My engagement had been a tornado of debt, failed careers, and an illness that was destroying the health of my future husband. As we picked out a wedding cake and discussed first dance songs, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be married to this man who suddenly felt like a stranger to me. However, when we received a diagnosis to the mystery illness that had hung over our relationship, it felt like we could finally see the light. We couldn’t have been more wrong.
Read Part One here.
A slow and brutal crawl led us to the diagnosis of Lyme Disease. While it was a relief to know what we were facing, we were not prepared for the complexities of the disease, or the treatment. There isn’t a lot of understanding about the disease and its manifestations, which left many of our family members thinking the ordeal would be a quick fix. My soon-to-be husband started taking antibiotics, but after a considerable amount of time, he wasn’t getting any better. The doctor decided a heart catheterization was the next step. He had a cath inserted into his left arm where it would remain for the next 10 months. The logistics of a semi-permanent heart cath are not convenient. He couldn’t lift anything over twenty pounds, and he had to keep gauze wrapped around it when it wasn’t in use in order to ensure that he didn’t accidentally yank it out which could make him bleed to death. Five days a week, he hooked a bag of antibiotics to the IV attached to the outside of the cath, pumping the bag of meds straight into his heart. Insurance didn’t quite cover the cost of the doctor or the medication, and we had not a fraction of the monthly income needed to cover it. We had to turn to my mother-in-law for assistance. This kind of begging only further hacked at our confidence.
I remember one of the first times I saw him hooked to the IV in our living room. The bags had to be refrigerated, and as the cold fluids pumped into his heart, they drained the color from his face, making him look ashen and truly ill. The sight of him tore at my soul. At a time in our lives when we were supposed to be looking forward to the future and enjoying the benefits of our youth, my husband was hooked to an IV and planning his trips outside the house around his flaring symptoms. For the first time, I realized how hard the whole thing must have been for him.
As we were bending our lives around this strange diagnosis and the IV pole that became a piece of furniture in our life, I had accepted my new accounting job, we were planning our wedding, and we were buying a house. All of this culminated in a storm of stress and a deficit of cash. We had to move in order for me to accept the new job, and I had to take the job in order to keep from falling behind in the growing stack of bills. My husband was adamant that we would save in the long run if we bought a house instead of renting. However, this meant borrowing the down payment from my mother-in-law. After an argument and a week without speaking, I gave in, and we asked for the money. I was pulled further into the fire of resentment, and it burned through all of my feelings of competence and accomplishment.
We stumbled our way through the weeks, battling each problem as it came and trying to find any residual excitement for our upcoming nuptials. The state of our finances was an open sore on the surface of our relationship, and it left both of us struggling with our own perceived burdens. I felt alone as I tried to salvage any shred of dignity and tackle the ever-growing debts that were burying the life I had once imagined. As for my husband, he was reeling from an illness that had robbed him of his twenties, and despite years of schooling, he was penniless in the wake of a miscalculated career attempt. In our youthful immaturity, we did not yet understand that together we were stronger, and we allowed the circumstances to fester. We married on a hot September day, and I remember looking at the cards in the card box, hoping we had received enough money to make the next mortgage payment.
As we settled into married life, I was determined to get a grip on our finances, and because I was making the money, I felt it was all on me. I took it upon myself and kept tight control over every penny. With it came uneven roles in our marriage. It became an area of contention, and we fought endlessly about it. My husband didn’t understand why we only had $40 a week for groceries or why there was never a spare penny for anything extra, and his inquiries sent me into tearful frenzies where I would attack him for his inability to contribute. In actuality, I was desperately trying to keep my student loan payments at bay, put breadcrumbs into our savings account, and send any spare money to my mother-in-law as repayment. As I slid the miniscule spare money into an envelope, I thought of how pathetic the sad five and ten dollar bills must have looked to her. While our problems were caused by a variety of missteps and misfortunes, I unfairly attributed it all to my husband’s lack of employment. I leaned on blame instead of being patient and understanding.
My selfish behavior tore at the fibers of our relationship, widening the financial gap between us. Fed up with my refusal to include him in the finances, my husband became more secretive about everything in his life. There was this stinging mistrust that spread like a rash, affecting everything it came in contact with. I feared it would destroy us. I was exhausted by the constant push and pull, and it killed me to see the same themes from my parents’ marriage running through my own – something I had sworn would never happen.
It came to a head one day when I happened to be looking for a business card in my husband’s wallet. As I opened the wallet, I saw two neat fifties tucked inside. I knew they had come from his mother, and I stormed upstairs to confront him. My anger and frustration boiled over as I demanded to know why he had not put the money toward our bills. I whined and lamented about the unfairness of it, but I was met only with a bored look as my husband pushed past me. My screaming turned into hysteria, and I chased him down, reminding him that we were living off $40 a week in groceries, but he had been spending money. He let me scream until I had no words left, and he stood there looking me in the eye, unnerving me with his calmness. “Tell me how much you have to pay in student loans per month?” I knew by his tone that he already had the answer. I had been caught. I fought on, screaming the injustices I felt had been put upon me, and my husband took the bait. For hours we stomped from room to room rehashing old arguments, bashing each other with insults, and it eventually ended with me throwing his clothes out the bedroom window, conveniently parachuting down into the back of his truck. I locked myself in the bathroom and cried as I wondered what the hell to do next.
After feeling sorry for myself for a good amount of time, I accepted that I had done wrong and my behavior was ridiculous. We had to make changes. We couldn’t throw away our relationship and our marriage because we had money problems. Most importantly, I had made my own mistakes that had contributed to our problems, and I had to stop acting like the victim. The one thing I kept thinking was that mental picture of my husband sitting there, hooked to that IV. I should have been there for him at such a crucial time in his life. I should have been supportive and focused on helping him get better, but I was letting money take precedence over everything else. I reduced his role in our relationship to a monetary contribution, and in this, I stripped him of all the goodness and kindness that had made me fall in love with him.
There was no miracle or overnight fix that solved our issues. It has taken years of us fighting and compromising to get our finances under control, and even now, years later, we are still working on it. What I realized through all of it is that most of us do not marry someone with identical views on money. Regardless of the differences, it has to be a joint effort. Money is one of the most common causes of disagreement in a marriage, and the one that most often leads to divorce. It is a symbol of trust and security in the relationship, and if one person holds more of the finances it can skew the control and create an uneven sense of power. In my own marriage, honesty and partnership have been the most important parts of reconciling the gap.
We still fight and run into issues, and we always will. I am conservative with our finances, which can be ineffective, and my husband believes that with high risk comes high reward, which can be dangerous. We’ve learned to compromise instead of fighting endlessly. He has taught me to think outside the box about saving, investing, and decreasing debt, while I have helped him better manage day-to-day finances. Money is an area that changes constantly throughout our lives. The variables are always evolving, and the sum we are striving to reach changes constantly. Regardless of who makes the money, the decisions affect the entire household, and they should be decided together.
Looking back on the early issues we had in our marriage, I see how much money can impact the views of our partners. It colors our confidence in them and how we perceive their competence. Once the finances became an honest and equal partnership, it changed the dynamic in our relationship and made us both more conscious of our choices and our goals. Money is one of the pillars of a relationship. It is part of the stability and security we seek in a partner, and it is crucial to the health of the marriage to handle the money wisely, together.
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