• Questions On Talking About Money And Relationships, Answered (Part 2)

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    Today we bring you the second half of our reader questions for Sheila Heen, communcations expert responsible for much of the content on Have the Talk America. I wish I could bring her along on negotiations with wedding caterers, but that’s another post for another day. Onward to the questions!

    Indebted asked:


    Please help with advice.
    I have been married since May of 2006.

    Late last year, I found out that my husband had purchased a home without consulting me. He was planning on ‘flipping’ the house to make a profit. I found out about it accidentally when I came across some paperwork. I confronted him about it and he has shown little remorse. His explanation was simply that this was a business venture and had nothing to do with our relationship. He knows that I have been extremely upset about this for a year. It has also impacted our lived because he is always late on our rent payments and never has any spending money. He has not been able to sell the house.

    This weekend, I found out that in addition to this house; he also took out another mortgage and a home equity loan on an entirely separate house.

    All told in the year and a half that we have been married he has taken out a total of $550K in loans. I confronted him again this weekend and again he says that this is not my concern and that this was a business venture. None of this was purchased under a business name; this was all done under his name.

    Is there anything I can do to protect myself? I am concerned that he is way over his head and will not be able to pay all of these loans. I am concerned that eventually I will have to start covering these expenses.

    Does anyone have any thoughts to advice?

    Thank you much,
    Indebted and still in love

    Dear Indebted & Still in Love,

    Oh dear. I can see why you are concerned. Deceit, debt, and dismissive-ness are not a good combination.

    Clearly your husband has a set of assumptions in his head. The first of which is that making unilateral decisions about financial matters in your marriage is okay – and, in fact, expected. He seems surprised that you are upset about it. And also that “business” is different from “marriage,” which, if true, would make his behavior make sense.

    The problem for both of you is that debt (as well as assets) in a marriage are generally considered marital property. And if he ultimately has to file for bankruptcy, this is going to affect you and the whole family, not just him.

    I wonder why he is keeping this information from you? He may feel a great deal of responsibility to provide for you, and feel that he is not supposed to burden you with the worries that he is carrying on his own. Now that things are tight and he can’t sell the property, the last thing he probably wants is to sit through a conversation where you are angry, accusatory and anxious. He’s probably got enough anxiety on his own.

    So I’d approach him with compassionate concern. Tell him you want to understand what’s going on so that you can share the burden, and so that the two of you can settle on a plan for how to manage going forward. Get curious about how he thinks about these decisions and whether to involve you, and what concerns he has that lead him to leave you in the dark. Let him know that you two are in it together, for better and for worse, and that if you’re going to brave the worst, you want some involvement in making it better.

    Shri asked:

    It’s nice to see your apt replies. I got married this June and currently not working. My husband had run into a 12K loan before marriage..He never mentioned that before marriage and there were big fights about that. Now he s in the process of repaying them. It did upset me big time, because I was working too and I had saved and invested well.
    He is changing but as a next step, once he is done with loans, I want him to invest in real estate in a very lucrative place. He was like ‘ first I need to have some money in hand’only then will I consider any investment’, but the prices are increasing every single day and I don’t think it’s wise to postpone things. Basically he is very slow in taking steps towards money saving, investing etc..I ll start working in 2 yrs from now after I do my MS. Till then I want him to take the best possible steps which is in the best interest of both of us. How do I go about this ?

    Thanks for your patience in reading.


    Dear Shri,

    This is the hardest thing about marriage and money, especially for those of us who like to be in control. How much autonomy and control do I get to have over money decisions that affect me? What do I get to decide myself? What do we have to agree on together? And how do I get my way?

    Believe me, I get it. I am the instigator in my marriage, too. It’s me pushing us to save a bit more, buy into the market earlier, and pay down the loans faster. And when I get any resistance from my husband, my instinct is to just push him harder. This, by the way, doesn’t work.

    Actually, you should worry if it does work, because if you push him into something he’s not ready for – taking on new debt just as he’s getting out – and then the real estate market slows, you’ll feel responsible. And he may blame you. Not a great combination.

    Remember that it’s not just about the dollars and cents. He’s not reacting to the market numbers that you see rising. He’s reacting to the unpleasant emotional experience of being in debt (and having someone you love angry with you about it), and the positive satisfaction of climbing his way out. It’s not surprising that he’s reluctant to take on a new set of anxieties very soon.

    So one conversation may be about how you’re each feeling about where you are, and where you want to go. Also, the conversation may be about how close you want to live to the line of “just getting by” and how much risk you want to take.

    The other conversation involves a clear-eyed look at the numbers you cite and the trends. The sub-prime mess has impacted a lot of real estate markets across the country – even areas that consider themselves recession-proof. Plan for more than the best case scenario – here’s our payment and income if all goes as planned. Talk too about some “what ifs” – what if one of you loses their job? Or gets a promotion that involves a move and you can’t sell the house? What if you need a new car? Are you planning to have children? Will one of you want to stay home? While there are unpleasant surprises, it’s also true that you can anticipate a lot of probable events in the next five years or so that will impact your finances.

    Remember, the most important aspect is starting those two conversations and listening to your husband’s concerns as well as voicing your concerns. Good luck to you two.

    We’d like to thank Sheila once again, for taking the time to answer some our readers’ questions! We hope that all of our readers can take something from Shelia’s advice or from the advice on Have the Talk America so that you can go ahead and have your own difficult talk.

    …but just not at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Save it for after that.

    Have a Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


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