Have you cheated on your spouse financially?
Tackling the money woes that often lead to divorce
Most of us have grown up watching movies with perfect endings — the hero and heroine get married and all their woes are over as their ultimate goal of coupledom has been achieved, reassuring us that our own happily-ever-afters are basically inevitable. So you’ve found the Bunny to your Naina — but what happens when the curtain falls? Bunny might have abandoned his plans of having world adventures for Naina, but for how long? Wouldn’t a little bitterness creep in? Will they lead the perfect gharelu lifestyle with two rosy-cheeked kids or be faced with the same financial problems in marriages that caused your neighbours to split up?
There is a reason why all romance movies end at the ‘happily ever after’. Nobody wants to see Cinderella and Prince Charming fighting because he took a huge dump and forgot to flush. When reality settles in, the unrealistic expectations that these tied-in-a-neat-pink-bow love stories have created in us come crashing down.
Maintaining a long-term relationship necessitates patience, commitment, and perseverance in the face of adversity. When statistics show that divorce rates have doubled in the last two decades, especially in urban areas, this becomes even more important. But problems don’t spring out of thin air. They add up, like sifted grains of sand in an hourglass, and eventually lead to an avalanche.
Many partners overlook the alarm of resentment that their spouse may have been ringing for years. To them, none of the concerns seemed like they may lead to the big D. When their spouse “suddenly” realises that he or she wants to end the marriage, or has already filed for divorce, they feel like the ground has fallen out from under their feet.
We decided to conduct an investigation into some of the common reasons behind the disintegration of modern marriages. Among the many dealbreakers was one that makes many of us uncomfortable even outside of a marital setup: money.
Kanupriya Kejriwal, a divorce lawyer based in Mumbai says, “Financial problems in marriages have a tendency of going from minor to major until the couple reaches the conclusion that they can’t resolve this on their own. Either you survive it, or you don’t.”
Financial problems in marriages have been made worse with the onset of the pandemic, says Natasha Kate, a consultant psychiatrist. “They often add additional burdens to a potentially deteriorating emotional relationship. This makes relationships fragile and more prone to breaking down.”
We talked to experts in the field — divorce lawyers and couples’ counsellors — to identify the reasons that financial problems in marriages become dealbreakers, and how to tackle them.
Tackling financial problems in marriages as a couple
What’s mine, yours, ours?
Sharing your lives often entails sharing a wallet too, in many cases. But how does one decide who contributes how much or if both the partners are even going to be earning or not?
*Renu Chatterjee says income distribution had always been a big issue in their marriage until they decided to completely separate their finances. “We both spend equally in the household and as for the rest of our money, we do our own thing with it while keeping the other one in the loop. My in-laws don’t support this and as a woman, I’m expected to give in.”
Dipika Jaikishan, COO & co-founder of Basis, a financial service destination for women, says, “All these questions about who will pay for what and how much, feels like a dance. There has to be a balance. If it’s lop-sided, you’re gonna trip and fall.”
She adds how the issue of income distribution can get exacerbated when both partners have different financial personalities. Their spending habits may have been treated as a joke before marriage, but afterwards, it can create major problems.
How to tackle it: To avoid becoming one of those couples who forgot to pay their bills because they thought the other person was doing it, talk to each other transparently about your spending habits. Communication is the holy grail for all marriages to save themselves from the big D.
Prachi Vaish, pre-marital coach, advises setting up a joint account. “Create a joint account for household expenses and both partners (if both are earning) contribute a preset amount to that account. This money goes into everything to do with the household. What remains in their individual accounts can be spent by each partner as they like, while keeping the other in the loop,” she says.
You need to have a realistic conversation with your partner about where you want to be spending your money, and where you would rather save it.
Nisha Khanna, a couples psychotherapist, suggests setting a budget limit to track your family’s expenses, especially if only one partner is earning. She says, “If a spouse is earning a certain amount of money, they should let their partner know clearly that ‘this is what you have to work with, we cannot afford more than that’.”
Recalling her own experience of talking about these issues with her husband, Jaikishan says, “Coming from different family backgrounds, our risk profiles in terms of investing were very different. So you need to make sure to find that middle ground with your spouse because that will go a long way in securing your future.”
You should be aware of any investments made in your name or your spouse’s, so that you may reconcile, redeem, and make further investments as needed. This should comprise stock, mutual funds, gold, and real estate assets. Have access to all essential papers in the case of real estate.
Cheating on your spouse financially
Did you get married to the man of your dreams, only to find out later that he’s racked in debt? *Sagarika Jain did. “I’m trying to stick it out with him but this has destroyed our relationship and I don’t know how much of it is left to salvage.”
Financial infidelity, like sexual infidelity, may have disastrous implications for trust and honesty, which are the pillars of every marriage. Secret bank accounts, hidden debt, covert purchases and gambling addictions are all examples of financial infidelity.
*Anjana Tiwari was in for a rude shock when she found out that her husband gambled. She reveals to us, “We have a newborn baby and we’re already crores in debt. My husband thinks his gambling is a phase and not an addiction. We’ve been married six years, but we only talk when it’s absolutely needed.”
If you have a spending problem and accumulate debt, you owe it to your spouse to inform them since it may affect them as well. For instance, if you and your partner have outstanding debt and want to purchase a house, delinquencies on your credit card may disqualify you or attract a high interest rate.
How to tackle it: Vaish recommends mutually sharing financial statements with each other, which can help keep everyone in the clear about financial burden.
Adding that you must not judge your partner for their debt, she says, “Nobody likes making bad decisions. If you feel that your spouse’s spending habits are risky, try to create firm boundaries for self-discipline by mutual discussions and come from a place of compassion, acceptance and kindness.”
Jaikishan agrees. “If you’ve never talked about it, you won’t know about it. It’s important that both parties be transparent about their financial situation.”
She adds that both partners should know how many bank accounts each one has, the nominees of those accounts, and other things like one’s insurance and its nominees. Although these might be uncomfortable conversations to have at first, discussing these things will pay off in the long run.
Making claims or withdrawing money on maturity requires knowledge of all forms of insurance—life, health, auto, and home. You should also be aware of premium payment deadlines to avoid policies expiring. Have original papers at your disposal. You can also scan them and save them on your computer, or store photocopies in an organised folder.
Are your eyes on the same prize?
Because life is unpredictable and things change, it’s fairly usual for people’s financial expectations and priorities to vary over time. The financial problems in marriages arise when couples fail to check in with each other to ensure that they are still on the same page.
If you don’t have significant common objectives, such as buying a house or travelling to an exotic new location, it might lead to issues down the road because you won’t be saving towards the same goal.
Sonal Sood wanted to get a loan to buy her dream house. Her husband disagreed because he didn’t want to be shackled with the loan. This is the reality of many younger couples today, according to Jaikishan.
“Even my husband and I had this issue very early on because I had bought into that whole roti, kapda, makaan philoshopy, especially because of my Sindhi background, but he didn’t want to be tied down to one place,” she says.
Vaish agrees with her reasoning. “Know that it’s okay and, in fact, natural to have different financial priorities because what we know and think about money also comes largely from our upbringing.”
How to tackle it: When faced with these kinds of financial problems in marriages, Vaish suggests establishing financial priorities. Start with the premise that you are on the same team. Your relationship must take priority.
“Try to sort out disagreements by doing a pros and cons analysis of the points both parties are making. Then examine the emotions that are coming up because most often the emotional reaction is about a bigger problem (“You never listen to me”, “You think I don’t know anything”, “You never prioritise my ideas”),” she says.
Make sure that this is not a win or lose situation. The goal is resolution and a mutually satisfying solution.
Jaikishan also suggests creating an emergency fund for rainy days. “You should financially plan a solid six to nine months in advance for special cases like when a spouse decides to leave their job to raise the children or takes a pay cut to try out a new career.”
You owe it to yourself to have these conversations if you want to have any chance of hitting life’s nasty curveballs right out of the park.
It’s never too early to start thinking about your retirement plans. Make it enjoyable. Talk about your fantasies, whether it’s sailing along the Caribbean in a speedboat or living on the backwaters in Kerala as the sun sets on the horizon.
Financial obligations to the in-laws
The joys of a family often extend right into your wallet. *Naina Bhatia married into a richer family than her own. Although she earned more than her husband, she had the added responsibility of contributing towards her parents’ maintenance.
“I was expected to pay for everything around the house, even though my in-laws could provide for themselves. I didn’t express my disappointment at first, but after I had to start paying off my parents’ house loan, it got difficult to make ends meet. It has put a strain on our marriage,” she says.
One of the trickiest money woes to traverse is when one spouse has a family member who’s in financial trouble. It’s natural to want to help someone you care about, but it’s unquestionably difficult when the money isn’t getting repaid, leading to financial problems in marriages.
Shivani recalls how her husband’s habit of always lending money to his extended family members almost destroyed their relationship.
“I had been raised with values to keep money and emotional relationships separate, while his emotional relationships were based on money. It was a wake-up call for him when the so-called relatives refused to help us out in a medical emergency, even denying they had taken money from us,” she says.
How to tackle it: Vaish suggests minimising the input you take from other parties like parents, friends etc. “You can listen to people but don’t try to incorporate every bit of advice you get. Decide what works for you as a couple.”
When it comes to fulfilling financial obligations towards your in-laws, Jaikishan advises creating a dedicated bank account for it. “Setting a committed amount per month will not just help set your parent’s expectations, but will also stop you from feeling like this is going from your personal money.”
You can also set aside funds to be used in emergency situations. Jaikishan suggests getting medical insurance for both sets of parents because that will help you stay afloat, should an emergency situation arise.
It’s critical that both partners are on board. Setting limits on how much you’ll loan (or give) and how much you’re allowing it to impact your life may also be beneficial.
When lending money to a family member, keep in mind that you may want to avoid sending money to a family member who is reckless and continually needs aid. You might be better off setting up a few meetings with a financial advisor for them than throwing money at the problem.
Financial power play
When one spouse makes more money than the other, it may lead to financial inequity and animosity – especially if you don’t discuss it.
This becomes especially prominent in heterosexual relationships if the woman is the primary breadwinner. *Kishu Singh’s relationship with her husband worsened in the pandemic after he lost his job and she became the sole earning member of the family.
“We live in a society where men are taught that earning money is their primary duty. Moreover, I was expected to do all the household chores, including taking care of the kids, even though I was single-handedly supporting a family of five,” she says.
Another example of financial power play is when one partner, usually the woman, decides to stay at home after starting a family. The stay-at-home spouse works full-time in childcare but does not receive any compensation. This can be a source of conflict.
This is particularly common among women, who feel marginalised as a result of their perceived lack of participation or influence in the development of family wealth.
*Aayesha Chaudhary’s husband was against her working full-time because they had young kids. “I have started working online for two to three hours so that I can at least get my pocket money. My husband had been against it so I had to involve my father to be permitted to do this. I plan to take up a full-time job once my kids grow up.”
How to tackle it: Money is the easiest thing to build a power equation on. Vaish recommends having regular discussions about resolving financial disagreements.
“Have a solid strategy in place. The kinds of financial problems may differ with time, but if you have a problem-solving strategy and its steps in place, it takes away unnecessary clutter,” she says.
Both partners need to understand that money should not be used as a factor to assert power in the relationship. Marriage has many non-quantifiable contributions and not everything can be measured against income and salary.
Treat your partner the way you would like to be treated. This may appear to be a no-brainer, but it’s something that many couples overlook, especially the longer they’re married.
Consider seeking the aid of a third party to help you get back on track if your marriage has been hijacked by financial disputes and you’re on the verge of calling it quits.