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Seething at fiance over fiscal lecture

Dear Carolyn: My fiance and I just combined our finances. I'm coming into the marriage with a small savings account and a small credit card debt that I'll finish paying off in March. He has a bigger savings account and student loans.

Since combining things three weeks ago, he's been making comments about my finances. We make the same amount of money, but since he has a bigger savings account, he keeps asking rhetorically where all my money goes. He has also explained to me several times why credit card debt is bad. Last night he sat me down and explained how anxious he is about my spending habits.

I am completely embarrassed and angry over his reaction to all of this. (My credit is stellar and his isn't great. I also am now paying half of his $30,000-plus grad school loans.) We rarely fight, and I am just livid over this turn of events. How do people do this and find peace with the whole thing?

-- Anonymous

A: They talk. They listen. They figure out where their own beliefs and priorities lie, and where their partners' do. They identify differences. Then they bend where they feel they can, stand firm where they feel they must, and take it from there.

Your fiance blew that when he started hitting you with backhanded comments. That was just lame.

However, he corrected himself somewhat when he finally spelled out that he is worried about your spending habits.

It doesn't sound as if you spelled out your worries about him in return. If your response to this sit-down was to skulk off and seethe, then you're falling short of the find-peace-with-it standard, too.

And even if you protested the way he characterized your money skills at the time, you still need to call your own sit-down to explain that your frustration is now fully formed: You're not only embarrassed about being treated as financially incompetent, but also livid at bringing your money to his loans and your superior credit rating to his future, only to be treated as a threat or a burden to his financial health.

Include the fact that you didn't appreciate his backhanded comments that led up to the sit-down, like a trail of judgmental bread crumbs. This isn't just financial groundwork, but communication groundwork you're laying. You need to let him know where you draw the line between expressing concern about a difficult topic, and unfair criticism.

In other words: You talk, you listen, you assess, you adjust. Please aim to find both a philosophical middle ground on the money/criticism issues, and practical ones that act as guardrails to keep you in that middle -- be it separate accounts, allotments of discretionary money for you both, or whatever else appeals.

I suggest a premarriage workshop (www.smartmarriages.com).

e-mail: tellme@washpost.com

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