This guest post from Aloysa is part of the “reader stories” feature at Get Rich Slowly. Some stories contain general advice; others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success or failure. These stories feature folks from all levels of financial maturity and with all sorts of incomes. You can read more from Aloysa at My Broken Coin.
For six years, I lied to my ex-husband about how much money I was making. Some people make up lies trying to build self-esteem. Those people lie “up”. I lied down, hiding how much money I made, and underestimating the work I was doing.
I didn’t do this for some malevolent purpose. In fact, I thought I was doing my ex-husband a favor. I tried to protect his ego and his self-worth. Unfortunately, as we all know no good deed goes unpunished.
I was born far away from the United States. When I met my ex-husband, my homeland was going through some turbulent times. The Soviet Union was in ruins: The job market was unstable, food was expensive and in scarce supply. Our government was changing the national currency on what seemed to be a weekly basis. Stability and financial security were ideas long forgotten.
When we got married, my ex-husband was serving in the military, making good money. By the time I graduated from college, our country had transformed from a socialist state into a free-market, exploring and building capitalism.
It was then that the tables suddenly turned: My ex-husband left the military and ended up laying cement for a private construction firm. As a college graduate, I got an entry-level position with a small firm in the automobile industry. A year later, that small firm grew into one of the biggest wholesale trading firms in the country, propelling my career.
Then the marriage trouble started.
Protecting His Ego
My ex-husband was sincerely happy when I got my first huge promotion and my first salary increase. That first increase put my salary way above his. He seemed excited about more money flowing into the family. That didn’t last long.
First, he started to make snippy comments about my job during conversations with our friends and family. Later, I noticed that every time people asked me what I was doing for a living, he dismissively waved his hands and said something non-essential, trying to undermine my achievements.
I started to suspect that maybe his ego was hurt. Maybe the fact that I was becoming a successful career woman who was working more hours, and ultimately bringing more money home, was somehow diminishing his self-wroth. Maybe he felt that his role as a “breadwinner” was being taken from him.
I thought about it, I dwelled on it, and finally determined that it was all my fault. I decided that I was not going to disgrace my ex-husband’s sense of self-respect by announcing that I made a bonus that would allow us to renovate our small apartment.
It was the beginning of our end.
Easy Come, Easy Go
We were always supporting our relatives from both sides as much as we could. But when I started making more money, I was pressed to help the family of my ex-sister-in-law more than usual. The more I worked, the more I made, the more money was leaving our family and going into her household. Every bonus, every salary increase was viewed by my ex-husband as an additional source of support for his sister.
She was a stay-at-home mom with a stay-at-home alcoholic husband. Both seemed to conveniently live off our (well, my) money. I didn’t mind helping them, but constantly supporting them with every extra penny that we could made me feel that we were encouraging and sustaining her husband’s alcoholism.
Another major concern surfaced about the same time. Between our own expenses and helping their family, we weren’t able to save anything for ourselves. It didn’t matter how much both of us were bringing home. It was all gone by the end of the month. We had no savings, no emergency money, none of the financial security that both of us wanted.
How It All Unraveled
Over the years, I began to keep secret most of my pay increases and bonuses. I stashed away money, and I hid my purchases.
Did I feel guilty? Of course I did. But over time, you get used to lying, and it becomes your second identity. You live a life of lies, and you think that this is the way to live it.
It’s one of the things lies do to you. Everything you lie about works to replace moments, words, events from your life, until you cannot remember why any of it mattered. It takes so much energy to hold on to the lies that you lose your grip on what’s important.
And every lie is a relationship killer. Even a small lie, because eventually that small lie will become a big one.
Lies make you feel empty — and afterward, lonely too.
Why I Would Never Do It Again
You could say that I was young and naïve. I thought I could save a marriage built on lies. I call myself foolish. Foolishness is always best seen in retrospect.
Joint goals make a strong foundation to marriage, along with trust and understanding. Years later, after the divorce, I look back at our marriage and I have to admit that we didn’t have any common goals. We didn’t know where we wanted to go together, what we wanted to build.
Sometimes you have to accept that a notion of a “traditional relationship” is a fluid one. Roles can be reversed any time. Life can change on a dime. It shouldn’t matter who makes more money in the relationship. What should matter is having similar attitudes towards money.
No one should ever equate money to power in marriage. Marriage is a partnership, not a rivalry. If you can’t be happy for your partner’s success, then maybe it’s time to reconsider your relationship.