Am I Wrong For Being Frustrated With My Fiancée?

Am I Wrong For Being Frustrated With My Fiancée?


Estimated reading time: 11 minutes

Dear Dr. NerdLove:

My fiancée and I have been living together for three years now, and in the span of those three years, I have been the primary breadwinner of our household. I recently got a big promotion at work and currently hold a salaried management position that, while not as high paying as some would expect, allows me to live comfortably.

My fiancée, on the other hand, continues to work in the same hourly position she has been at since we started dating. She hardly works overtime, making about half as much as I do weekly.

We had been looking at buying a home and have saved a significant amount for a downpayment. However, tackling such a huge responsibility as a mortgage would be like flying too close to the sun.

I have shared these frustrations with her, and she has answered that she is “working on it.” She has mentioned that seeking a promotion within her current work location is out of the question. The reason for this is that she is not interested in staying. Still, she has yet to look anywhere else for other opportunities. She volunteers once a week with a historical center to get some experience related to her Master’s, but she hasn’t taken it upon herself to network while there.

We recently spoke, and I mentioned that she seems to let life take its course and is too passive. I explained that it has been hard for me to see her not even look for opportunities and chase the “perfect job”.

Am I in the wrong for being frustrated about this?

Under Achiever

OK, I think there’re two different questions embedded in this, UA, and it’s important to pick them apart.  

Are you wrong for feeling frustrated is, in some ways, the wrong question. Your feelings are just that: feelings. They’re not right or wrong, they’re just what you’re currently experiencing. You can feel things without needing to assign a rightness or wrongness to those feelings.

Are you wrong for being frustrated because your fiancée doesn’t seem to have the level of ambition that you would like to see? Again, I don’t think that’s about being wrong or right; you can have different ideas about what would be the best course of action or the best path to take through life. You’re allowed to have disagreements and differences of opinion about people’s choices.

But that’s also why I think that maybe the problem here is that you’re asking the wrong question, and I think that focusing on the frustration is getting in the way of the actual issue.

I think part of the problem is that you aren’t saying what you’re actually feeling. It certainly seems like you’re trying to avoid saying it directly in this letter, which is what makes me wonder if you haven’t said it to her.

I don’t know if this is something that’s lurking in the back of your mind and you haven’t fully recognized it yet, or if you’re trying not to say it because you think it makes you an asshole or something, but it sounds to me like what you’re actually having an issue with is the feeling that your fiancée isn’t pulling her own weight in terms of shared expenses and financial obligations. If that’s what you’re actually asking, then you need to actually say that.

I do think it’s fair to say “I’d like it if you could contribute more to our shared expenses”, especially if you’re seriously looking at home ownership. Life has only gotten more expensive as time has gone on and God knows that even two incomes isn’t enough to buy a home most of the time. I think it’s entirely reasonable to ask someone that you’re building a life with to invest equitably to the life you share together. But it doesn’t sound like that’s what you’re saying, just what you’re implying. The subtext is kinda loud.

This is why my question to you is: if you really are asking for your fiancée to contribute more to the household expenses – and thus getting a better paying job so that she could –  have you actually said that to your fiancée? Have you told her that you’d like to have a more equitable division of costs and contributions, especially as you’re talking about making a massive financial investment together? Or did you frame it as wanting her to achieve more and accomplish more and how it frustrates you that she doesn’t? Because there’s a pretty significant difference between “hey, it frustrates me to see your potential going to waste” and “I feel like I’m paying a much bigger percentage of my income on both of us and I’d like it if you could contribute more”.

If you’re telling her the former, but meaning the latter, that’s going to cause a lot of confusion and miscommunication. If you mean “I want you to help pay more of the bills”, but  what you actually say to her is “It frustrates me to see you wasting time in this dead-end job when you’re capable of so much more”, it’s going to cause a serious disconnect.

Now, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that better paying jobs are available and that it would be possible for your fiancée to get one if she were to try. Instead, let’s focus on the fact that she doesn’t seem to be taking actual steps to do so.

(We’ll also leave aside things the inherent contradiction of “good paying job” and “involving her Masters of history”, which is making all the academics reading this double over with laughter.)

I think the approach you’ve been taking – telling her that it’s frustrating for you to see her just seeming to coast – isn’t helpful. This makes it more about you, rather than about her and her lack of action on the job hunt. Even if you’re trying to be supportive or encouraging, the focus is on your feelings rather than on the subject at hand – either her potential or her lack of progress towards another job. That’s not going to make it any easier to resolve this issue in a way that would help everyone. It’s not as though she’s not-looking-for-a-different-job at you… but the way you’re phrasing it certainly makes it sound like you think she is.

I think it would be better to take a different angle on this: what’s going on with her? As a general rule, when someone isn’t happy with a situation or talks about something needing to be different, but isn’t taking steps to change it, there’s something else in the mix. More often than not, there’s an underlying reason why they’re dragging their feet that’s more about internal matters rather than logistics. Sometimes it’s executive dysfunction. Sometimes it’s an emotional issue – and often having nothing to do with the change itself.

She may, for example, have been coming to the realization that maybe her dream job isn’t her dream any more and isn’t sure what her next steps are. Or she may be feeling depressed or helpless, or that there isn’t a point to trying to change. She may be burnt out – working a job you want to leave but can’t for some reason can do that to you. There may be other issues going on – people at the history center telling her that her field is a nightmare to find stable employment in, funds are getting cut, etc.

Or she might be hearing the subtext of your question and it’s kind of bumming her out. I can guarantee that she’s very aware of the income disparity between you, and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if that doesn’t give her at least some anxiety. Lots of people talk about gold-diggers, but the truth is that they’re rare. In fact, stupid rage-bait TikToks aside, most people actively want to avoid  being or feeling like freeloaders. Quite the opposite, actually; they want to feel like they’re contributing their share.  

Feeling like you’re not pulling your weight, especially when there’s a serious difference in income in a relationship, isn’t a great feeling under the best of circumstances. This is why it can feel especially shitty if it feels like the other person is calling attention to it without actually saying it. Nobody likes feeling like they’re being called a freeloader or a gold digger in general, but having it implied is almost worse. The passive-aggressiveness of it makes it feel extra-judgmental, a “but you already knew that, didn’t you?” that gets more and more corrosive over time. By framing it the way you seem to have, that may actually make her feel worse… and that’s more likely to demotivate someone than to encourage them. It certainly isn’t going to get her any closer to resolving whatever underlying issues may be getting in the way. 

So rather than framing this as your being frustrated by her action (or inaction, as the case may be), I think it would be more productive to “hey, I noticed that you haven’t made a lot of progress about getting out of this job you dislike. What’s going on?” The key is that rather than expressing how frustrated it makes you feel, you’re expressing concern. Instead of reinforcing feelings that she’s not pulling her weight, you’re saying that you’re wanting to extend your hand in assistance if she needs it. By focusing on how she’s feeling and the help she may want or need, you’re not inadvertently implying that she’s a failure or a fuck-up. Instead, you’re saying “shit seems hard, what’s the best way for me to support you in this?”

I would also suggest that you focus on just listening and being receptive to what she says. There’s going to be a lot of temptation to interject or to try to solve the problem yourself. This would be a mistake. The odds are good that your fiancée knows what she needs to do or at least the general direction. She’s going to have a better idea of the sort of help and support she could use, and it’ll be better and more effective to let her direct what efforts are needed and where. 

But again: the first step to any of this is going to be to actually say what you mean, simply and directly. There’re ways of saying “I think paying a mortgage would be prohibitively expensive with the way we’re currently dividing the bills, so if we do this, I can’t be paying it all on my own” without making her feel bad or sounding like an asshole about it, but you still need to say it.

The frustration you feel isn’t bad or wrong, and I don’t think it’s necessarily misdirected. But I think that the way you’re going about having these discussions with your fiancée isn’t helping either of you. Focus on how she’s feeling in general as well as with what’s going on with her and her current job, and how you can support her trying to find a different one. It’ll be more productive overall, and it’ll make you both happier in the long run.

Good luck.

Hi Dr. Nerdlove,

I wrote to you in January 2023 ( regarding a difficult time in my marriage. I wanted to send an update and thank you for your input.

In your response, you wrote, “you and your husband want to remind yourselves that you’re in this together as a team, and you’ll get through it because you’re a team. You’re functionally telling yourself to look not for signs of damage, but for ways that the two of you to come together and figure things out together”.

That bit of advice shifted our entire lives. I realized that I fostered a deeply rooted belief that I had to rely on myself to get through difficult times. Every time my husband and I encountered a challenge, I would tell myself that he didn’t know what needed to be done, and that I had to do it alone. If we differed on visions of the future, I felt that I had to navigate us forward, because I couldn’t trust him to shoulder that burden. He sensed how little I valued his contributions and grew resentful, resulting in not wanting to put a huge effort into our shared responsibilities or our relationship. We were pulling away from each other little by little, every day.

When you said I should view my husband and I as a team, I realized how far I had let my internal narratives drag me from our shared reality. And, as soon as I realized that I was allowing those destructive stories control me, they unraveled.

I could see a clear line from my childhood and adolescent experiences to the present, where I was sabotaging my relationship to relive those traumas.

So, I developed a mantra, “We are in this together. We are a team” based on your feedback. When a challenge arose, minor or major, I would mentally recite it over and over. The tone of our conversations shifted almost immediately, and, over time, we started to seek out discussion as a means of navigating challenges, just like the early days of our relationship, when it was “us against the world.”

Reading my letter from last year, I am shocked by how much things have changed. My husband’s business is continuing to grow, and he’s found new ways to generate income through side hustles. He is feeling more valued and confident, which has helped our sex life immensely. We initiated “happy hour meetings” every Friday to discuss our social calendar, life responsibilities, finances, and future plans. We look forward to meeting at our favorite pub after work on Fridays and talking about life, and we feel so much more aligned on a daily basis.

We’re still dealing with challenging family situations, a house that needs some work, and lingering uncertainty about our future, but, somehow, it doesn’t feel like an overwhelming weight anymore. My husband and I are finally pulling in the same direction, making the burden so much lighter.

Thank you again for sharing your wisdom and thoughtful advice – it was truly a catalyst for change in our lives.

No Longer Snowbound!

Hey, thanks for writing back and letting us know how things are going! The regular check-ins to talk about life, the universe and everything sounds like an excellent call for the two of you.

I’m glad things have been getting better for you, so fingers crossed that you two pull through these challenges together, soon!