I’ve gotten myself into quite a pickle. I am in a 15-year relationship with a partner who has a history of screaming fits and hitting things. He quit his job, went back to school and then stole money out of the mortgage to pay for it, even after I specifically asked that he take the money out of his RRSP. I try to be supportive, but I feel like I’m walking on eggshells. It bothers me that I have to support him through school, that he stole the money out of the mortgage to do it and that it’s taken him seven years to complete a three-year program. I feel used and cheated out of the things that I want to do. What should I do?
Money and marriage make for a crazy cocktail. While there are two sides to every story, it does sound like you married a jerk.
But as one wise friend of mine says, “marriage isn’t reform school.” And the reality is that there isn’t much that you can do to change him. That said there are changes you can make to improve your situation. And that is where we’re going to focus today.
Ask better questions
You need to start by ask better questions; ones that will allow you to learn about yourself, what you want, and what you need to do to get it. For example:
What are my boundaries when it comes to money? He “stole” money out the mortgage and there weren’t any consequences. He took four extra years to complete his program and you didn’t draw a line in the sand—either because you didn’t have clear boundaries in your mind or because you crumbled when he breached them. Take a step back and think about which behaviours around money you are willing to accept and which ones you aren’t. Then determine what the consequences will be if he doesn’t adhere to the boundaries and how you’ll enforce them.
What kind of a person is he with? I have a great deal of compassion for your circumstances, but at the same time I think you need to ask yourself what this situation says about you. You sound like a strong and successful woman and yet you have cast yourself in a starring role in this drama as both victim and martyr. Is that how you see yourself? Is that who you want to be? I sincerely doubt it.
What do I want to do? You feel cheated out of things you want to do. It is time to write those dreams down on a piece of paper so you can start working on bringing them to fruition, with or without him. I think there is a risk that you are deriving a juicy payoff by staying with your jerk: It allows you to justify why you haven’t been doing what you want to do and you get to avoid taking responsibility for having a great life. I highly recommend you stop doing that so you can get a handle on your money and live the life you want.
Consult the professionals
It should go without saying that you need to find a therapist or counsellor that you can trust to help you work through these issues. This person will be able to help you assess the situation more objectively, including the risk of violence, and understand your part in the destruction of the relationship. Together you’ll be able to outline steps you can take to learn from it and improve your marriage or determine how you can leave the relationship safely.
Given that this is an advice column about money, the second call you need to make is to a family lawyer. It is very important for you to understand what both your rights are in terms of the financial assets, and also, what your obligations may be as the higher income spouse.
Prepare yourself for some crappy news on the financial front. It may take awhile for you to unwind yourself from him, if that is the route you choose. But don’t stay because it is cheaper in dollar terms in the short run. The cost in emotional terms, in the long run, may be incalculable.
Talk to your spouse
At some point in the near future, you need to talk to your spouse. You may want to wait until you have consulted a therapist and gotten a little more clarity on what it is that you’re committed to in this relationship. At its most basic, the conversation likely starts with something like this: “I haven’t been happy in our relationship and I’ve decided I’m going to do something about it.”
That is the key: It is time to do something about it.