It’s hard to think of February without thinking of Valentine’s Day. While I largely boycott this overly consumerist holiday, I can’t escape the fact that February always makes me think of love and money. I guess that is what twenty years of writing about money will do to you!
This February, however, I have entirely new thoughts about the role money plays in relationships. My husband and I have been married for more than twenty-two years. And all throughout our relationship, I have been the one in our household who has managed all things financial. This decision was mutual from early on: clearly, personal finance is my area of expertise, and he was never all that interested. As a result, we fell into a satisfactory pattern of me ruling the roost, so to speak, when it came to the household finances.
About a week ago or so, I had the epiphany that this has been a mistake. Not a life-threatening or extremely grave mistake, but an error, nonetheless. Let me give some background.
How couples deal with money
Most often, couples divide financial tasks based on interest level and skills. This might manifest as one spouse handling the day-to-day finances, while the other one handles the bigger picture things such as investments, taxes, and insurance. In my financial planning practice, I would say it is most common among our clients to see at least some sharing of the household financial responsibilities.
In other situations, including my household, there is one spouse who is the dominant financial person. He or she handles almost every aspect of the couple’s financial life. This is often totally amenable to the non-financial spouse (for lack of a better term), as sometimes people simply dislike dealing with money.
My counsel to people in that situation has always been to make sure that the non-financial spouse is kept in the loop. Having regular meetings to update him/her about how things are going is a must. This is the way my husband and I dealt with it. With some regularity, I would give him updates on where we stood financially.
Identifying the mistake
I realize now that this was a mistake, and a two-decade-long mistake at that. In retrospect, there should have been more cohesion to our goal setting and financial management. Instead, I think it is fair to say that OUR financial goals were really mostly MY financial goals, packaged as what was best for the household.
This is not to say I was deceitful; quite the opposite – I’m a straight-shooter, an open and honest person. Objectively, it might seem as though I was manipulative, but that was never in my mind. Rather, I was following my own advice and getting our household on a regime that would lead to financial success.
And we HAVE been successful. But that doesn’t change the fact that reaching our financial goals wasn’t entirely a joint effort. Sure, we were both following the “prescription” to get to the goal, but we weren’t jointly mentally and emotionally engaged in the goal.
Oh, the irony
The irony here is that earlier this month, Greg and I decided to end our marriage. It’s totally amicable, and so far, all is going well. Our reasons didn’t include money, but of course, money always plays a major role in a divorce situation. The ironic part is that it took having the separation discussion for me to realize what a mistake it has been to shut him out of money decisions all along.
We’re rapidly working to correct course in that regard, I’m happy to say. As we work through the steps to function as independent people (both financially and otherwise), Greg is getting a crash course in money management.
Meanwhile, I am rapidly reformulating my thoughts for how couples might work together for financial peace and harmony. I’ll plan to write more about that in the near future.
How do you and your partner divide (or not) the financial responsibilities in your home? Share below! Or if you want to start a discussion with some like-minded friends, join the free SimpleMoney Community on Facebook to share your thoughts!
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