Don’t Be Naive: Not All Spouses are Trustworthy with Money

Besides the more elaborate and dramatic financial narratives, there are scenarios that can be covered in several sentences, but that should serve as models of what to look out for, or what can happen to the person who isn’t looking out.

For example, June,* an 80-year-old widow, is filled with fear, rage, sadness and shame. She thought she lived a comfortable middle-class existence until her husband died, leaving her destitute. He had even cashed in his life insurance policy without telling her. She had no idea that their very existence was using up all their funds. Her apartment–and her visits to me–are now paid for by her children.

Jerry,* the working spouse of a couple, leaves the house later and later and comes home earlier and earlier from his job with no explanation.  When his wife asks about this new pattern, Jerry becomes irritable and complains that he does not feel supported.

Janie* is married to a man in a cash business. Although she herself uses checkbook, her husband funds all his purchases from the stash in the upstairs drawer. Oddly, Janie has known about this for years before she enters my practice, yet has never thought to worry about the scenario–and how it might impact her should the government ever come looking for her spouse.

In another situation, the wife proposes a complex new business investment.  The husband, granted not the swiftest with money, but still, protests that he doesn’t understand.  He is brusquely brushed off with insults and hostility.

One couple lives [or did] in a fancy Chicago suburb with a mini-mansion of a house, beautifully rehabbed when they first bought it. She has long-since retired from her job in sales, and he heads out to work daily promptly at 7:00. Some things are a little odd, truth be told. This lovely house? It has almost no furniture. They haven’t bought something new for it in nearly 15 years, and some rooms have just fold-up chairs.

And another thing, really, now that we think about it. The husband of course drives a Lexus.  But the car is 12-years-old. Because when push comes to shove, there is just one small chink in the armor: the stated income on their tax return cannot possibly cover the lifestyle expenditures of this couple.

And finally, Jack* and Jill* are long married, both for the second time. Jack, somewhat of a softie, secretly funnels money to Joel,* their adult child who has never made it. Jill holds firm that the couple’s continued financial support of Joel only handicaps him further, so she is convinced he will do better, now that funds are cut off. She is surprised when he continues to flounder, and Jack is secretive about his support of his son.

The tables are turned, however, when it comes to Jane,* Jill’s middle-aged daughter from her first marriage. Jane has struggled for years with alcohol and drug issues, and the family therapist, meeting with the extended family, has been firm that no more money should be forthcoming from any family members to fuel Jane’s addictions. In this case, Jack is completely on board with how best to deal with his step-daughter, and would be horrified if he knew the truth, that Jill supplies a steady cash flow to her own ill daughter. So Jill simply doesn’t mention it, and now the couple is on equal footing in its financial deceptions.

For next time, think of some warning signs to which spouses should be attuned.  When should your antennae go up if something is a bit off in your marital financial health?

I have my own ideas, but I encourage you to write in with suggestions–some of which you may even have learned the hard way.


*June, Jerry, Jack, Jill, etc.,  are not simply clients whose names have been changed to protect their privacy.  They are teaching examples, composed of bits and pieces from real individuals, combined with fictional elements design to make the story more educational and more readable.


I help adults and adolescents through the particular struggles of our time: tension between couples, parenting frustration, blending new families, separation and divorce, (un)employment, cancer, and loss. When relationships come to an impasse, I use mediation techniques to try to ensure that each party will have his/her needs heard and accounted for in a dignified way. In addition to talking, listening, and reframing, I utilizes the tools of metaphor, active teaching, role-playing, visualization, and hypnotherapy.for families and businesses, as well as in cases of divorce.

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