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TODAY contributor
updated 1/7/2009 5:43:52 PM ET 2009-01-07T22:43:52

Q. I have been engaged for a year and a half to a wonderful woman. We share a lot in common in values, likes and tastes. I moved in with her and her two daughters at the time she lost her full-time job. She took a part-time job and we discussed the need for both of us to contribute to the bills to make ends meet.

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Several months later, she lost the part-time job, which left me as the sole support for the household. At the time, we discussed her desire to stay home for the summer to spend time with the girls.

Fast-forward to the end of summer, with the kids going back to school. She has started to do some contract work to earn a few dollars. At the same time, she has come up with a great idea for an Internet business and has been devoting a lot of time researching everything associated with the startup. During this time, money has been invested (her credit card and my paying it off) to get things going. Last week she came home with the LLC organization papers filled out in her name only.

I asked why she wouldn’t put both of us on the papers, and she said she had been advised not to include any partners — especially not a spouse. I asked how she would pay for the continuing startup expenses, and she replied that she would use the money from the contract work. I don’t see a difference between her helping with the household bills and asking me to put more money in the business, versus her continuing to ask me to pay all the household bills while she starts a business that she doesn’t want me a part of.

Am I off-base to feel taken advantage of? I am certainly feeling varying definitions of what this marriage partnership will be like. Am I overreacting?

A. No, you are not off-base and you are not overreacting. Marriage is a partnership that includes financial aspects. If you decide together that one person is staying home to rear the children, then that is a shared plan — call it a “life plan,” if you wish.

In your case, your fiancee isn’t setting up a shared plan when it comes to the business. It’s understandable that you are concerned she doesn’t want you as a business partner.

But at this point, you need to find out more.

This could be driven by the trauma of your fiancee’s job losses. It can be not just frightening but devastating to go through such loss. She may be setting up this business in an attempt to gain control. She could make a valid case that this is her idea and her effort so she will make all business decisions.

You, of course, are perceiving her actions to say she doesn’t want you around — that she has an “all for me and none for you” mind-set.

And it is unclear why she wants to keep your name off the business. Does she want all the profits to go to her, but for you to pay all of the household bills, because she cannot otherwise afford to start the business? In other words, does she want you to subsidize her?

Or does she want to protect you from the risk of an uncertain business venture that might go down the tubes?

You need to find out what she is really saying. This business advice to keep a future spouse off the paperwork is unclear. What is the reason for this? Are there legalities you are not aware of?

You then need to explain to her why this feels hurtful to you. Is she glad for you to support her and her children, but not to be part of her business? This does seem to be skewed in her favor. It is a difficult way to enter a marriage, especially if you feel she is taking advantage of you or hiding something from you.

If, after finding out more about her reasoning, the conclusion is that she would like you to take care of her while she builds her business and pockets the profits, you should have serious reservations about entering into a marriage, which is both an emotional and financial partnership.

If she does see herself as entitled to such a big share of the pie, she is likely to shortchange you in other arenas as well.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: When it comes to pulling your financial weight in a marriage, an imbalance can cause huge resentment. Be clear about what you are doing and why.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to TODAY. Her latest book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie.” She is also the author of “Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts,” which helps parents deal with preschoolers’ questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, www.drgailsaltz.com.

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