Husband's low self-esteem leads to financial disaster Money: Evelyn lost faith in Jon for concealing their descent into debt.

Can This Marriage Be Saved?

June 16, 1996|By FROM LADIES' HOME JOURNAL Los Angeles Times Syndicate

"Though I love Jon dearly, I don't trust a thing he tells my anymore," says Evelyn, 43, the mother of Daniel, 18, and Anna, 15.

"About five years ago, our world caved in," Evelyn recalls. "Jon told me we were deeply in debt, his family's once-successful department store was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, and our savings were wiped out due to his poor business decisions." A large out-of-town firm took over the store and offered Jon a low-paying managerial position.

Meanwhile, Evelyn drastically reduced the family's expenditures and took a clerical job. Then, just as they were beginning to regain their financial footing, Jon announced he'd received a big promotion. He wanted to rejoin the country club and send their son to an Ivy League college. But somehow the whole nightmare began again.

"Daniel's tuition bill arrived last week, and Jon told me he didn't have the money to pay it," she says. "It was deja vu."

When they first married, Jon assured Evelyn he was doing brilliantly. "He told me he was saving for the children's education as well as our retirement," Evelyn notes. She never saw bank statements or insurance policies. Now she insists the marriage is over: "I don't think I can ever forgive him."

Jon, 45, will do anything to save his marriage. "My family is the only part of my life that is remotely successful," he says. "I can't lose that, too."

Evelyn was the only person with whom he could share his deepest feelings. "No one else ever made me feel good about myself, appreciated what I enjoyed and my accomplishments. I was so grateful for her love."

Jon believes his problems began at 12 when his beloved father died. "Father was a gentle soul who loved poetry and music and instilled that love in me," he recalls. But four months after his father's funeral, Jon's mother remarried, and her new husband had a son about Jon's age -- a real super-achiever. Jon's mother never let him forget that, compared to his new stepbrother, he was second-rate. His grandfather treated him even worse, discouraging him from pursuing his love of literature and music in favor of a retail career. "I despised working there, but I never felt I had a choice," Jon says.

He doesn't know why he began to lie to his wife: "Perhaps I wanted to prove that I was a man."

Avoiding money disasters

"Jon and Evelyn have many issues to hammer out in their marriage, but the stress of financial woes is magnifying their problems," says Ellen Deckoff, a marriage counselor in Westchester County, N.Y.

These two are not alone. When financial insecurity looms, tension rises, too. Many couples, like Jon and Evelyn, never talk about money. It's a taboo subject, so when a crisis occurs, they don't have the avenue of honest communication to get them through it. To keep fights over finances from sabotaging your marriage, keep the following in mind:

1. Identify your money styles. We all bring to marriage a different set of operating systems when it comes to money. Some people spend money as soon as they make it, or save for months only to splurge when stress strikes. Others, worried they'll never have enough, hoard every penny. Still others, like Jon and Evelyn, avoid money issues at all costs. They don't like to make budgets, let alone follow them or keep records. Characterize your money styles so you will better understand each other as well as determine which part of your personality may be causing a problem.

2. Talk about money -- often and in detail. Many people were

brought up to believe that you never discuss finances. The truth is, marriage is an economic as well as a romantic partnership, and brushing financial problems under the rug doesn't make them disappear. Instead, set aside time for a series of discussions to define your common financial goals and design strategies to meet them.

3. Trace the roots of money matters. Together, talk about what money meant in your respective childhoods. In the home where you grew up, was money synonymous with love, power, security, self-worth or dependency? Did your parents have a lot of money, or did they barely make ends meet? Did they use money to control each other or the children? How do these past experiences affect your concept of money now?

This suggestion helped define Jon's problems. With his self-esteem already low, the loss of his job felt like the loss of identity, too. As he and Evelyn talked to the counselor about his deep insecurity, Evelyn realized that Jon's actions had been the last hope of a desperate man. Her anger softened, and she was more willing to work on improving communication and breaking down the roadblocks that were stalling their relationship. They both also re-examined their values and clarified that they were really important to each other.

After analyzing their finances, they agreed that Evelyn, with her expertise in accounting, should take over the checkbook. They put their money into a joint account, which she administers. Far from being humiliated by the arrangement, which Evelyn had feared, Jon was relieved.

Pub Date: 6/16/96

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