First priorities ILLUSTRATION: Tim Furey

First priorities

Don’t let questions over money ruin a second shot at happiness

By Patti Carmalt-Vener 09/15/2011

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­­Dear Patti,
Although I swore I’d never remarry after my horrific divorce, I am now engaged to a divorced man. We each have children from our prior marriages and, in spite of the fact that I’m realistic about the challenges of blended families, I truly love this man and his children and very much want all of us to be happy together.

While I have no problem giving my whole self to this new equation, I feel guilty because I have issues concerning money. My fiancé, Blake, was wiped out financially by his ex-wife. I don’t mind working hard and sharing my earnings, and I have also inherited some money of my own that I want to keep for my children. (Blake’s children will also be provided for by their mother.) My concern is that I don’t want my children to be compromised because of my commitments.

My parents are no longer alive, but I feel like they’d be upset with me if I didn’t set aside their money for their grandchildren’s future. It’s difficult to discuss this with Blake, because he’s so good to my kids and when he talks about supporting the family he always includes my children. I don’t want him to think I’m selfish but I just can’t help feeling my kids are my first priority. I also don’t ever want to be thought of as a wicked stepmother, so any thoughts you have would be appreciated. ~Martha

Dear Martha,

For remarried couples, issues concerning money are second only to divided loyalty problems involving their children. Financial discord in blended families is common and largely arises from circumstances such as grandparents doting on their “own” loved ones to the exclusion of step-siblings, resentments stemming from a reduced standard of living or a new partner moving into the home previously occupied by an ex and unable to afford the redecorating necessary to define his or her own personality.

Challenges may also emerge with living arrangements when children become vocal about which parent they want to move in with or whose rules of conduct should prevail. The ability to embrace flexibility and not lose sense of the bigger picture is essential in maintaining a healthy balance between what’s right for each individual and what’s right for the whole family.

Given your apprehensions about financial issues, my recommendation is to calmly discuss them before they have the chance to escalate and continue this dialogue as new questions come up. Be honest with Blake and encourage him to be honest with you. Frankly discuss your concerns regarding your inheritance as well as any other assets that you’re bringing to the marriage. Openly review your respective incomes, outstanding debts and financial responsibilities including alimony, child support and life/health/disability insurance. Examine the pros and cons of having individual and/or joint bank accounts. Decide where you want to live and whether you should rent or buy. Estate planning, wills and trusts will need to be spelled out as well.

If this is a sticky point which ignites issues of commitment and trust, it’s important to learn how to handle these concerns sooner rather than later. Conversations between the two of you about money may be unsettling and demanding at first but will also be some of your most important conversations. Be clear and candid in stating your feelings, but also respect your mate for being the kind of man who fulfills his obligations and honors his commitments.  

As you move forward, remember to always take care of your partner and your marriage, both of which will have to be strong enough and wise enough to take care of your ready-made family. Make time for each other. Respect all the children’s relationships with their other parents. Keep an individualized relationship with each of your own children to assure them that no one can ever take their place. Think about the wedding vows you’re about to make. You have a right to another chance at love. Try not to lose sight of the love that brought you together in the first place.

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email Visit her Web site:



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