By Dena Landon
Religion, politics and money. Three things that most of us are taught to never discuss in polite company. Unfortunately, that means we don’t get much practice discussing and negotiating sensitive topics. Religion and politics may come up more as we get older but money often remains a taboo topic. Until we get divorced. And then, whether it’s arguments over how much you’ll pay him to keep the dining room chairs to how you’ll split retirement funds, it can feel like it’s all you talk about. When the divorce was finalized it was probably a relief to be done with it. But if you’re in a relationship with a new partner, it’s time to apply the lessons you learned both during your marriage and during its end.
In one week, my boyfriend and I are moving in together. When we decided to take this step I knew it meant that we needed to put together a budget. I dreaded it.
Money was always a sore subject with my ex-husband. I’d draft a budget and email him the spreadsheet with specific instructions. “We only have a hundred dollars until I get paid on Friday and we need to buy groceries. Try not to spend any money.” He’d go out and buy two video games and overdraw our account. It was utterly exhausting to have my financial health tied to his, and to feel helpless as I watched credit card balances climb. After leaving him and rebuilding my own confidence in my money management skills I resolved to never be with another man like him again.
Even still, when it came time to talk dollars and cents, I struggled. My boyfriend, unlike my ex-husband, is good with money. Without giving away personal details, he’s done quite well for himself. Which meant that I faced a different issue when bringing up a budget. I didn’t want to look like I was with him for his money. Since I’m still paying off legal bills from my divorce this time I was the one coming into it with debt. Which hurt my pride.
Any person you bring into your life will have a financial impact on your child. The right person will understand that you’re just trying to protect your kid and not take offense.
But I could only procrastinate so long. I’ll admit I was a bit of a coward at first. Instead of sitting down with him, I drafted a budget in Excel with my monthly expenses and assets on one side and my best guess as to his financial situation on the other. Then I emailed it off with a short note asking him to fill in any blanks on his side and fix anything I had wrong. In retrospect, this might have been the best way to handle it. Why? Because it was less scary than doing it face to face. It was black and white and removed some of the emotion from the situation. And both of us could wait to respond until any emotional reaction we’d had to those numbers had died down.
As hard as it may be to bring it up, if you’ve been through a divorce you’ve experienced the financial wreckage it can leave behind. Like me, you may still be paying it off. And the last thing you need is to walk into another mess. If you struggle doing it for yourself, do it for your kid. Despite my pleas with my ex to stop wasting money on legal fees – most recently by forcing me to pay five hundred dollars to my lawyer just to find out where he’d moved – he’s continued to waste our son’s future in petty legal battles. I can’t afford another financially irresponsible man, and neither can my child.
Even if you’re not in my boat and dealing with a financially abusive man, any person you bring into your life in the future will have a financial impact on your child. And the right person will understand that you’re just trying to protect your child and not take offense.
When you do bring it up, be honest. It was embarrassing to admit that I owed any money at all. But it was also freeing. Here’s me, warts and Amex balance and all. Not only did he not take offense, he was equally honest. He went through his own expensive divorce a few years ago so he didn’t judge my situation. Ultimately, it made me feel more secure in the decision to combine our lives.
We move in together on Wednesday. I’m not naive enough to think there won’t be any surprises – on either side. I spend too much money on coffee, for one. And I don’t share closet space well. But the fact that we could talk about money so openly prior to the move-in date tells me that we’ll be okay. My marriage taught me a lot of lessons. One of them was that some rules – like not talking about money – aren’t worth following.
About the Author
Dena Landon is a single mom who eats raw cookie dough, passionately debates intersectional feminism and frequently tangles herself in yarn. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Narrative.ly, Salon, bust.com, and in Dance Teacher and Dance Spirit magazines. Her first novel was published by Dutton Children’s Publishing in 2005. She blogs at femmefeminism.com, and can be found on Instagram and Facebook.