doesn't seem you have been greedy financially. You've had years of fully supporting her. And while I agree that there's often a huge disparity in domestic/emotional labor, I don't think that automatically factors in here.

There is no "normal couples" thing here. Everyone handles finances and ownership differently. For example, we've had cars in different names due to incomes and credit scores.

My two cents is to not add her. Continue therapy, individual at least. Consider other areas where you can share finances if you feel comfortable in the meantime. And to check on the current status of her ownership of your joint assets in the case of divorce.
posted by Crystalinne at 4:32 AM on September 7 [13 favorites]


I would consult a professional - family law lawyer maybe - about the likely ownership status of the house in the case of a separation. Where I live, the name on the deed is not all that relevant in long term relationships and the starting assumption is 50/50 ownership of relationship assets regardless of who originally paid for them. Working through that may enable you to change the deed to reflect the reality, which sounds like it could be a good thing for both of you.

That said, you guys don't sound very happy and, as it turned out for Tell Me No Lies, it may not change things that much. You might also want to use some of the time you have with a lawyer to get a sense of what your options and obligations might be if you end up heading toward separation.
posted by mewsic at 4:34 AM on September 7 [3 favorites]


My therapist says it's okay if I want to stay the sole owner (different couples do things differently, she says)

Questions like this really require a lawyer not a therapist. Your therapist can give your emotions a stamp of approval (though even that sounds dubious in this case) but they cannot advise on the legal ownership of your assets within a marriage.

In almost every state in the U.S. your wife would already be considered a partial owner of the house simply by virtue of your marriage.
posted by srboisvert at 4:49 AM on September 7 [19 favorites]


There are so many red flags in your post I don't know where to begin. I would not add her as co-owner of the house, I'd be calling a divorce lawyer. She may get a huge chunk of it anyway, but your post is full of red flags. This doesn't sound like a healthy relationship or one that you'd want to grow old together in.

even the fact that I haven’t already automatically made here a joint owner is hurtful to her, and in her words, may cause "permanent damage."

This is a threat, and I passed the point of tolerating threats in a relationship a long time ago. Do not co-own a house with this person, do not continue accepting excuses about how their schedule doesn't allow for therapy. Things aren't going to get better from this point, even if you do add them as a co-owner of the house. Assuming they're not just trying to make it easier to get a chunk of the property in divorce proceedings (which is what it very much sounds like to me), there'll be some other condition you have to meet down the road to avoid "permanent damage."

This is not how healthy couples operate. You may also bear your share of blame in the relationship but this sounds too far gone to me.
posted by jzb at 5:22 AM on September 7 [16 favorites]


Don't. Do. It. In my case, it was sly preparation for a divorce.

ProTip: Even if you put her name on the title, it's still *your* loan.
posted by j_curiouser at 5:27 AM on September 7 [20 favorites]


This question makes me wonder: are you happier married to her than you'd be single? Would you marry her now if you weren't already married? I think different people have different defaults around relationships and maybe for some it is rooted in what they prefer and how they're happiest but for others it might be rooted in social convention and/or inertia.

This seems like some stuff to sort out to help you figure out how to proceed.
posted by needs more cowbell at 5:40 AM on September 7 [4 favorites]


It is clear that this house situation has caused a major power imbalance in your relationship. But 10+ years is a long time, and I second others in that giving her ownership will not fix other major issues at play.

Treat yourself kindly, and consider very carefully if it's worth putting yourself through this. Listen to your instincts. You will be fine.
posted by longjump at 5:48 AM on September 7 [1 favorite]


You have so many rationalisations for not confirming your wife as an equal partner in your marriage, I don't even think it's worth it to go over them one by one. Meanwhile she's telling you how she feels and you're still busy rationalising her feelings away.

You do know what the advice would be to your wife if she wrote in with the flip side of this ask, don't you?
posted by glasseyes at 5:54 AM on September 7 [32 favorites]


It’s true that different couples do things in different ways... but it’s pretty key that both partners are on the same page. Did your therapist happen to mention that?

I honestly can’t picture being married to someone for 8+ years and not considering any inheritance to be “ours,” much less the home that we live in. It would be galling if my partner considered any thing shared to be due to his generosity (we have gone through times when I was the higher (or only) earner, even before we were married, and I never would have framed it that way).

Again, if you and your wife felt the same way about sharing, I’d shrug and say,”different strokes.” But she doesn’t feel the same way, and the fact that you think that means she’s in the wrong is disturbing.

At this point, as others have said, maybe the right thing to do is admit you’re not compatible and divorce. But you need to make a decision, and if the decision is to stay together you need to go all in.
posted by Kriesa at 5:59 AM on September 7 [14 favorites]


Sometimes inheritance gets treated differently in divorce if there is no co-mingling of funds, but you’d need a family law lawyer to weigh in with legal advice as this is state-specific.

What makes it hard for therapy? Child care? Her new entry level job? Getting a professional degree? You are both withholding from a relationship that warps badly with this many red flag items. Decide where you both want to be, map it out, and get professional help accordingly.
posted by childofTethys at 6:00 AM on September 7 [4 favorites]


Maybe the right thing for you and your wife is joint ownership, with a post-nuptial agreement on how to divide the asset in case of divorce?

To avoid the risk of losing half your inheritance, ask your wife to agree that home equity corresponding to the value of the inheritance would stay with you in divorce. At the same time, you can recognize the work she's putting into improvements, by agreeing that she would be entitled to a fair share of the appreciation of the home.

I don't know how well this type of commitment holds up in divorce, but do know of happy couples who have made such commitments.
posted by ContinuousWave at 6:02 AM on September 7 [7 favorites]


Also, the fact that the loan is yours could be addressed by refinancing and adding her as a co-borrower.
posted by Kriesa at 6:02 AM on September 7 [2 favorites]


I lived in a similar situation, in your wife's role. I'm not someone who really cares about material wealth or owning stuff, but it was still weird. I was more conscious than I'd like that if things went badly, I could be effectively evicted and not have much recourse. It's not that I thought that was likely, just that I've worked with so many people where, when it came down to it, they didn't have a right to stay where they'd been living, and the fall-out from that severely affected the course of their lives from there, often including homelessness. That's a ton of risk to be taking on unnecessarily, even if the odds of it happening are low. But here the odds aren't exactly low, are they? I don't want to put a number to it, but it seems clear that the chances of you deciding you want a divorce are nowhere near zero.

What happens to your wife then? She's somehow supposed to scrape together money for an apartment when all she wants is to stay in this home you found together that she's put work into making lovely? She's basically living there at your personal pleasure and whim right now. Even if she'd eventually "get what's coming to her," it'd be upheaval and always waiting to see what you (or the court) would decide her fate would be. That's some of the power you're holding on to here. I don't think she's wrong to worry about it. I don't think it's a threat to say that you continuing to do so may cause permanent damage. The very fact that part of the reason you don't want her as a co-owner is so you could sell it out from under her without her agreement seems like something that would cause permanent damage. If she knows/suspects that that is underlying your desire to hold on to the asset, it'd hardly be surprising if this has been nagging at her for years. That's the kind of power a parent has over a child, not something an equal partner should be holding tight to. Sure, your therapist is correct, couples can do different things, but there's a big difference between something being in just one name because it's easier, and one person deliberately sequestering resources on their own side. At very least, if you're going to stay married and keep the house in only your name, there should be something that offsets it to her satisfaction. And maybe you should look into doing a post-nup so you can have an informed conversation about how you'd want a divorce to go.
posted by teremala at 6:05 AM on September 7 [57 favorites]


It would never occur to me to cite supporting my husband, when he had no income, as generosity. To me, that’s the basic bare minimum of marriage. Maybe it is for your wife as well.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 6:07 AM on September 7 [69 favorites]


If it weren't a house I'd feel differently - if you were just talking about money sitting somewhere, and your marriage was in a weird place and you didn't commingle finances, and you thought of it as "your" money, let's say.

But housing is different - it's the basis of all stability and a bit ugly, to my mind, to keep your financially vulnerable long-term partner in a state of permanent housing insecurity while you own a house.

My partner and I have sorta-separate finances and really do think of money as "mine" and "mine" more than "ours". (I think that was actually, in retrospect, a bit of a mistake, and I think we're going to change how we do things, but it hasn't been some kind of sign of non-commitment.). We still own a house together. I brought the significant downpayment to the partnership and paid for such repairs as we've been able to afford, but it's our house.
posted by Frowner at 6:13 AM on September 7 [7 favorites]


Lots of good advice above. One option I didn't see is exploring with a lawyer if creating a trust that owns the house would solve some of the issue. Your lawyer could draft language that names your spouse as the beneficiary of the trust, but only so long as you are married and cohabitating at the time of your death. Doesn't solve the larger problems though.
posted by postel's law at 6:14 AM on September 7 [4 favorites]


Honestly, the house-ownership thing seems a bit like like worrying about the deckchairs on the Titanic.

It seems quite clear that you are unhappy in this marriage; you two haven’t been intimate in quite some time, she has “anger issues”, you are afraid of conflict and so issues go unaddressed/unresolved... and—for whatever convenient excuse she gives as being more important than fixing this—she refuses to attend couple counseling.

Who knows if she truthfully feels like the roof over her head could be yanked away any moment,
or if she is planning to divorce you and would like to have half of what the house would sell for.

Whatever the truth, this doesn’t seem like a healthy marriage between two people both working for each other, but rather more like two people on opposing teams forced to share a residence.

What is it about this broken partnership that makes you want to continue on with it?
Is it only because divorce would be a hassle?
Because it sounds like you’d both be happier out of the marriage.
posted by blueberry at 6:35 AM on September 7 [14 favorites]


The more I think about this question the more it seems to me to be one of those where none of us has enough information to know what's going on. Half of the responses are based on an interpretation where she's manipulative and planning on divorce, threatening (she'll "get what's coming to her"), and greedy for not being satisfied with you supporting her financially for some years. The other half interpret the situation as a hurt wife feeling insecure and untrusted in her marriage, spelling out reality to a husband who'd rather pretend that his actions have no effects. That interpretation also points out that mutual financial support can be considered a basic component of marriage rather than generosity and that women's contributions are more often than not undervalued financially and otherwise.

We don't have enough information to know which interpretation matches reality. Maybe both do. We don't know how the "get what's coming to her" exchange happened, whether those were her words or yours, whether they were meant as a threat or as a reality check by someone tired of pretending. I hope the answers here have at least given you some things to think about and some different perspectives, and that when you interpret the situation for yourself you consider them seriously.
posted by trig at 6:39 AM on September 7 [54 favorites]


Agree with those who say make your decision, all in or all out. There are couples who do just fine with completely separate finances, but you aren't one of them - your wife has made it clear that she is unhappy with your current arrangements. It seems like the two of you differ on what you view marriage to be, but her expectations that you two share ownership of significant assets (it sounds like this is the house you both live in?) don't seem at all an unreasonable interpretation. Since the obvious reason for you to be reluctant to make this change is an expectation of eventual divorce, she may well be seeing it as you having one foot out the door - which is very possibly a contributing factor to the other issues you are having (intimacy, etc).

My ex and I spent many years planning to buy a house, carefully making budgets and scrimping and saving together for a deposit, dreamy conversations about the veggie garden we'd have when we had space, all of that. Then he inherited a substantial sum of money, completely unexpectedly, from an elderly relative. Enough to easily buy a house outright. It was... illuminating, and part of why the relationship disintegrated - not because of the money itself, but the change to the power dynamic made it clear we were no longer functioning as equal partners working towards shared goals. Are you and your wife? Is your desire to retain control of this asset part of a pattern in your relationship?
posted by lwb at 6:47 AM on September 7 [7 favorites]


we talked about the possibility of making her a co-owner.

And? What did you do then to resolve it one way or another then? You are the only one who can resolve it.

Now it’s come up again

Not again, still. It was always there for her because it was unresolved. She can't resolve it, she can only appeal to you. That's a shitty position to be when it's about the roof over her head and it's her own husband who won't resolve it.

Relationship background ahead…

By dumping all the relationship background here, you are proving her point. You are not committted to her and you are using the excuse of her behavior to justify your non-action on an issue that is of fundamental importance to her.

Our finances have always been separate, although I contribute more than she does to our joint expenses and pay the mortgage (I make more than she does). I like being generous; for 5+ years she made little to no income and I paid for everything; I also contributed to an IRA in her name.

None of that has fuck-all to do with ownership of the home she lives in and takes care of with you. "Generous"? That's how you talk about donating to charity, not sharing the costs of life with your spouse.

She has been supportive of me, emotionally, and I of her, and we have a lot of fun together.

This is all that matters. Is this valuable to you? Is this what you want for yourself and your wife? This is life. The rest of it is about how easy or hard the practicalities of life are for you. You have plenty ofoney, she doesn't. That's not going to change. So what kind of life do you want? One where your partner's footing is insecure and she's too preoccupied with whether/when you'll leave her homeless to be a good support to you? Ir one where that key fundamental stressor is removed for both of you and you can focus on each other.

But our relationship hasn't been easy. We haven’t been intimate in a long time (no sex) and she has anger issues (I avoid conflict).

These sound excruciatingly interrelated. Why mo sex? You don't attribute thst to her so is that your call too? If she wants sex and you don't then that's another form of rejection that she feels, lack of commitment on your part that she sees, and compounds her overall insecurity in this marriage.

We tried couples therapy but that didn’t go well.

Try it again with another counselor. Then try it again with another if you need to. This is your marriage. Progress will entail confluct. For a confluct-acoidant person, that feels like it's mot going well. You must address and resolve the issues your partner raises in order for your marriage to work.

There are times when it seems like our relationship is untenable (when she gets angry), but most of the time we're fine.

Anger is a legitimate human emotion and it is an (unskillful, immature, ineffectual) expression of pain. She is expressing something legitimate. If that is untenable to you then she is correct in fearing that she can't count on you, that you could leave her, and leave her homeless, at any time.

My therapist says it's okay if I want to stay the sole owner (different couples do things differently, she says), but my wife has made it clear that it’s not okay, or at least a huge disappointment;

Your wife is the one who you have to sync up with here, not your therapist. You can always find someone to agree with your point of view. So what? What do you want for your marriage and your life? You absolutely do not have to make your wife co-owner. But you do have to resolve it one way or another. With her, not your therapist.

even the fact that I haven’t already automatically made here a joint owner is hurtful to her, and in her words, may cause "permanent damage." She talks about me leaving her; sometimes about her leaving me. Usually, when she's upset, everything smooths over in a day or two, but it’s clear the homeownership question is bringing up long-standing issues (financial power imbalance, insecurity in our relationship).

So you recognize that this runs deep for her, and that it has gone on for a long time. If you actually are committed to being with this person, then why in the world would you not work with her to address the legitimate fears that she keeps laying at your feet? Yiu hold every single card here. Every decision is yours, and your decisions have life-altering cinsequences for her. The fact that you won't work with her to resolve them demonstrates that her fears are grounded in reality.

The way she tells it, the issue is about how she feels, not about a specific practical need on her part. Not being an owner makes her feel like we don't have joint ownership of anything (ex. she wants to pay for the repair of a piece of furniture, not share the cost, so it's clear the item's hers, not mine).

Can you really blame her? If you break up, she's on the street. A new rental is very expensive to get into. Can you blame her for at least planning - to the extent that she can - to save a bit of money by not having to buy furniture on top of it?

I'm half inclined to go ahead and make her a co-owner because I don't want to feel greedy about holding onto value in a place that I mostly didn't produce myself.

What is this half-inclined stuff? Decide. She is desperate for you to commit or quit. You are holding her hostage in a way - all the power is in your hands. Her home, her security, her future, her family, her life.

I want to honor our long partnership and fulfill her dream of owning a home (she really likes the place and has put work into making it nice).

That sounds like the basis for a nice, secure, mutually beneficial life together. If you want that, then act to make it happen. You are the only one who can do it.

I also want to avoid conflict.

If you want a real marriage, this is impossible. Besides, your inaction and lack of commitment is causing far more unhealthy conflict over a much longer period than the healthy, productive, short-term conflict a difficult conversation would cause. If your therapist isnt't hammering that home for you, you might want to find a new therapist.

Then again, we have real issues.

Meaning what? That you actually don't want to commit to a life with this person? That you don't intend to fulfill your promises of security in the home and in your will? That her fears of you leaving are correct? You have problems - so focus on solving them with her. If that's what you truly want.

Another complicating factor is that there are problems with the house and the neighborhood that have made me want to sell it (my wife talked me into keeping it.

She is not to blame for your decisions. You decided to keep it. She has zero power here. Or anywhere.

Part of me doesn’t want to give up the power to sell,

Or the power, period.

although as my wife puts it, any such unilateral decision to sell is tantamount to calling the divorce lawyers. And by the way, if I hold onto full ownership and we split, she promises she’ll get what’s coming to her.


She will be HOMELESS if you leave.

I get that, although I wish she wasn’t so brutally blunt about it.

Was she brutally blunt the first time you discussed it? The second time she brought it up? A year later? Three years later? She's desperate to get you to act. Act! Stop keeping her in limbo. And don't blame your refusal to act on her tone of voice or choice of words.

I care for her and want to take care of her and give her everything in my will (we haven't done that yet),

Why not? Do it or tell her you won't. How can she plan for her own future with these empty promises from you?

but I don’t know if it’s fair or smart to gift her half of this valuable asset when there’s a chance we might not be together forever

BOOM! There's the lede, buried way down here. These are your wife's fears realized in your words. She's right. You are not committed to her and you could leave her at any time. It would not materially affect you in any way but it will profoundly, negatively affect her. Your passivity here is cruel.

Bottom line: I want to do the right thing for her, me, and us. Advice?

Commit or quit. She knows you're not all in. You show her that every day that you don't do your will, and every day that you don't ensure that her basic human needs are met by adding her to the title of the home she's shared with you and taken care of for years. And every day that you don't tell her you *won't* do those things, if in fact you don't intend to. You tell her every day, for uears, that her valid fears aren't important to you.

That would make me pretty angry too.

Treat her with the respect she deserves: address the issues she raises. Follow through on your promises. Leave if you want to. Be all in if you stay.
posted by headnsouth at 6:51 AM on September 7 [110 favorites]


Another thought: There was a point in my relationship some time ago where I felt that things were a little rocky. I was pretty mad about a lot of stuff. We had a big fight/talk and I came to the conclusion that I truly wanted to stay in this relationship and was happier in than out. After I came to that conclusion, a lot of the stuff that had frustrated me didn't frustrate me the same way. (Some of it was resolved and gone, some of it was long-term stuff that couldn't simply be waved away.) Really being clear about commitment to the relationship in both heart and mind changed my semi-conscious feelings and therefore my conscious experience.

If you're always thinking about divorce, vaguely dissatisfied, etc, things are going to annoy and frustrate you more than if you're committed.

I really recommend the old "what if things don't change in a year? In five years? In ten?" That clarified a lot for me, because my answer was basically, "I'd still rather be here even with the problems, even if there are the same problems in ten years."

If you're half in and half out, you're getting the worst of both worlds.
posted by Frowner at 7:19 AM on September 7 [30 favorites]


She’s an adult but is behaving like a child. I would divorce her, one of the reasons being that you have a fundamental disagreement on how to handle financial matters.
posted by kinoeye at 7:41 AM on September 7


This seems like a chicken and egg problem; we don't know if the issues in your relationship were caused by you having outsized financial control and not being fully committed to the relationship, or if there were pre-existing issues in your relationship which made you reluctant to fully commit to sharing financially because the relationship seemed shaky. At the end of the day, maybe it doesn't matter how you got to where you are. You're in a relationship which has serious problems and it would be unwise to hand over the keys to half the kingdom now. Press the point of working on the relationship with your wife. If she's unwilling to go to counseling, that's a clue right there which direction this relationship is heading. If you've able to resolve your relationship issues for a period of time, then you can think about adjusting the ownership of the house. Maybe tweaking the will right now while retaining ownership of the house would be a good gesture- it will make your wife feel more secure, yet won't really impact things if you split in the near future.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 7:48 AM on September 7 [6 favorites]


It sounds like day-to-day, you're walking on eggshells to avoid periodic bounds of temper. On a larger scale, you’re also locked into avoiding the inevitable conflict of ending your marriage. What catastrophe will it take to bump that over the edge? Imagine that one of you were to get a cancer diagnosis? Listen to whatever your gut is telling you and move on that. It’ll be better for both of you in the long run.

It's clear that you're going to owe her something. Pay for an hour with a divorce lawyer NOW to see where you stand. Staying any longer will only mean that you'll be responsible for more and longer spousal support. In some places, depending on her age, that could mean perpetual support. 10 years can turn into 20 years in about a third the time you think it will.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:49 AM on September 7 [3 favorites]


From a strictly financial standpoint, it would be a terrible idea to put her name on the deed of a house, especially if there's a mortgage and it's only in your name. Yes, she's almost certainly entitled to half of the appreciation in case of divorce, but re-titling it will make what would be a moderately complex legal issue into a much more complex and possibly bog-like legal issue.

If the issue were only the house, it would be reasonable to do something like refinance into both your names, or have a postnuptial agreement that address the equity you put in from your inheritance. But it sounds like the cracks in your marriage go much deeper and that this is only the current manifestation of those problems. In that context, re-titling the house to save the marriage seems about as likely to work as having a baby to save the marriage usually does.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 8:25 AM on September 7 [9 favorites]


It would never occur to me to cite supporting my husband, when he had no income, as generosity. To me, that’s the basic bare minimum of marriage.

That could depend on if he had little/no income because of a mutual agreement between you or circumstances outside his control. If he unilaterally decided to keep a low paying job or quit it entirely you might feel differently.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:44 AM on September 7 [7 favorites]


I think if you bought the home after the marriage you need to put her name on it but I would think she's entitled to half all the property acquired after the marriage even if her name isn't on it, but IANAL. But whatever she's entitled to due to divorce or your death is not the issue here. She's telling you she has a right to be an equal in this marriage with respect to property and she's correct. Marriages are a legal contract with special rights and legalities, otherwise they wouldn't be recognized by the legal system at all. If you want to be in a spiritual partnership only, then make that happen, but for now you are in a legally binding contract with the state that you recognize and gain benefit from a legal union. The more personal side to this is that you both have insecurities that are motivating your decisions. I don't see that you need to get a divorce, as you are both working toward a solution and a deal breaker was not presented in your post. Are you both willing to negotiate this to a resolution, to be friends who treat each other with respect? If not, then you just have a shitty life! Who wants a shitty life? People who treat each other with little regard and put their petty property rights ahead of their happiness (I'm talking to both of you here). You're both being petty and missing the big picture. Meditate on it, give each other space to figure this out without pressure. You both have a right to leave the relationship but is that what you really want?
posted by waving at 9:06 AM on September 7 [1 favorite]


Isn't any asset your acquired during marriage joint property anyway?
posted by Dansaman at 9:06 AM on September 7 [1 favorite]


Do NOT give her ownership to avoid conflict. It won't fix whatever else is wrong with your marriage. They'll still be there once her name is on the title.

You bought it with your inheritance money. YOU inherited that. She didn't. You have the right to feel protective of it. Even if your marriage were amazing and this wasn't red flag.

Regardless, seek an attorney in your area first. That property might already be considered community property, but likely it isn't.

and what The Elusive Architeuthis said.
posted by Neekee at 9:45 AM on September 7 [4 favorites]


You guys are married, but you're not partners.

Do you want your wife to have equal say in your lives together? If so, try a new counsellor together. If not, it's time to pull the plug.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:07 AM on September 7 [8 favorites]


I have no expertise in this area, though I am in a difficult in some ways similar relationship myself. I think therapy (which I have suggested in my situation but has not happened), is the best way to clear the air. (I am the conflict-avoidant one though. Well. We both are.)

I have to say the answers in this thread have been enlightening. Those that jump to your side. Those that jump to her side. Unfortunately because we only know what you've told us, we're all just guessing. A therapist would get both sides. Both equally valid sides.

In my own case I see my partner as pretty selfish. I feel he doesn't think of other people much, or put himself in their shoes, or just be willing to spend much of his time in support of someone else. There could be a million reasons for this. People are so goddamn complicated.

The "generous" comment was the worst, for me. You must not know how that sounds. Maybe think about how that sounds? Offhand do you do any shopping or cleaning or looking after pets or thinking of your wife and doing nice things for her once in a while? You might! I don't know you. Do you think money is more valuable than time? By how much? Also, why?
posted by Glinn at 10:18 AM on September 7 [9 favorites]


Just giving title to assets to a spouse when you are by any number of measures close to divorce appears to be a bad idea. Nthing the statement above that there is zero likelihood that giving title will remediate any of the problems in the marriage.

For what it's worth, your wife probably would be awarded a significant share of the equity in divorce. While you have protection on the down-payment that you inherited, the equity that derives from appreciation in market value and amortization in mortgage principal amount during the marriage is likely 50/50, and your share could be further deprecated by it having been the marital home for an extended period of time to which your wife contributed tangibly and intangibly. See a lawyer in your county to find out better.
posted by MattD at 10:21 AM on September 7 [2 favorites]


I recommend reading up about what makes relationships successful, or not. I think your relationship is lacking in fundamental ways, the finances being a blatant symptom. It's potentially salvageable if both of you choose to change.
posted by theora55 at 11:11 AM on September 7 [2 favorites]


Spouse and I own our houses separately, because we each owned them before we got married and re-titling them post marriage would have required remortgaging them, which did not make financial sense. We do have transfer-on-death instruments for both properties because it effectively creates a joint title (subject to existing mortgages) without probate or transfer costs et cetera. Neither of us, under any circumstances, would even think we could sell without talking to the other person and making a mutual decision. Because that is what a partnership is, married or not.

We also keep our finances separate--to the extent that our paychecks go into the accounts we had before marriage and we mostly each pay our own bills. But, again, we're listed as joint holders on every account each of us has. Again, because we're partners.

You are withholding security from your wife in fact by withholding ownership of the house, and in symbol by withholding ownership of the joint home. It's probably not the reason why your marriage is dysfunctional, and it probably won't cure the apparent lack of trust between you, but from the outside, it looks pretty cruel.
posted by crush at 11:50 AM on September 7 [26 favorites]


When it comes to questions of house ownership and who has what rights, you will get a wide variety of responses because everyone has a different opinion or take or advice. It's a contentious issue. The only person who can truly help you sort this matter is a lawyer. A lawyer, and after that, a therapist.
posted by Crystal Fox at 11:58 AM on September 7


Our finances have always been separate, although I contribute more than she does to our joint expenses and pay the mortgage (I make more than she does). I like being generous; for 5+ years she made little to no income and I paid for everything; I also contributed to an IRA in her name.

Money is only one way of accounting for the value a person put into the relationship. During the five years your wife made little to no income, did she cook for you? Clean? Improve the house? Be home to accept a delivery when you couldn’t? Keep up family or friend relationships for you two as a couple, or even more so with her in laws?

Because if you are at the point of doing a numerical accounting of who contributed what, then (a) get divorced already and (b) your wife’s non monetary contributions also have value. What would you have had to pay someone to cook, clean, manage your relationships, improve your house, etc?

She may not have been doing paid work, but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t doing labor. It isn’t being “generous” to compensate her, even monetarily, for the value of that labor.

If you two aren’t willing to go to couples counseling, then it’s time for you to see a lawyer who will explain the laws in your state about what chunk of the house is hers already. You can then start planning your futures as separate adults.
posted by nat at 12:24 PM on September 7 [14 favorites]


Are you a spouse or a landlord? I know which one I’d rather be married to.
posted by 41swans at 3:52 PM on September 7 [18 favorites]


Isn't any asset your acquired during marriage joint property anyway?

I believe this only happens in community property states, but I don’t know for sure.
posted by bendy at 4:45 PM on September 7


So here’s the thing: you’re saying you own the house, but it could be that she legally does too, because you bought it when you were married to her, regardless of the fact that you keep your finances separate. It’s likely worth it for you to figure this out because your whole framing seems antagonistic and may not be based on the law. So talk to a lawyer in your state.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:15 PM on September 7 [5 favorites]


It doesn't sound like you're married so much as in a hostile roommate situation where she yells and you avoid, you try to solve problems and she insists she's too busy. That couples therapy didn't go well sounds like at least one of you isn't into solving the problems you have together. It also sounds like she's taking it for granted that you supported her when she wasn't working, paid into an IRA, and pay more of the bills now. I know that a lot of people have said here that this is just what it means to be a spouse, but I know that I would never take it for granted. I also know a lot of couples where one owns the house and the other pays rent, because that's what works for them.

There are a lot of red flags in your post and I know we're getting the short, short version. Why do you want to stay in this relationship?
posted by bile and syntax at 9:41 AM on September 8 [4 favorites]


Sell the house you're in & buy a new one together that is both of yours that you decide on together. If you decide you want to stay together.

As someone that married a conflict averse person that never had anger issues until she was married, dealing with someone that won't deal with anything is the more frustrating that you can imagine & led to me getting angry a lot at seemingly small things because getting angry was the only thing that would get any sort of reaction no matter how small out of him. It was a hugely unhealthy arrangement. It took a lot of work on both our parts to get passed this dysfunctional behaviour, you both need to do that work. You need to look at why you are keeping all the power by not discussing things & making sure you have one foot out the door at all times by being able to sell the house out from under her so she's using the threat of divorce to try & rebalance things. She needs to learn to deal with her frustration & you both need to learn to say to each other these things and find middle ground. You need to find the us in the relationship.

The whole relationship sounds like you are both keeping your options open. Which is fine, as your therapist said not all relationships have to look the same, but both people in the relationship need to agree on it.
posted by wwax at 9:53 AM on September 9 [6 favorites]


Didn't even need to read the comments to say - divorce right now, portion out what's due, remarry with a very solid prenup if you want to keep this marriage. There's a big glaring "RESET" button right there, and you don't have to stew in toxic anger about it. Letting that anger fester is the last thing you want to do in a marriage. When I divorced, there were no asset disputes, because I wasn't about to stay in that soup. She didn't care about what was fair to me at all. Fine then - keep the stuff, but get away from me.

It's unequal, and if she wants it to be equal, she'll make it FULLY equal, with a well-designed prenup that protects both of you, after you both have the divorce talk and very detailed apportionment of assets that entails, and then remarry with a prenup that feels fair. If this is an issue you have, solve it permanently so you can have a healthy relationship. If that's too much for her, this isn't a partnership, you're in the wrong relationship, and "permanent damage" will result either way.
posted by saysthis at 5:53 AM on September 10


Sell the house you're in & buy a new one together that is both of yours that you decide on together. If you decide you want to stay together.

This isn't a terrible idea. Take the inheritance, put it in the bank somewhere earning interest, and then get a joint mortgage like the rest of us non-inheritors do.

There's just something really unworkable about expecting her to polish the floors and clean out the gutters and hang curtains for an asset that she doesn't share in the ownership.
posted by salvia at 12:06 AM on September 11 [6 favorites]


Part of me doesn’t want to give up the power to sell

I'm assuming you are in the US since you mention an IRA.

You're married. Any title company that is competent will require your wife to sign a quitclaim deed. Though perhaps you could perhaps find someone who will be willing to pay far under market price to take the risk that your wife might have a claim against the property -- perhaps if you ask for about 40% of market value you could find someone willing to do that.

There are ways to keep your real property sole and separate, but you would have had to (ahem) be smart from the very beginning as far as how you structured the ownership of the property, ANY improvements or repairs made, etc. Oh, and you'd need to have this as an investment property, not the home you live in with your wife. People who do this sort of thing make sure their spouse never purchases so much as a light bulb that goes in the house.

And if you knew how to do all this, you would have asked a different sort of question. It seems like you aren't even aware of the differences between a tenants in common form of ownership and joint ownership.

You have far, far less of this "power to sell" than you think you have. What you have is an illusion of power, and you are making decisions based on that.

You should either talk to a real estate lawyer about how much power you ACTUALLY have to sell this house (perhaps your state is different?), forms of ownership, the possibility of adding your wife, and what form of ownership would be most appropriate -- or you should talk to a divorce lawyer about how to protect your assets. Or perhaps both.
posted by yohko at 5:10 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


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