In a marriage, we all have a fiduciary duty to the family that transcends our own selfish wants. To keep financial fidelity in our marriage, we must honor that fiduciary duty. So many problems within a marriage have their roots in financial disputes.
Let's look at one example. Rick buys season tickets to a professional sports team. He announces to Ellen that he will be going with one of his business partners and they will eat out before the events. He is met with icy silence. He has no idea why Ellen is angry. Is it that he isn’t taking her to the events? But she doesn’t even like sports! Is it that she will be left alone with the children? But she’s the one who wanted to stay home with the kids! If she had continued to work, they would have plenty of money for her to go out, too. And she acts like he doesn’t’ contribute anything when he’s there, anyway! There is no pleasing her!
Really what she’s thinking is: Why is there money for expensive tickets and steak dinners when it is something he wants to do, but not when she is wanting to hire a nanny for three mornings a week so she can get some exercise? Well, I guess the answer, she thinks, is that there is money. The next day she hires a nanny – and not for three mornings a week but for three days a week. It’s not that much more and now she can have lunch with her friends after exercise. Actually, it is a better deal. And she can grocery shop without the kids!
When Ellen proudly announces the hire to Rick, he is furious. They had discussed this. It is crazy. They didn’t agree for her to give up her employment to leave the kids with a nanny! They gave up her employment for her to be the one with the children! Now she’s shirking on that deal. Rick feels like a fool. After he blows up, Ellen feels unappreciated. She didn’t understand that by giving up her employment, Rick thought she was agreeing to be the ever-present family servant. Even servants have time off. All she was asking for was 24 hours per week off. That meant she would still be working 144 hours per week!
The root of both of these problems is that both Rick and Ellen forgot their financial fiduciary duties to the family. It isn’t that there is anything inherently wrong with purchasing season tickets or hiring a nanny. It is that the family cannot afford these expenses and still continue to contribute to the children’s’ education accounts and the couple’s retirement accounts and that savings account they established for emergencies.
All too often what we see in divorce firms are couples who live beyond their means. They judge whether an expenditure should be made by whether it is a bad thing (like buying drugs) or a good thing (like sending a child to camp), not by the simple formula of “Can we afford it without impacting any of our familial goals?”
In the instance above, Rick should have discussed with Ellen the fact that they had enough money left in their budget to buy season tickets, which he wanted to do. She would have expressed her desire to spend that money on a nanny. He might have explained that this money was a windfall from a tax refund and unlikely to recur, so they could only spend the money once, not on a recurrent basis like a nanny would be. At that point, they may have decided to take a trip with the money or use it in some other way that would benefit the entire family. This financial fidelity by both of them would have strengthened their marriage, just as the financial infidelity described above weakened the marriage bonds.