4 smart lessons to learn from financial heartbreak
Just as healthy finances contribute to a healthy relationship, money problems can easily damage or destroy a couple's bond — and leave the financial security of everyone involved in jeopardy.
That's why we're sharing the stories today of four people whose relationships ended over money troubles. Many of these stories have a common theme: broken trust and lack of communication.
But there are ways to prevent these stories from becoming yours, if you follow the smart moves our experts share.
Lesson 1. Plan for a partner's job loss.
Aimee (we're protecting the last names of the innocent here) from California moved in with her boyfriend shortly after they began dating.
The relationship soured after her boyfriend could no longer find steady work — or a regular paycheck.
"More often than not, I wound up having to cover the rent or his cell phone bill," she says. "We didn't go out as much, and when we did, I would wind up picking up the check."
She eventually tired of paying for everything.
"I felt like he was only staying with me because I was his sugar mama and he knew that he needed me to be able to pay the bills," Aimee says. “I finally got fed up and broke up with him."
Smart move: Tina Tessina, a Long Beach, Calif., psychotherapist and couples counselor, says couples should write a pact before moving in that states each partner’s responsibilities.
"When discussing the terms of the contract before moving in, you should be able to gauge your partner's ethics and sense of responsibility," she says.
If one partner is laid off, "there may be a period of time when he or she has trouble getting work, but you can expect to see a reasonable effort to find work," Tessina says.
Set limits on how much each partner will contribute, and keep a record with the expectation of being paid back. Don't fall into the trap of simply rescuing your partner; that makes it easier for them to be out of work.
"If none of that works, then it probably is necessary to end the relationship and move out," Tessina says.
Lesson 2. Don't lend money without a repayment plan.
Giselle from New York got sucked into financing her boyfriend’s college education.
She gave him a credit card and also paid for his tuition, books and gas — even after a car accident left her with severe injuries and high medical bills depleted her savings.
With no funds of her own left, she borrowed from a friend. Her boyfriend’s parents promised to repay her, saying they were getting a loan.
They lied. Their applications were declined.
Giselle repaid her friend herself, then dumped her boyfriend, realizing she had borrowed the money on behalf of a con man.
Smart move: "You are his partner, not his parent," Tessina says. "He should be managing his own finances, and if he needs some help, he should let you know specifically what he needs, and how he plans to pay it back."
Giselle should have seen red flags immediately when he asked for money to pay for school, Tessina says.
"He should be able to get student loans himself, and if he can't, she should know the reason, which may be past bad credit."
Lesson 3. Stop big bills from ruining a marriage.
Jen from New York says her 29-year marriage ended because of money.
When her husband changed careers to earn more money, he bankrolled the growth of his new business by taking out business loans against their fixer-upper home.
"The personal debt we took on to finance this business growth, plus the maintenance demanded by our old Victorian house, began to fray the marriage," Jen says.
Her ex eventually walked out and left her with an unsellable house and the business debt attached to it.
She says their lack of money changed her ex-husband’s character and destroyed their family.
"My advice would be to not leverage your personal property against loans for any business," Jen says.
Smart move: "The couple’s problems may have been at least mitigated if they had met with a financial planner," says Gregory Alerte, a certified financial planner in Woodbury, N.Y. "During the planning process, they would have likely discussed establishing a well-funded reserve account before even thinking of taking on even one of the endeavors."
Lesson 4. Avoid money secrets.
Skip from California says his marriage ended over money problems he didn’t even know existed.
At one point, his ex-wife asked to handle paying the bills.
"What I didn't know was that she was covering up running up debts, getting credit cards in her own name that I didn't know about, and hiding the bills," Skip says. "So I thought we were doing fine financially, but she was running up debt."
“It's crazy. She did the same thing with her first husband," Skip says. "I knew some of the details, feared she was in the same pattern, but thought I was beating it. The problem was, she was an excellent liar."
She divorced him, broke up their family and declared bankruptcy for the third time in her life.
Smart move: "These problems might be solved, but you two need both credit counseling and relationship counseling to find out if you can save your marriage," Tessina says.
In such situations, the spending partner may be a spendaholic, and hiding the problem and possibly being in denial about it add to the debt problem.
"My piece of advice would be to make sure you know everything that is going on with your spouse's finances, and vice versa," Skip says. "Secrets about money will kill your relationship."