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Question

When I married my husband almost 30 years ago, I expected him to oversee our finances and to make wise decisions about money. I worked mostly part-time over the years with several years of full-time work. Whenever we hit the wall financially (which was *most of the time), my husband would take money out of his 401K to pay for things like car repairs. I desperately tried to establish a bank account to set aside money that wouldn’t be touched for our retirement. My husband made withdrawals from this account as well when things got tight. He was laid off from his job and collected unemployment for about six years. During this time he did not look for work. He also took his social security early. We lost about 25% of our future income by doing this. He refused to discuss this with me although I pleaded with him not to jeopardize our future. I didn’t think it was a wise move since all we will have to live on is our social security income. That was one of the biggest fights of our marriage. I stopped working this past year because of a cancer diagnosis. Now he keeps pressuring me to take my social security income early. I don’t want to approach my 80’s with barely anything to live on. We are applying for food stamps and social services. I am so disappointed at the situation we are in towards the latter years of our life. When I married I assumed my husband would my protector and provider.

Answer

I can hear how terrifying it is for you to move into the later years of your life without any financial security. I know that over 30 years of marriage there have been thousands of interactions, decisions, and details that created this current situation. This is a critical crossroad for your marriage. You can either spend your energy trying to find the “bad guy”, or you can take this opportunity to plan for the rest of your lives together.

You shared two words in your question that I speak volumes about your couples approach to finances. The two words are: “assumed” and “expected”. It appears that both of you have been operating on unspoken beliefs that have guided your decisions. These beliefs can be so strong that you both move forward unilaterally without involving the other person.

You’ve had some dramatic moments where you’ve pled for cooperation and begged him to do things differently. You’ll continue that pattern if you don’t slow down the conversation and learn to hear each other in a new way. It’s not too late for you to come together and figure out new ways to interact. You both have strong beliefs that need to be heard and understood by each other.

While I have no doubt that he’s made some terrible decisions that have put your financial future in jeopardy, bringing these up as a way to change the conversation won’t change anything at all. All you can do is lead with your own accountability. Start by letting him know that you want to respond better to this situation and not fight with him. Own any hurtful behavior you’ve in reaction to his decisions. Let him know you want to work with the current reality instead of wringing your hands and panicking. Let him know that you had assumptions and expectations in the beginning of the marriage that were never explored or agreed upon. He’s obviously had expectations and beliefs about money that have driven his choices. Let him know you want to explore those as well.

You both don’t have much time left to salvage your financial future, so getting on the same page is critical. Before you make decisions about what to do with the money, you both have to work to hear each other’s expectations. He’s behaving in ways that make sense to him and you’ve done the same. I hear that you’ve experienced some significant financial betrayals in the marriage. Not only do you have to align expectations, but also work through the damage those secrets and unilateral decisions have created in the marriage. Chances are, you’ll need some support with this from a qualified marriage counselor and a financial advisor. Money issues trigger strong survival responses that will make it difficult to talk calmly about your future.

Please don’t go silent about your desire to get on the same page. There is no need to yell or get aggressive, but you can continue to persuade, insist, and work with him to hear and understand why things have ended up here. More importantly, those conversations can then lead to where to go from this point so you guys have can a more secure relationship and financial future.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at geoff@lovingmarriage.com

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

You can connect with him at:
Website: www.lovingmarriage.com
Twitter: @geoffsteurer
Facebook: www.facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT