Relationship Connection: My husband has left us financially unprepared for retirement

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Question

When I married my husband almost 30 years ago, I expected him to oversee our finances and to make wise decisions about money. I worked mostly part-time over the years with several years of full-time work. Whenever we hit the wall financially (which was most of the time), my husband would take money out of his 401(k) to pay for things like car repairs.

I desperately tried to establish a bank account to set aside money that wouldn’t be touched for our retirement. My husband made withdrawals from this account as well when things got tight. He was laid off from his job and collected unemployment for about six years. During six years of unemployment, he did not look for work and took his social security early.

We lost about 25 percent of our future income by doing this. He refused to discuss this with me although I pleaded with him not to jeopardize our future. I didn’t think it was a wise move since all we will have to live on is our social security income. That was one of the biggest fights of our marriage.

I stopped working this past year because of a cancer diagnosis. Now he keeps pressuring me to take my social security income early. I don’t want to approach my 80s with barely anything to live on. We are applying for food stamps and social services.

I am so disappointed at the situation we are in towards the latter years of our life. When I married I assumed my husband would be my protector and provider.

Answer

You shared two words in your question that speak volumes about your couples approach to finances: “assumed” and “expected.”

It appears that both of you have been operating on unspoken beliefs that have guided your decisions. These beliefs can be so strong that you both move forward unilaterally without involving the other person.

Now you are terrified as you to move into the later years of your life without any financial security. I know that over 30 years of marriage there have been thousands of interactions, decisions and details that created this current situation.

This is a critical crossroad for your marriage. You can either spend your energy trying to find the “bad guy,” or you can take this opportunity to plan for the rest of your lives together.

You’ve had some dramatic moments where you’ve pleaded for cooperation and begged your husband to do things differently. You’ll continue that pattern if you don’t slow down the conversation and learn to hear each other in a new way. It’s not too late for you to come together and figure out new ways to interact. You both have strong beliefs that need to be heard and understood by each other.

While I have no doubt that he’s made some terrible decisions that have put your financial future in jeopardy, bringing these up as a way to change the conversation won’t change anything at all. All you can do is lead with your own accountability. Start by letting him know that you want to respond better to this situation and not fight with him.

Own any of your own hurtful behaviors made in reaction to his decisions. Let him know you want to work with the current reality instead of wringing your hands and panicking.

Let him know that you had assumptions and expectations in the beginning of the marriage that were never explored or agreed upon. He’s obviously had expectations and beliefs about money that have driven his choices. Let him know you want to explore those as well.

You both don’t have much time left to salvage your financial future, so getting on the same page is critical. Before you make decisions about what to do with money, you both have to work to hear each other’s expectations. He’s behaving in ways that make sense to him and you’ve done the same.

You’ve experienced some significant financial betrayals in the marriage. So now, not only do you have to align expectations but you also have to work through the damage those secrets and unilateral decisions have created. Chances are, you’ll need some support with this from a qualified marriage counselor and a financial advisor. Money issues trigger strong survival responses that will make it difficult to talk calmly about your future.

Please don’t go silent about your desire to get on the same page. There is no need to yell or get aggressive, but you can continue to persuade, insist, and work with him to hear and understand why things have ended up here. More importantly, those conversations can then lead to where to go from this point so you guys have can a more secure relationship and financial future.

Stay connected!

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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2 Comments

  • ladybugavenger March 1, 2017 at 11:24 am

    Stop blaming him. Life happens and life comes with obstacle courses. How do you know that it wouldn’t have ended this way even if he had done all those thing you assumed and expected him to do? You don’t. It could have ended the same way.

    You must ask yourself if you have been living outside of your means. Food, clothing, and shelter is all you need. Do you rent or own your home? If you own your home think about selling it and downsizing. If you own your home think about all the people that are homeless and how much better off you are. If you rent your place of living think about applying for low income housing.

    There is plenty you can do. Get your big girl pants on and stop finger pointing. A marriage doesn’t work well with spouses pointing the finger at each other, (just ask Bob)

  • Puto March 1, 2017 at 2:38 pm

    Seriously lady? You must think you are some catch to think all of your needs should be met by a man. Who happens to be your husband. Poor guy. I can only imagine his life has been spent trying to meet his demanding wife’s needs and her need to keep up with her friends. Did you enjoy vacations with him? Did he buy you gifts in your marriage? Hey, what did you do for him? Besides breed children… It’s a little late to grow up, but YOU need to plan for yourself. Quite frankly, you sound like a miserable person and very dependent on a man. Get a job . I am a woman. You are an embarrassment.

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