See if you can relate to this story about Bob and Connie, a couple facing deep financial problems in marriage.
When Connie got home from work, she was already exhausted from a long day of meetings. She had left the high-pressure world of event planning sales behind to start working closer to her passion- nonprofit work.
She loved the challenge of raising money for her charity, and her job as a development director allowed her to leverage some of her former business relationships into new donors.
On this particular day, her executive director was deeply concerned about long-term financial stability of the charity and had really called her out on the carpet, even though she was already 22% over her donation budget for the current fiscal year.
It didn’t help help that when she got home, she checked the mail and found a letter from the Internal Revenue Service, addressed to her and her husband Bob. When she opened it, she was shocked to see that they owed the IRS more than $7,000 in back taxes.
Bob did some freelance writing work in addition to his job as a teacher, and it looked like he hadn’t been making tax payments on his freelance income. And he definitely hadn’t told her about any of this.
She angrily slammed the letter down on their kitchen table, punched his number into her cell phone, and tore into him when he answered her call.
Why was Connie so furious at Bob?
$7,000 is a lot of money, but it’s not the end of the world. During their conversation, Connie found out that Bob had also been taking out payday loans and other short-term credit lately. Instead of telling Connie that he was short with his side of their bills, he had just been making poor financial decisions that were costing them a lot in interest. The poor decisions combined with less income as a whole had created a snowball effect that he was really struggling with.
The worst part for Connie, though, was that Bob hadn’t told her anything about their deep financial problems.
Bob’s excuse was that he didn’t want Connie to worry about anything. She was a cancer survivor — had been cancer-free for almost seven years by that point — but her cancer had cost her her thyroid, and she had developed seizures as a side effect of the radiation treatment that her oncologist had used on a small tumor in her skull.
Often Connie was completely exhausted at the end of her work week, spending most of the weekend in bed just to recharge and prepare for the coming week. Bob felt horribly guilty about how hard she worked and wanted to let her believe he could handle things on his own. He wished that he could afford to let her stay at home but he just couldn’t make ends meet if she did that.
Unfortunately he hadn’t been able to keep up and was digging a deeper and deeper financial hole for both of them. Now there was a huge hole in the middle of their marriage as well.
What should Bob have done instead?
Their money problems began about a year and a half ago, when his health insurance (which also covered her) unexpectedly went up by a whopping 22 percent.
To make matters worse, Connie had dropped back from full time to part time at the charity because she was just floored from the demands of her health and the job combined. He felt like he needed to do everything himself, but he simply couldn’t.
He should have told her about the problem right when it began. When the problem was small, perhaps the couple could have gone to family members for some short-term help or Bob could have gotten a part time job to supplement their income. There were things that could have been done that would have made a big difference when the problem was small.
The bottom line: since Bob didn’t communicate with Connie about their financial problems, both her trust in Bob’s ability to take care of their finances and her financial stability were shaken.
For Connie, the violation of trust was so much bigger than the simple financial problems. By not telling her about their money problems, Bob put the whole relationship in jeopardy instead of just owning up to the difficulties they faced together.
To turn things around, Bob and Connie sit down weekly and talk about the upcoming week in finances as well as their longer-term strategies for saving and investing. It’s not always a comfortable conversation for either one of them, but over time Bob is gaining Connie’s trust back. They are also getting along better as a whole, since the couple are both clear on what is going on.
Bob even decided to look for a corporate job at the end of the school year to boost his income. Without significant changes in their relationship, Bob wouldn’t have felt the push to do this, instead living in shame, afraid to tell Connie that they were having big time financial problems.
Bob and Connie nearly had a marriage-ending crisis, all because of a well-meaning but terrible lie on Bob’s part.
Have you faced financial problems in marriage? What did you do to take care of your problem? Has your spouse ever lied to you about your money problems?