I grew up at a time when little girls had dreams of growing up to be a beautiful princess like Cinderella who would meet and marry the rich, handsome prince and live happily ever after. That dream was reinforced by my family and community, who expected girls to finish school and get married. The not very funny joke was that if you went to college and were successful, you would graduate with an MRS. And while your man might not be a prince with royal sums, he was definitely expected to support the family financially.
Then when I was in my twenties, a close friend, married about twenty-five years at the time, confided in me that she wanted to leave her husband. But, she said, she couldn’t because she wouldn’t be able to support herself. My friend’s statement had a profound effect on me. In that moment, I made the decision that if and when I got married, I never wanted to be in a position where I felt I couldn’t leave because of money. At the time, all I knew about money was to spend less than you earn and always save for a rainy day. However, my plan was to learn more about money and to always be employable so I could get a job and support myself (and a family) if need be. My favorite quote was: A man is not a financial plan.
I did get married and over time, like all couples, we had our ups and downs. In our case, that also meant periods when I was the primary earner. At the time, although 34% of women were already the primary earners, that wasn’t publicized and was a secret because it wasn’t socially acceptable. So we, and others in our situation, kept up appearances that all was well and as it should be. That not only protected the men’s egos, it was easier for women too. Afterall, if your husband wasn’t supporting you financially, that could be embarrassing and might reflect poorly on your choice. Family, friends and faith communities can be very judgmental.
At one point I considered leaving the marriage blaming it on money. I thought my husband’s lack of income was the issue. What I realized was that it really wasn’t about money. I wanted security. I loved my work, was perfectly capable of supporting us and didn’t mind doing it at all. I could provide that security if I applied for full time positions, but it didn’t fit in with my image of how things should be. The old messages caused me to limit myself and judge my husband harshly.
All the dreams from the Cinderella story and the expectations set by family and our cultural norms subconsciously kept me focused in all the wrong places. I had never thought about status like this before but realized that I equated being accepted and respected by friends and family with a lifestyle that didn’t work for us. That realization changed our conversation, our attitudes and our lives. The story has a happy ending. Our marriage is far from perfect. I’m definitely not Cinderella and my husband is not Prince Charming, but we are coming up on our 50th anniversary, get along just fine and are financially sound doing what worked for us.
What is the morale of this story? If your relationship is rocky and you think money is a key issue, stop talking about money but keep talking! What stories, experiences and comments resonated with you as a child to form your ideas about relationships and money? What associations do you have from family, your culture and your religion that influence your views related to spending, saving, earning, investing and sources of power and control? I promise you your conversation will be more interesting, productive and maybe even enlightening.
Syble Solomon, creator of Money Habitudes® and Board Certified Coach.