Women, Breakups & Money
I’ve always had a strange balance of independence and codependence when it comes to relationships. Not a great combination, I admit. I’d rather hit something more in the realm of interdependence. Instead, I swing back and forth from one extreme to the other.
While I cringe at my codependent behavior and am always working to improve it, I am very proud of the independence I bring into a relationship. I like having time and space to myself. I like to have parts of my life that don’t revolve around my partnership.
One of the most important aspects of my independence in a relationship is my financial independence. While I see the necessity of having a joint set of finances, I have always been a “yours, mine, and ours” kind of gal. Simply put, I don’t believe in sharing all the money. It’s not a lack of generosity or inability to be intimate on my part. I just don’t think anyone should have to disclose every penny they spend to anyone — not even a spouse.
As a member of Generation X, I grew up with parents who had very traditional marital roles. My dad brought home the bacon and my mom raised the kids. They shared all their accounts, credit cards, and investments.
I was lucky that even in that traditional arrangement, they didn’t set a bad example. I had a lot of friends whose parents were in the same situation and whose mothers weren’t allowed to buy anything without first consulting with their husbands. My mom pretty freely spent what she wanted, but for some reason, I always felt trapped by their arrangement. What if she wanted to buy a new dress or go to the movies with a friend? Would my dad have to know her every transaction?
I just don’t think anyone should have to disclose every penny they spend to anyone — not even a spouse.
My grandfather, despite having had a marriage exactly like the one I had always dreaded — keeping his wife on a strict allowance — always encouraged me to develop financial independence. He was deeply worried about his granddaughters’ financial security. He drilled it into my head that I should always have my own money in a marriage to make sure I could take care of myself if a partner ever left me. He even normalized the idea of a woman wanting a prenuptial agreement in a world in which we are taught that this subject is something of a romantic taboo. He gave me the gift of knowing that if I got married, I should feel confident in my insistence on sorting out my own financial security before anyone said “I do.”
I feel incredibly blessed that I learned these lessons and made these determinations for myself at such a young age. When I was 19, after my grandfather gave me a large sum of money to cover my sophomore year of college, my abusive boyfriend asked me to co-sign a loan with him for a brand new motorcycle. Thank god that even being the people-pleaser that I was, I could hear my grandfather’s voice in my head saying, “Shit, no!” (He had a worse potty mouth than I do.)
So I told my boyfriend no. Looking back, I know that was a major moment in my life, when I could have easily been saddled with his debt after our breakup.
He gave me the gift of knowing that if I got married, I should feel confident in my insistence on sorting out my own financial security before anyone said “I do.”
When my last partner and I moved in together, his commitment phobia loved my whole “yours, mine, and ours” financial preference. We set up a checking account together, got a joint credit card, and kept our individual accounts and credit cards. We made sure that we each contributed our fair share to the joint account so we could pay the bills each month and we checked with one another before making big household purchases with the joint credit card.
Again, I look back on this and see it as such a momentous decision even though it didn’t seem like a big deal at the time. When he left with his new girlfriend, he decided he wasn’t going to pay his share of the bills anymore and was going to leave me with the lease fee and other associated financial obligations. Thankfully, my own money was protected from him and his thoughtless decisions so the fallout was not too bad — and eventually, he decided to pay up, after all.
My financial choices had helped protect me from a few bad breakups, but interestingly, they didn’t give me so much independence that I was able to break away from my last relationship when I knew I should have.
I tried to leave several times, but — and I’m somewhat ashamed to admit this — I didn’t want to give up the sex and I didn’t want to leave the financial stability of our situation.
Over and over, I see couples sticking together sometimes just because of the enormous task it would take to unravel a lifetime of contracts, bills, mortgages, financial deals, and other money matters. I watched my parents do this for at least a decade, wading through the swamp of their crippling marriage because the burden of splitting up the finances was so heavy and because neither wanted to give up their stability.
My parents’ marriage ended within a year of my financially-empowered grandfather’s death, after he left my mother with a large sum of money. I don’t believe that that was the impetus of her decision — but I know it empowered her to make the decision after she had been considering it for many years.
I tried to leave several times, but…I didn’t want to leave the financial stability of our situation.
My former partner didn’t pay for any part of my life. We had split all our basic living expenses right down the middle and I paid for all my own personal purchases. He didn’t financially support me, nor did I support him, and yet, because we were sharing living expenses, we were able to create a very nice life for ourselves. We had a beautiful 3-bedroom home in a nice neighborhood and were able to afford lots of little luxuries.
On my own, with my low-paying teaching jobs and crippling student loan debt from my master’s degree, I would never have been able to afford such a nice home or any of those luxuries.
So I stayed. No matter how unhappy I became with his inability to commit, with his constantly changing mind, I stayed. I was too scared to leave my beautiful little house and see if I could make it on my own.
It’s not an easy decision. It might be important to our emotional and mental health to leave a relationship and follow what’s in our hearts, but the financial impact of that decision is not a small thing — especially for women. In the money department, women still take a bigger hit than men in divorce. A woman’s income falls 41% after divorce — twice as much as a man’s post-divorce financial hit. And that’s not even to mention other factors like whether or not she ends up with primary custody and has to juggle work and parenthood mostly on her own.
Though my ex and I had not been married and had no children, I still took a big hit after he left. I made less than half the income he made, despite the fact that I had a master’s degree and he had no college education. After our relationship ended, I had to give up our home and find a new job that paid more — though I still wasn’t able to secure one that paid me as much as he made.
The struggle was suffocating at times, trying to make ends meet all by myself.
I have several friends right now who have been struggling with their marriages for the past few years. Many of them want to leave — are ready to leave — but they can’t. They don’t want to deal with the struggle of the financial mess it would leave them in.
A woman’s income falls 41% after divorce — twice as much as a man’s post-divorce financial hit.
And you know what? As much as I want to believe that we should follow our hearts and do what makes us happy…I get it. I stayed in my relationship until I had no more choice in the matter. I held on to the financial stability until the bitter end.
That’s just part of the reality of our world. It’s not pretty. It sure as hell isn’t romantic. But it’s real.
And even a “yours, mine, and ours” situation can’t save us from that struggle.
© Yael Wolfe 2019