The other day, a friend told me that she and her husband had separated. I wasn't surprised; they've been pretty unhappily/indifferently married for more than a decade, but was sad for her nonetheless. When I asked what finally prompted the split, she listed off numerous small things (as it usually is, I find with divorced friends. Not one BIG event, but 1,000 small ones), one of which was finding out that her husband hadn't been paying some bills that were in her name.
And sadly, that is like the fifth friend I can think of in recent times to have this happen to them. Their spouse (in all the instances I know of, it was the husband, but I don't for a minute believe this is a male-only issue) had been lying about paying bills, and they were completely oblivious.
Now, I think it's deplorable for a spouse to do this, obviously. Especially when the unpaid bill isn't even in THEIR NAME. Like, ruin your own credit, ya know? Leave mine alone, I'm plenty capable of screwing it up BY MYSELF.
But I gotta say, to the victims of these circumstances, you gotta protect your shit.
Look, I hate victim-blaming as much a the next person, but why, in 2014, with women making up 50% or more of the workforce and women fighting for more and more equality and power, are we still blindly trusting our man with our money? (Again, I can only speak to the situations I know, which is women being screwed by men.) I'm sure we all want to believe that OUR husband won't hurt us. That OUR man is a good one. That he's NEVER given you a reason to distrust before, so it's all good, right?
No, it is NOT.
I saw in Redbook recently that one-third of Americans have lied to their partner about their finances. THIRTY-THREE PERCENT, people. They are lying about their income or their debt or their purchases or god knows what else. That means there is a DAMN good chance that the person you are coupled up with could be, or has or will, lie to you about money in some way.
So what can you do? PROTECT YOURSELF. Keep everything open. Communicate. Come up with a budget or a system or something so that BOTH PEOPLE know what's coming in and what's going out. Have separate accounts and split the bills. Have a joint account and pay the bills together. Whatever. But don't just blindly trust EVEN YOUR SPOUSE to do what they say they are going to do. Because I have seen too many that haven't. And it's devastating.
A neighbor recently lost her home in foreclosure. A home she raised her kids in, with her husband, for two decades. Why? Because he didn't want to admit that his sales job was in the shitter, so he stopped paying the mortgage. She found out she was losing her house a month before it happened, when it was too late to stop it from happening.
Another friend one day got suspicious and checked her OWN bank account — which she NEVER DID?? — only to find out her husband had bought a new car (A NEW CAR!!!!) without telling her. A new car they couldn't afford, and that he had been hiding for weeks. Which leads to obvious questions, like why on earth would you do that? And what ELSE are you hiding?
This was information that was right in front of these women, but they trusted their husbands blindly, and ended up in huge financial messes. I don't know what prompted the deception from the men, although in the case of the new car, mental illness is suspected because of other rash decisions he has made, but in the meantime, these women are facing huge financial hurdles. The woman who lost her house eventually had to file for bankruptcy because of debt taken out in her name that she didn't know about. Because she trusted her husband and didn't protect herself.
Talking about money is ugly at times, especially when times are tight. I know I have sneaked in a TJ Maxx bag or two in my time, hoping that my husband wouldn't examine the bank register too closely, but even then, I wasn't trying to deceive him as much as I was hoping to not have to justify a bit of retail therapy. We have one account and we both view it frequently, so even if I got the bags past him, he would never fully be in the dark. And even that is shady, really.
We have an agreement that neither of us can make a single purchase of $100 or more without at least telling the other person first. I pay the bills typically, but I tell him when I've done it. I trust my husband as much as I could trust anyone, but with accounts in my name, it is always my responsibility to protect myself.
I have to wonder if part of this complete handover of control stems from some fairy-tale-Prince Charming remnant that exists even if the wife is working as much and as hard as the husband. Maybe she is secretly dreaming of being taken care of by her man. Maybe by handing over the finances and playing dumb, that weird, 1950s, June Cleaver-esque desire to have everything just HANDLED for you comes true, at least in her head.
But that's the thing. That Suzy Homemaker/Don Draper bullshit is toxic. Talk to women of that generation about how it felt to be owned by their husbands. Talk to them about their inability to leave if they wanted to. See if they felt taken care or like a piece of property. Some may have good memories, but I've talked to others who have said otherwise.
I fully believe that in marriage, you can't completely give everything of yourself to your spouse. It's unfair to them and it's dangerous to you. My husband shouldn't be solely responsible for my happiness any more than he should be solely responsible for my credit.