I grew up in a household that didn’t discuss money. It was a taboo subject, like sex and politics, only mentioned in the safe context of veiled reference to someone else’s problem. My mother, who possessed a very mathematical mind, handled all the money, paid the bills and the taxes, handled the investing, doled out my allowance and chastised me for overdrafts, all with mechanical precision. But she never really taught me about money. It’s no surprise that in my marriage, the same scenario unfolded.
My (ex)husband was in charge of earning and distributing the money. He handled the household accounts, the credit cards, mortgages, and taxes. I was an authorized user on his accounts and a passive signer on joint financial documents. It’s debatable if I was too busy or too afraid to become informed, but I never took the initiative to learn about what exactly I was signing on a mortgage document; what were the underlying fees and charges associated with a car lease; I never sat down and calculated a budget to understand exactly the relationship between what was coming in and what was going out.
When I got divorced the burden of a steep financial learning curve lay ahead of me. Suddenly I was responsible for not only the household expenses, but mine and the children’s as well. As is the case with most divorces, the income and standard of living was dramatically different as a single person, and the amount of information that I had to process and communicate correctly to multiple parties was daunting at first. As any divorced person with children will tell you, the ties that bound continue to bind when it comes to bank. The court may say you are single, but a shared tuition payment or mortgage will tell you otherwise. The best thing I have done as a singleton was to apply for a mortgage in my own right – talk about getting up close and personal with your finances…but I continued to slip into the same deferential role of “wife” when it came to talking about money with my former spouse.
What I have noticed is that my relationship with my Ex, when it comes to talking about money, is just as awkward and stilted as it was when we were married. I feel awkward presenting a bill or shared expense to him – perhaps because I felt awkward discussing money with him when we were operating out of the same account. I continue to experience tension that an “extravagant” or discretionary purchase by me for one of the children will elicit a negative response, regardless of the fact that the purchase was made with my own money and by my own free will. The issues that we had as a married couple, particularly surrounding money, seem to have migrated with us as we navigate the road of singledom.
A friend of mine and I were talking about her experiences with her Ex and the subject of money. Her former husband, who also controlled the purse strings, was chronically late with payments to the bank and credit card companies. She lived under a cloud of tension that the financial house was always one step away from collapsing. “Why then should it surprise me that my alimony is always late?” What we determined is that some things never seem to change, and that the emotional and financial baggage (which always seem to be inexorably linked) that you carried as a couple will likely move into your new digs with you after a divorce.
I recently took an online course called Your Daily Worth. It teaches you how to begin to understand your finances, what to look for and look out for, and how to make sound and informed financial decisions. For the first time in my life I feel like I have micro awareness of how to manage my money and my purchasing decisions. This awareness is beginning to translate into the ability to better communicate with my Ex about the financial responsibilities that we continue to share, and that translates into a confidence in myself and my ability to survive and thrive as a single woman.