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Life My boyfriend wants to break up over the grocery bill

Group Therapy is a relationship advice column that asks readers to contribute their wisdom. Each week we offer up a problem for you to weigh in on, then publish the most lively responses, with a final word on the matter delivered by our columnist Lynn Coady.

A reader writes: My boyfriend of two years has told me he wants to break up because I am causing him to go into debt. He pays child support to his ex (as he should), kept his apartment (he says he needs the space for the kids to visit five days a month), has cancelled his phone, cable and Internet, and pays minimal hydro on his place. Why? Because he stays at my place for the remaining 25 days.

He has been paying for our food, a few things here and there, but had a fit last week and accused me of mooching off him because I have not offered to pay for half of the food. When I explained that I pay for all the hydro, cable, Internet, phone, maintenance and the mortgage, he said I should not expect him to pay for any of this, nor all of the food. He claims to have spoiled me and says no man would do what he has done. I'm thinking of kicking him out.

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DISCUSS YOUR FUTURE

What's making your boyfriend go broke is the fact that he is living two lives: his life with you, and a separate bubble he has created for him and his children that does not include you. Where is the plan for the future? Instead of bickering about who pays for the corn flakes, you should both think about what it would be like if you lived together full time, and his kids were part of the mix. If you can see this, then the money problems will become less important. If you cannot see this, perhaps it's time to get out of Dodge.

-Craig Cherrie, Toronto

HE'S GOT BILLS, TOO

It seems one-sided to state that the boyfriend's being unfair in wanting to split the food bills. The bottom line is he, too, has to pay monthly fees on his place, just like you. Are you willing to have his kids do the monthly visiting in your place? If so, then perhaps examine why you're maintaining two places. If not, then perhaps you should do basic math. Record the monthly food bills, and compare them to the utilities differences. He's probably paying more per month than you.

But in the end, if you don't want to be part of his kids' life by having them stay at your place (if that's possible), and you feel that he should still contribute to your mortgage, then go your own ways. You've unequal and imbalanced expectations.

-Bill Thompson, Vancouver

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SCRAM, AND DON'T LOOK BACK

Why haven't you kicked him out already??? He'd have to buy groceries even if he wasn't spending 83 per cent of his time living under your roof, using your Internet, cable, phone and electricity, and drinking/bathing/doing his laundry with the water you paid for. Maybe not as many groceries, but unless you've acquired a filet mignon and imported cheese habit, they'd still cost money. He's right in saying that "no man would do as he has done" - most real men would insist on paying their fair share of the mortgage and utilities. Yes, kick him out. This immature spoiled brat will then realize that it was his own mismanagement that put him into debt, not you.

-Rhoda Potter, Calgary

THE FINAL WORD

Ah, love and money - or, as I like to call them: the Toxic Twins. It's understandable that your boyfriend might worry your arrangement is less-than-equitable - such concerns arise in resource-sharing relationships all the time.

What's not okay is the crass, nasty way he expressed this fear. That's what has Rhoda from Calgary in such a fine lather on your behalf. To call you a "moocher" implies you have been deliberately siphoning his resources; luxuriating in your well-stocked larder on his dime, glorying in bowl after bowl of free cereal, one slice after another of toast piled high with extravagant sandwich fixin's. He has delivered you a very low blow in dropping the M-bomb, and you have every right to be steamed.

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But let's take a step back and recall what a crazy-making influence the Toxic Twins can have. Conflicts over money constitute one of the top reasons couples go boom. Money is our life's blood, and when we fear someone we trust has been carelessly tapping our veins for their own sustenance, we feel violated. We get defensive and irrational.

That word "carelessly" is the real detonator - your boyfriend had a moment when he felt, however wrong-headedly, that you were taking advantage of him. He was hurt, lashed out and spread the pain around.

In the early stages of coupledom, it feels courtly to pick up the occasional bill, but it's far too easy to fall into offhand patterns that leave someone feeling stiffed. I therefore offer one of those pieces of advice that everyone knows they should follow and almost never does: If your relationship involves any kind of expense-sharing, it's crucial you plan this out together, and agree on who pays what in advance, just as our pragmatic friend Bill suggests. It's tedious to keep track of bills, and God knows I'm the last person to recommend the healing power of math - but math is what's required.

Yes, it's unromantic and no fun, but so is screaming at each other. Craig from Toronto asks: Where is your plan for the future?

But I have to wonder: How about your plan for right now?

Lynn Coady is the award-winning author of the novels Strange Heaven and Mean Boy, with another one currently in the oven.

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A reader writes: My wife and I have been married for 15 years and together for 22. We are in our 40s, and it has come to the point where affection and sex are rare occurrences. I'm not sure if I even like her that much any more, and it would not surprise me if she felt the same way about me. We are both intelligent people, but we don't or won't take any measures to improve our relationship. It seems time has taken its toll on us and we don't have the desire to improve things. Our children keep us together as we are firm believers in the family unit and both of us know the importance of two parents in the home. She is an excellent mother and keeps our hectic household in order. Life is tolerable, but we are cheating ourselves here. How do we find "love" again and how do we both commit to this hunt at the same time?

Let's hear from you

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