The Uphill Slide

There is always something.

Money Money

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When my husband and I discuss money, we often fight. He accused me recently of caring only about money. I inherited money and always seemed to feel his resentment for that. My maiden name was used in conversations as if everyone with that name was rich. I felt resentment at other times directed towards others who had money. Then he inherited money. His parents were workers and thrifty and wise as my parents were. He often drew a bright line on money, making sure our kids knew there was his money and my money which was very divisive. I never understood his anger and resentment, and arguments never got any answer. I suppose I was lucky I did have money that I inherited and I earned. Recently I said that money is your god, and I don’t know why. I always thought he was generous, but it sometimes seemed there was some hidden cost and gratitude was never quite enough. My view of his attitude is the reason that any relationship of wining and dining or paying for trips or other generosities from someone will make me wary that there may be some strings attached that may eventually snap back on me in the future. Is this person really as generous as he or she seems or just presenting the most advantageous side to me? We all present our best sides when we first meet, but it is the hidden ones that will someday be important to happiness. I think I will always want fairness and independence in relationships if there is at least some equality in our positions. I will want to look to the past that can show me the possibility of my future, so I do not fool myself that I am somehow different from those in the past. I did not realize that or deal with it long ago.

Years ago my husband and I split our checking accounts because I felt, whether rightly or wrongly, that his constant questioning of the bills I paid for his business in the 90s or his ‘where did all the money go?’ were subtle accusations that I was stealing his money. He said I spent too much on the kids. Maybe he thought I had some secret account, but my finances, messy as they might have been, were an open book. I have sometimes thought his issues went back to some money deception in his first marriage. There is that very credible suggestion that if you do not resolve the issues or bad behaviors that existed in your first marriage, they will carry into any future marriages and relationships causing you to fall back on those old patterns and not deal with problems when things do not go your way. Are you doomed to repeat your mistakes a second, third or even nine times as Zsa Zsa Gabor if you are not self-reflective? It was my first marriage, and my guidelines were my parents’ marriage, though I wanted a different type of partnership; but I never made myself clear to my husband. I don’t know if I would have ever gotten that different relationship.

I am always astounded and hurt when he says money is all I care about. I don’t know what I did that he thinks that. I did not work during some years of our marriage or only part-time so perhaps it was dependence on his income; I took care of the house and kids as the traditional one-earner household. I never hounded him to make more money or suggested he work over the winters and not ‘drag up’ and collect unemployment or asked that he not take so many hunting trips or stop adding dogs to his kennel when I sometimes had to feed them. Sometimes I remark I let him run wild, run free. Of course it was not me letting him do anything, because I did not control him. He did the things he loved, and I never questioned where he was or what he was doing. I never minded except when he missed events. So I do not know why he thought I only cared about money. I paid my share in the household and bought my own things when I inherited money and went back to work. We shared other expenses intermittently. I paid for household things and even things just for him and never thought he owed me. It is only when you fight that you remember all those things you have paid for. When I mentioned some things I had paid for in recent years, he asked; “Whose fault is that?” Fault? It wasn’t a fault; I did it willingly. My father in his final months and desire to end it all accused me of not being grateful for lending us the money for our house. I knew he was only saying that because he was ‘guilting’ me to help him. It was just one of those things that come out with pain and anger. He had never said anything like that to me before that day. But I never understood my husband’s repeated accusations against me or heard the reasons he thought that way.

Marriage experts, if there really are any such people, suggest couples discuss their views about money and sex and religion and all the biggies before marriage. We never really did discuss any of those things including money. I took care of all paperwork making sure bills were paid. It is odd that in both his parent’s and my parent’s marriage, our fathers mostly took care of family finances. But in our marriage I took care of the finances always, though later he accused me of making all the decisions about investments. I cannot even remember how it all happened. He obviously trusted me in the beginning, but then came to distrust and resent me within a few years. Maybe it was just that I am naturally better with paperwork. Maybe it was to be blind to that check for child support that went out. Who remembers now? Jacob also had money disagreements with his ex-wife which was one factor in their eventual divorce, among so many other things. He was thriftier than she was and tracked his spending. I wonder sometimes what he learned from our relationship to money. Cary can’t handle money at all, and we are working on that. Maybe I did give her too much, maybe we both did, or maybe it is just a result of an addict without impulse control. I’ve known many others like her who find themselves in debt and hot water. When Cary would get those credit card applications, I shredded them wondering who would offer her credit. Those who don’t care if you have good financial sense and want you to max out your cards are the people who offer you credit.

Whether old or young, many of us think ‘ if only I could win the lottery’. I admit that I want to win the lottery, though I only sporadically buy tickets when Jacob buys them. I think he dreams of recouping some of those past and future earnings he has lost. It is not just the costs of legal representation or the months of jail that cost him money, but it was also the loss of his LPN license that cut his earnings to a third of what he once made and took away his plans to earn his RN license and increase future earnings. So it is a loss in past earnings and future earnings and paying into retirement accounts that have been lost. It is almost as if the justice system wants to keep felons on the fringes rather than really see them succeed. Winning the lottery for me brings dreams of helping family and travel and philanthropy. But what would be the reality of winning big? I have read stories of winners who claim their lives were ruined by winning all that money and even end up broke. If you have no idea how to handle that much money, you might spend foolishly and probably run into some unscrupulous money advisor who will help him/herself to your winnings. Would I be wise if I won big or go crazy?

As I have gotten older having money has changed meaning for me. I told my husband even before all of Jacob’s troubles, that I worried about money for our retirement. He seemed unconcerned. When you are younger, you think there are years left to save and think about retirement. When you near retirement you worry about what ifs. What if my spouse dies or leaves me? What if I get sick and need care not paid by insurance? What if my family needs money? What if? What if? I have been ready to downsize for a long time. I need much less space inside and more space outside whether owned or shared. I worry because my maternal side of women lived into their 90s. I want to live many more years, but can I afford those years? People find themselves bankrupted by some emergency. I remember a past-retirement age man who applied to my employer saying he had bills from his late wife’s cancer treatments.

But I try to remember that I am lucky to even worry about things like this. Neither my husband or I have ever lived the life wondering who might hire us. We have never worried whether we would have food or enough money to pay the rent or pay the electric. We have never been homeless or lost it all without family to be there for us. So perhaps shame on us for worrying if we will have the life of retirement we dreamed of having. Should we not just feel lucky to have family and not worry about how we will  pay for tomorrow? Should we just let the future come as it will? Money advisors would tell me that is foolish. But things have happened that I never foresaw, and somehow I dealt with it all. But I don’t think I can ever be completely foolish not to worry just a little.

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