Friday, February 25, 2011

Fighting For Marriage Instead of Money - by Jennifer

Editor's Note: Finances are one of the primary sources of conflict (and divorce) in marriages. It affects trust, faithfulness, stress, sex, family members - everything. When you decide to commit the rest of your life to someone, that means fighting for it, together - and not against one another. Because we put so much physical and emotional energy and time into our bank accounts, financial strain can get at our hearts and put us on the defense at the blink of an eye. Jennifer and her husband have been together for 11 years total, this being their sixth year of marriage. She wanted to share what their finances looked like from the inside, and what it meant for their marriage. And how she and her husband buckled down and fought to stay together. She blogs at ThortonFamilyMoments. - Lauren

Like most married couples out there, we have debt. A lot of it. How we managed to keep our heads above water through the recession and still manage to end each day loving one another can be thought of as nothing short of a miracle.

It hasn’t always been that way.

Blain and I were married five and a half years ago when we were fresh out of college, and at that time, holding on to more debt than we knew what to do with. Money was tight for the first few months, (eating ramen every night and selling our DVDs for cash tight) but we were making it work.

We had been dating for six years before we were married and there weren’t many secrets between us. But I will never forget the night that I opened a piece of his mail and I felt my world fall apart around me.

It was a credit card bill that hadn’t been paid in a couple of months. The balance was above the limit and was getting hit with interest and additional charges.

[ The biggest mistake college kids do is get a credit card and pay their utilities and food bills with it. My husband fell victim to the novelty of “no pay today” credit options when it came to getting through his last year of college. ]

The poor guy had no defense to a woman standing in the kitchen as he walked in that night. How dare he keep this from me! How dare he not tell me he had such a huge credit card bill and how dare he not be making payments on it! He wasn’t expecting it and I have to give him mad props for not putting me in my place for opening his mail. However, it was a lie and it was a secret and I felt betrayed.

I remember after the words were said and the wounds were fresh I had to walk away and take a breath. And as I sat in our bedroom sobbing for the loss of the pure trust I had always had in him, I realized that I didn’t listen. As I was throwing swords, he was trying to explain. He had been trying to protect me.

He had tried so hard to try and pay the credit card but because things were tight enough just paying for our basic living needs and rent, there was no extra money to make the payments. He didn’t know what to do and he knew I would be hurt and upset that he’d kept it from me.

The battle lines had been drawn, only two months into our marriage. There were two things that could happen. I could be mad, hold it against him, let the tension build up and eventually, allow the passion of our marriage to die and flicker out. OR, we could fix it.

We moved forward. That night, along with the credit card, he told tell me that his student loans were no longer in deferred status and the thousands of dollars he owed was now due in payments beyond our monthly earnings. I remember feeling the pit of my stomach rise into my throat. And I cannot imagine how he must have felt. It was like admitting defeat.

I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit that the reason money was so tight wasn’t only because we were making minimum wage. I, too, had a lot of credit card debt coming out of college. My husband was not the only one with the financial skeletons in his closet. You see, I knew about my debt and I was the one paying the bills. He had no idea until that night how much of our budget was going to basic needs versus my credit card debt.

And there it was. We both had debt and we both kept it from one another. I had flown off the handle yet when he found out my secret, he didn’t hold it against me. He was understanding and willing to see past it.

Money is an ugly thing that can cause a lot of grief in marriages. Thankfully, we were able to take a deep breath, shrug it off, and start working together to fix it. We sat down and put together a budget and we were able to consolidate our debt onto one credit card with deferred interest to pay it all off in one year. It took a lot of hard work, but we got both of our credit scores back in shape. A year later we bought our first car. Another three years later we bought our first house. And now, we’re financially planning to start a family and we still are sticking to our ever-expanding budget.

So how did we get past that moment? How in the world did we emerge from that and still trust one another?

I wondered that myself. But to be honest, there was no other choice. To love is to trust. We picked each other up and we moved on. We were both wrong and we both made mistakes. But we learned from what we’d done right out of the gate and we’ve taken that lesson along with us through the years. Marriage is a team effort, and that includes finances. Not only is it less stressful to have a partner to help with financial planning, but it keeps the line of communication open. We both know where our money is going and how we are investing it, spending it and even saving it.

And in the end, the most valuable thing that I walked away with that night? Our marriage.

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Tiffany said...

This is such an important lesson. You both handled it so much better than I did.
My husband and I got married when we were making fist fulls of money. We went out on nice dates, weekends away and we really didn't worry about money at all.
Then, just after we got married and bought our dream house, the company we worked for went under. Insert drastic pay cut here. Insert a drop of about $50,000 per year.
We absolutely panicked. And then, we did what we do best, we completely shut down and pretended that it didn't happen. Bills were late, fights ensued, anger happened, we spent where we should not had and didn't spend where we should, my husband got laid off (he is an electrician and being in the trades is rough in these parts) and we lost our house.
However, then, we woke up. We realized that we were making horrific mistakes. We realized that our marriage was suffering because of something as stupid as money.
We have moved. We have started over (so to speak), and we are learning to make better choices. Money does not run us anymore, we run it. It has not been easy and we are still learning through trial and error, but we are getting much better.

I just wish that 4 years ago I would have read something like this. Something that reminded me that marriage was so much more important than money could ever be.

Thank you for sharing your story.

Anonymous said...

I could've written this post because the EXACT same thing happened to my hubby and I. Two months in, I opened a credit card bill and flipped. We were in a different position, though - I thought we didn't have ANY debt besides school loans. I flipped on the hubby when he got home from work ... and then we started opening more lines of credit. We were poor newlyweds, trying to live like our parents did when we moved out of their houses.

We racked up a lot of credit card debt. We were foolish. We made budgets, patted ourselves on the back, and then continued using plastic.

We had our first child last year and realized that we couldn't continue the baggage of the debt. We started reading Dave Ramsey's stuff, wised up, and we're going to be out of credit card debt in the spring of next year! We are celebrating 7 years of marriage THIS year and we will celebrate that at that point, we will have paid off well over HALF of what we owe.

Thanks for your honesty! Isn't it amazing what marriage and love can endure with hard work? :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you ladies for your kind words!

It's a tough road to go down ... but wow, it feels a whole lot better to know you're not alone (with your partner by your side as well as knowing you're not the ONLY couple in the WORLD who is walking that road!)

Best of luck to all of us in our financial futures! It sounds like you both have a good head on your shoulders and learned the same lesson quite well!

Credit cards = bad! Savings acount = good!

BTW, after writing this article, we set up a Roth IRA (we do have 401ks and money in stocks too) and a Mutual Savings account to start putting money away in ... far away, where we can't touch it or transfer it into our bank account so easily!

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