Question: Ever since we were married I have handled the finances in our marriage. We are in our 50s now and I’m sure my husband doesn’t know what shape we are in. He’s a great provider, but I got sick and things have just gotten out of hand. I’m juggling everything now, but I’m not sure I can keep doing that much longer. Is there any way to get this fixed without him having to know?
Reality can be painful. But the pain of dealing with today’s reality is almost always dwarfed by the pain of procrastination – the problem always gets larger.
Remember how big the monsters in your closet were when you were young? When we can’t see something clearly (or at all), darkness can seem to enlarge the object of our fears.
I’m guessing that you are not only hiding this problem from your husband, but that you are also hiding it (to the degree possible) from yourself. For example, you may be making minimum payments towards credit cards and other consumer loans, but you don’t really know how much you owe or how quickly you might pay off the debt. You just pay each bill as quickly as you can, so that you won’t have to deal with it again for 30 more days.
But as you already know, all you are doing is kicking the can down the road. And every time you do, the can gets bigger (and uglier).
So how does this sound as a go forward plan: Shine the light, face reality, size up the problem, work on the solution and celebrate the victory.
- Shine the light. Your husband has to be brought in on the problem. He’s got to know. If you don’t think you can tell him all by yourself, bring in a trusted third party to help break the news to him. But don’t just break the news – bring a commitment to work with him on a plan to become free.
- Face reality. You (both!) have a problem, and you are not the only guilty party. Whether a sin of commission or omission, your husband has been financially passive. He may argue he thought you had it all under control, but that was a faulty assumption and only possible because he’s been aloof from the situation. Both of you need to say to each other, “We screwed up. Now what can we do to get out of this mess?” No blame game. No finger pointing. Just facing reality.
- Size up the problem. The first order of business after the lights are turned on and you’ve accepted responsibility is to size up the monster in your closet. Again, I usually find that when a couple can enlist the assistance of a professional, trusted third party, this part can be much easier. You’ve got to get a handle on what you owe, how much money is coming in, how much you are spending, etc.
- Work on the solution. Yeah, this is the long, hard part. If I’m honest, I’ll say it might break up your marriage. Or it might make it stronger than ever. It’s pretty much up to you two – what will be your attitude in attacking this situation? Will it be blame and resentment – there will be plenty of opportunity for both. Or will it be grace, humility and a mutual resolve to get out of the pit…together…no matter what. I strongly suggest the latter.
- Celebrate the victory. It you do choose the latter and work through this together, you can celebrate with the deep satisfaction of achievement. You will have finished the marathon, climbed the mountain, gone the distance.
The more you avoid pain today, the more pain you will experience tomorrow.
There is pain in your future – there is no avoiding that any more. What is largely up to you is whether that pain results in regret or rejoicing.
Byron R. Moore, CFP® is Managing Director / Planning Group of Argent Advisors, Inc. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Write to him at 500 East Reynolds Drive, Ruston, LA 71270 or call him at (318) 251-5858. The opinions of any single advisor do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Argent Advisors, Inc. No forecasts can be guaranteed. Argent Advisors, Inc. does not offer tax, insurance or legal advice. The information contained in this column should not be construed as a substitute for personalized investment, tax, insurance or legal advice.