I’m afraid my wife is in denial about our financial situation

Tell Me About It: ‘She’s digging us into a hole that we might not get out of’

PROBLEM: I am struggling financially. I am self-employed and Covid has more or less ruined my business. If things don’t improve in the next few months, I will need to sell the tools of my trade and find paid work, and if I am lucky to find work, I will earn significantly less than I have over the past five years.

Of course, this problem is not unique and many people are faced with similar dilemmas. I dreamt of owning my own business for years and at the end of the last recession I was finally in a position to branch out on my own. My skills are fairly niche, so I was in a good position to make a success out of it.

I am married with three teenagers and I have explained my financial concerns to my wife, who is a stay-at-home mum. She told me that I was fretting, and everything would return to normal and be okay.

She basically seems to be ignoring what I have told her and while she can see that no work is coming in, she continues to spend on her credit cards and has plans to trade her car in for a new model. My wife is normally a rock of sense and has steered us through some very tricky situations in the past, but now she just seems to be oblivious and is digging us into a hole that we might not get out of.

For the first 10 years of our marriage, our joint income was low and our standard of living was poor. I am just afraid that she is in denial.

ADVICE: Worrying about money is a serious concern and it is clear that you are concerned about getting into debt and that your family will suffer as a result. You say your wife is very sensible, however, so perhaps there is a pathway through this where both your perspectives are taken into account.

Your wife may see that your skills will be back in demand within a year and as she already has weathered financial difficulties in the past, she may have a robust attitude to your financial security. However, trading up for a new car and spending on credit cards sounds like a slippery slope when there are no financials to back it up, so some in-depth conversations need to be had.

Trading up for a new car and spending on credit cards sounds like a slippery slope when there are no financials to back it up

You say you may need to find paid work to see you through this period and I wonder if your wife might also reskill in order to help out. Many parents go back to work when their children are teenagers and there are many courses to consider – see springboard.ie for free courses for job seekers and homemakers.

Covid has put many people in the position of reconsidering how they live and work and you and your wife could now take this as an opportunity to re-examine your life plan and look at how you might achieve your aims. It sounds as though this will be very difficult for you both to do this on your own, so a good suggestion is to contact mabs.ie.

Mabs is a money advice and budgeting service, guiding people through dealing with problem debt. It will be beneficial for both of you to hear what advice is forthcoming, as perhaps it will make it easier to have calm conversations about finances. You would also be setting a great example for your teenage children in terms of modelling how to deal with financial struggles. No doubt, they too will hit similar difficulties in their lives and, rather than worrying or avoiding the issue, they will have an example of how to engage with by availing of professional support.

All of the above requires conversations with your wife and these may be difficult. A suggestion is that you ask her to go out for coffee or a walk in order to talk and tell her that the topic will be finances. It is much better if you take up a position of listening at the start, ie ask her what she sees as the current and future difficulties and try not to correct her at this time but instead ask further questions, e.g. about how finances were dealt with in her family of origin.

This will help you to understand where she is coming from and it will allow her to be open to your perspective. It might be that you need some help with the worry and responsibility of future debt and you can ask for support with this.

You can take your time as opportunities for career changes are few until Covid ends, so you and she can talk this out over a period of time and include how you might include your children in the overall discussion. You both have experience of surviving financial difficulties and it would be interesting to find out what you took from that experience and how relevant it might be to what you are facing now.

Overcoming crisis can bind you together and create a solid foundation for your relationship and your family, so engage with this now as both an opportunity and a constraint.