I recently met a friend for lunch who I hadn’t seen much of since she got remarried about 18 months ago. After I caught her up on what was new with me, I asked how married life was going? Her face fell, and she replied, “Let’s talk about you.”
I probed more. They had faced several very significant challenges in the short time they have been married. He changed jobs. She tore her ACL and had to have knee surgery. He had been battling with a mysterious recurring sickness and was laid off from his job because of time off work. Then the worst blow — her mom, who she was extremely close to, died suddenly from a brain aneurism. It had been a bad, bad year plus.
On top of all that, she was about to get an inheritance from her mother’s estate and it was causing issues between her and her spouse. My friend is very thrifty and money conscious, where her husband is more laxidasical and has had trouble with debt before. As she talked I could tell there was a real power struggle going on between them over finances.
We agreed, when we both married young the first time, nobody had any assets they felt they needed to protect. Everyone was broke, and it all got built from the ground up. Back then what was mine was yours and what was yours was mine. Joint accounts, joint property ownership, joint everything.
Unfortunately, that joint everything became “half mine, half yours” after both of our divorces. Her husband had also been through that experience. She has one child, he has none. At 45, life is more complex than it was at 22. So they entered into their second marriage as many couples do, what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours.
Or, it sounds like that’s what she wants it to be. It sounds like he would prefer more of an “ours” model. This feels threatening to her because while he has the better paying job, she was the one who had a house (at the time they married it was underwater in equity, it is now back at market value plus her sizable down payment.) Her plan, before marriage, was to leave everything to her son, including the house.
And now there is a chunk of change coming in too from the sale of her mother’s estate, split between her and her brother. She didn’t say how much, but I would guess it is around a quarter mil. She’s the executor of her mom’s estate and has been dealing with some very yucky family dynamics as relatives came out of the wood works demanding “their share.” She’s understandably paranoid.
As I listened to her talk, I could tell that she had been keeping her husband out of any of the inheritance discussions. She considers this money “hers” and her plan is to sock it away for retirement, pretend it doesn’t exist.
He’s hurt by not being included, and feels the money should be “theirs.” He says that’s his plan when he gets his inheritance.
Then she dropped the bomb, she was considering a divorce before the inheritance is settled as the solution!
Wow. My red pill knowledge kicked into high gear. Frivorce, AFBB, hypergamy, solopism, all of it was right there front and center. She had been struggling financially when they met, barely making the bills. She welcomed him then. Now that she has a better job and this windfall, maybe she doesn’t need him anymore? I could see the hamster wheel spinning!
So I asked a few more questions. Was he physically abusive? No. Was he emotionally abusive? No. Was he cheating? No. Did he have an active addiction? No.
Then I said it. “So you got into this thinking forever or….?”
I don’t think that was what she was expecting me to say.
She paused, then she whispered, “Forever.”
“Ok then.” I said. “So let’s stop talking about divorce, and start talking about how you guys can work through this.”
It was obvious to me the problems wasn’t that she wanted to keep the money, or that he wanted to share it, but that they didn’t agree on it one way or another. I took a devil’s advocate role, voicing some of what I imagined her husband must be feeling (and I am sure it isn’t good!) I gently pointed out that maybe she was still thinking like a single person. Maybe she should at least include him in on the discussions about the money. Sit down, each with a piece of paper, and say in each of their ideal world’s what they would propose they do with it.
Ak. Communicate? She was obviously uncomfortable at the thought of that discussion. Then it came out, she wasn’t communicating much of any of this with him, she was having most of this discussion in her own head. And *bingo* that was a problem she had had in relationships before.
We talked about her mom, and what her mom might want her to do. I pointed out that the inheritance was a generous gift, meant to be a blessing, not a burden. And that I could understand why she wanted to tuck the money away, her mom was trying to make her life easier and more stable by leaving her that money.
We talked about some advice I had seen years earlier by the female financial guru Suze Orman. It was a question much like this, what to do with an inheritance? Orman’s recommendation was to take a set amount and spend it on something that would bring joy, as a way to celebrate the gift this person had given. Then put the rest away. Orman pointed out, otherwise in most cases, an inheritance is gone within a year with little to show for it in the end. My friend liked the sound of that.
As we talked further, my friend revealed she and her husband had not gone away together, alone, since they married. Her teenage son, who has a schedule packed with sports events that take up most weekends, lives with them. And they had also taken in her husband’s best friend’s teenage daughter, while he worked two week on, one week off shifts in Alaska. (The girl’s mom is a drug addict and not in the picture.)
Ah ha, it suddenly came to me! How about a vacation, alone, just the two of them, as the way to spend the part of the inheritance to bring joy? And not one big vacation, but 6 smaller weekend getaways spaced out over the coming year. And then maybe 6 additional weekend trips as a family?
(I wish I could say this was my idea. But it’s not. This is something my fiance told me was a requirement soon after we started dating, he would insist on us getting away once a month, alternating between family trips and couple’s time. I own a business that operates weekends, so I had not been away anywhere in a long, long time. At first it was hard to leave, but in the end he was so right! We’ve already gone on many fun adventures with the kids and by ourselves and that time away is always such a time of bonding. Now, I can’t wait for that one weekend a month!)
She liked it. The rest of our lunch went well and I could tell she was feeling a lot more hopeful about things than when she walked in. I hope she stops obsessing over the thought of divorce as a solution, and starts working with her husband to come up with something that feels right to them both. She’s a good person, who has been through a huge loss. I get how she could go there. But I hope she doesn’t.
After we parted ways with plans to get together in a few weeks, I met up with my fiance and shared what all had gone on. It was a great opportunity for him and I to discuss some financial details we hadn’t really gone deeply into. We’re still having that discussion, how do two people who have taken the divorce hit and have assets we fear to lose again, build a life together? And what about our children, and what we want to do for them? (He has 3, I have 2.) Will it be yours, mine, and ours? Yours and mine? Ours? We haven’t fully decided but we are discussing the pros and cons of each approach.
They say money is a leading cause of divorce, and I believe it. Money and the way we view it and allocate it are deeply rooted things. Yes. Money matters. But should it be a reason to divorce?
“For richer and for poorer, till death do we part.”
Let those who have ears hear.