Obsessive Over-Spending and Marriage
Analysts often write in magazines that money, budgeting, and the use or misuse of money cause the worst problems in marriage and romantic partnerships. Many people agree. This forecast is true among average relationships, but does not begin to address partnerships in which one partner deliberately initiates a relationship for the purpose of financial support or exploitation. The latter are more extreme cases that sometimes qualify as crimes that may be prosecuted. At the same trime, money can be the center of unexpected catastrophe in any relationship.
Innumerable are the stories in adult education and training programs in which a single mom is called out of class on the first of the month by a live-in boyfriend who demands her public assistance or disability check - right now "or else.". Beatings have occurred in the lobbies of some of these institutions when the check was not handed over, the staff slow to become involved or to call the authorities form fear or shock. This may be the worst of financial problems in relationships in this country, but money can be a problem in any neighborhood and any home.
Too frequently, one partner in a relationship controls the financial lives of both partners and the remaining person hasn't a clue about total family income, taxes, savings, checking accounts, properties, insurances, loans, credit cards, car payments, safety deposit boxes, and other financial elements. In cases where the controlling partner develops a tendency to over-spend, followed by the failure to pay bills, the spouses or partners can become homeless.
In some cases, the controlling partner also controls the mail and the other partner never sees an eviction notice, late payment notice, income tax refund, or a summons to court,to name a few examples. Sometimes a couple in these situations becomes homeless. Other times, a controlling spouse moves away without a word and the other partner is left homeless and with a pile of unpaid bills. Social service agencies, attorneys, and the court system sometimes become involved.
In other relationships, one spouse or even both partners do not budget or keep track of expenses and spend as they like, regardless of bills, mortgages, utilities, and car payments regularly due. They sometimes lose all their possessions and become homeless. Some of these couples know nothing about personal finance procedures, but some others do not see the importance of them. Banks and other community based organizations offer personal finance classes and workshops, often free of charge and several times a year to help individuals and families. Credit counseling agencies provide similar training when couples or individuals sign up for their services. Help is available.
Build a Foundation
I read an article by a pastor's wife in which she said that it is important to know your partner as well as to desire him or her, that one should desire to know the partner fully.
A marriage is a long-term commitment that takes faith in each other and the marriage, as well as work, not only feelings. Considering marriage as just "being together" and running up unpaid debts raises the national debt load and hurts the national economy.
Spouses and partners need maturity, a measure of selflessness, and a sense of reality. They need to deliberately learn about and know each other in regards to character, work ethic, morals, values - including money matters, spirituality, medical histories, intelligence, and range of behaviors that includes reactions to stress. This is a foundation that takes time to build.
Part of a solid foundation for marriage is an agreement about the importance and uses of money and a budget, with some future financial goals agreed upon as well. Health and life insurances, wills, powers of attorney, retirement incomes, burial arrangements, and related matters are all part of this financial aspect of marriage. Spouses should not have hidden incomes, hidden properties, or hidden bills that the other does not see. These are a certain source of problems. Money matters can take the romance out of a relationship, but spendthrift based homelessness will surely wreck the foundations of a marriage.
The Need To Know
No matter what income level, potential spouses need to know their opposites well enough to understand how they view money as a tool -- How does the other person use money? See the Hub Losing Touch With Friends Because They Become Addicts for some examples of red flags concerning money.
I continue to be of the opinion professionally and personally that a person that is over-controlling with or one that plays games or is dishonest with others concerning food, sex, or money suffers a mental disorder. I won't name a disorder or diagnose a label, but I will say that I want to stay away from these individuals. These behaviors hurt other people severely and are not easily stopped. Educational classes alone will not help a sickness to end. We can explain to a client why and how a cancerous brain tumor needs removal, but if the surgery is not performed...
Budgeting classes don't take away the desire to control or abuse another person financially. Cooking and nutrition classes do not take away a drive to withhold food from family members or to overfeed a child -- I knew a husband that kept all the food in the household locked in his automobile trunk and a locked refrigerator in the garage - there was no food in the house for the family until the social services system engaged. No sort of classroom lecture along will end sexual abuse of one partner against the other, either.
I knew a 60-year old, severely arthritic woman that was kept a prisoner in her basement bedroom for nearly a year without a penny before she was rescued, held by a daughter-in-law and son that took her disability checks. This continued until the local social service and legal agencies were alerted.
In another section of town, one partner was held captive in an 8' by 10' room by a larger, intimidating partner. The captive had the bulk of the income; the other controlled finances, medications, and the phone, thereby controlling the individual. They were two poor retirees in a poor neighborhood, from appearances. An unexpected event revealed annual combined income of seventy-six thousand dollars and debt of nearly twice that in cash advances and loans taken for spending money. A house and auto were lost, leaving an old car, some odds and ends, and huge bills as senior services engaged.
Some romance might be lost in addressing practicalities, but a homeless romantic is still homeless.
I think it's best that a couple sit down with bills, checkbook, bank statements, etc. monthly (on a regular schedule) to see where they are financially. Allowing one partner to have total control over family finances, while the other knows nothing at all about them is usually a mistake, except in the case of late-stage Alzheimer's in one partner, or similar.
Before becoming married, it may be wise for a couple to share their most recent yearly free credit report with each other. Afterward, new credit cards, loans, checking/savings, investments and other items would best be discussed together before undertaking them. Purchases over a certain price limit could be agreed to be discussed before actual purchase as well -- A surprise 62" TV may not be a good surprise to a spouse that was just laid off that day.
Early Red Flag
Once, as I began dating a person, he asked me to sign a signature card on his checking account in a city hundreds of miles away. This was an instant red flag. I would have been jointly responsible if he overdrew the account and if he should have learned that my paycheck was mailed to my apartment and laid hold of it, I'm sure now in hindsight that it would have gone out of town. I refused to sign the card. He immediately asked me when I would buy a house and I said, "In 10 years." The relationship went away, making me very fortunate.
My advice is to know one's spouse as well as possible before marriage and to be careful about signing anything. Expecially, do not be intimidated or sweet-talked into signing a financial document that is not in your or your partnership's best interest. If financial matters begin to go wrong, get help early if you can.
Marriage and Money
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© 2011; Patty Inglish, MS Preventive Medicine. Psychology. All rights reserved.