I have an ex boyfriend. He and I dated one and off again, tumultuously for about timeframe totaling a year and half. Before meeting him I remember how "on top of it all" that I felt. Good job, finally debt-free and saving, and in terrific shape with an excellent crew of family and friends. When we were finally able to call it quits, I was able to come to two conclusions about this relationship:
1. I would never again stay with someone had $80k worth of debt that he wasn't trying to actively repay and "fix".
2. We never loved each other enough to both be completely vulnerable with one another, and I knew I wanted to experience that with the man I eventually would want to be with for a long time romantically.
In fact, among many successful men that I had dated, I had also dated a trust fund man earlier with about a $1 million in debt and related lawsuits. Additionally I had dated a man with tremendous amounts of student loan debt as well, who ironically broke up with me because of my own financial inaccuracies and $3,000 worth of consumer debt that I was having trouble cleaning up. But how common today are all of these stories? Very common!
In 2010, I remember ready about fellow San Franciscan Allison Eastman, who's fiancé broke off their engagement because of her very high levels of student loan debt. I thought that I would be the one some successful business man would break off an engagement with back when I had zero clue about my finances. The them initiated a complete financial repair in my life, and a rekindling with wonderful money memories of my childhood and youth.
I never imagined that I would become the person married to someone with a ridiculously high sum of debt, and tax debt too, which by all accounts is the worst kind of debt that is still legal. Both tax debt and student loan debt carry with you your whole life, they are not dischargeable through bankruptcy such as other debts might be, and tax debt comes with none of the forgiveness, programs, and tax deductions possible with many kinds of student loan debt.
My husband never said these words that Ms Eastman mentions in this NYTimes.com article on how Debt can destroy a relationship, but I often found myself echoing a very similar mantra in relation to feeling completely lied to:
“He accused me of lying,” said Ms. Eastman, 31, a San Francisco X-ray technician and part-time photographer who had run up much of the balance studying for a bachelor’s degree in photography. “But if I was lying, I was lying to myself, not to him. I didn’t really want to know the full amount.”
If my husband was lying, and I felt lied to, imagine how he must feel? I knew he was lying to himself, and I just turned out to be an innocent bystander. How innocent? I did request that he fund his retirement, and savings goals, and lower his monthly expenses, and many other requests to make a noticeable dent in his debt before we were married so that we were on track to have it paid off. But shortly after we were married, a ran his credit report with his permission and together we began receiving pretty scary letters from taxing authorities that they would be taking money owed from both of our accounts...very large sums of money leaving us little to live off of afterwards.
I felt I had done my work, but I was lied to. But a few facts for context:
1. I had just had two years of conversations with him about switching my career, leading to me now making 50% what I was brining in just months earlier. I could handle my share of our joint expenses, my personal expenses, and retirement funding, but never did he mention or I know to include absorbent debt repayments into my calculations.
2. I had enough in savings, dedicated to potentially our home downpayment in the future, and some funds in a Roth IRA that I could access without penalty, which could have been used to pay off the largest amounts of his debt. After lengthy discussions, it was very clear that the best option was to have him try to pay off his debt independently first.
3. Deep down I knew that if I had never made the career change that I made, and dropping to a part time schedule in my former career and a part time, commission based paid, schedule in my new career that I may never have made the jump.
If I had known what I had come to fully learn about our financial situation he created, I would have never had the courage to pursue my dream and practice in a profession that nourished the world as well as my soul. I would have been too scared to lose half of my immediate salary.
So what? So I could help pay off all or at least most his debts in full, but we both knew this wasn't the answer for us. Whether deeply cultured gendered messages played their part or not, my husband felt that as a man, he ought to be the one to "clean up his mess" as it were and get back on track to being our family's "provider."
I had to make the decision to keep moving forward into financial planning as a financial planner, working with clients in very difficult situations and helping them half of the week, and then helping my own family's financially difficult situation each night of the week when I got home from work. I had to persist in this discomfort knowing that financially could not pay off my husband's debt and negative monthly cash flow without making more money again, an option that presently, wasn't on the table in either of our minds.
I wanted to spring into action and fix the problem, to pay off the debt and say sayonara to my hopes and dreams of starting in my new field that I was over the moon about. My husband knew it too, but he also knew that he wanted to be the one to fix his own problem, he only wanted my support. And besides, he was the biggest beneficiary of my new love and zeal for life now that I spent my days doing what I loved instead of coming home from long work days and work trips dissolving into tears and complaints about how dissatisfied I was in my corporate job.
Before anything could be "done," and before anything could be "fixed," I had to learn how to patiently sit within the discomfort of our own financial disaster. - Elizabeth May Prindle
I had to ride the emotional waves that coursed through my body, different emotions each hour, each day: sometimes anger, sometimes fear, and oftentimes hope. I wanted to quit and run away at times. I wondered in my darkest moments if I had made a mistake and married the wrong man. I was sadly curious if I stayed, would the rest of our lives would be plagued by debt and bad financial decisions? Why did I chose to love men with money problems and even marry one? Coming out of a job I hated, would I have to resolve myself to working jobs that I hated again and always to constantly "save us" from his financial ruin for the rest of our marriage? How was I as a financial planner, supposed to "wait out" my gut reactions to fix everything right then and there or just quit?
My biggest insecurities about money demonized my thoughts and emotions, and I had to chose to recognize those fears, and sit with those fears before I knew how to begin to tackle our situation and my relationship again. I had to face realities about my own self-worth before I could approach my husband about our financial net worth, a reality that I am by my nature unable to ignore and hide my head in the sand about. We were legally married, and I was pregnant with our child, quitting now wasn't as simple as it was compared to when we were only dating with no children on the horizon. Quitting when I actually loved this man more deeply than I had ever loved anyone before, was an awfully scary realty to be facing.
I had to learn to fully accept our situation, recognize that it may never get better, and play out those thoughts and scenarios in my head before I was ever going to be able to be a supportive partner to my husband and learn how he would like to begin to fix this problem of ours. Without accepting that this was our reality and deciding that this must be a situation which would only make me stronger, hopefully make us stronger, and it was an actual gift for me to experience, would I have ever been able to rise above blame, regrets, shame, accusations, moral high-grounds, and judgements.
No matter how I chose to act, I had to go through my daily life activities stronger, without letting my new knowledge of the reality we were facing change the gusto with which I approached my life. If I had let my situation depress me, then it would have ruined me and I would have easily fallen behind in my work and goals and dreams, which would have been devastating for me, for him, and for our child being formed in my belly whether we all stayed together or not.
In patiently sitting within the discomfort, breathing through it, and not trying to change it, fix it or impact it, finally a quiet and comforting knowing voice said to me: it will all be ok and you have to believe it's all going to be ok before you even know that it will in fact, eventually all be ok, no matter the outcome of your relationship.