retirement

Don't Let Valentine's Day Ruin Your Marriage

Financial planners meet with couples on the edge all the time. If you're feeling sad this Valentine's Day, take a lesson from two couples' stories.

Whether you’re a fan of Valentine’s Day or not, for those who are unattached or are in struggling relationships, Feb. 14 is a reminder that you’re alone, either literally or figuratively.

The pressure of Valentine’s Day

The divorce rate tends to go up around Valentine’s Day. Folks who are unhappy in their relationships take a more reflective look around and feel that everyone else is ecstatic and in love. Obviously, that’s not true.

As a CFP with a subspecialty in divorce, I’ve run across many married people who are in an emotional rut and are unclear as to what to do. They still love their spouse but don’t particularly like them at the moment. Life has bumps in the road, and a good marriage is hard work. It takes time, effort and elbow grease to make a marriage work, and our fast-paced society doesn’t make the endeavor any easier. Below are the stories of two people who sought my help over the years.

A couple who had grown apart

Occasionally I’ve met with someone who is truly ambivalent about their marriage. One such case stands out in my mind. I got a call from a man who lived out of state and had read an article I had written wanting to discuss how to move forward. We talked for several minutes. He was not angry or bitter, just sad. I listened and finally asked if he still loved his wife, which he did, and he felt that she still loved him. I suggested that they seek out a therapist to see if they could get back on the same page.

He initially thought they had grown so far apart that meeting in the middle was unattainable. We talked some more, and I finally told him that he could always get a divorce but why not give therapy a try? He said he would, and then we strategized how to bring the topic of therapy up to his wife and ended the call.

Over the next few years I occasionally thought about him and hoped they were able to work out their problems. One Saturday afternoon I received a phone call that started with “I bet you don’t remember me, but I’m the guy who you convinced to go to therapy with my wife. We went and really tried to work out our differences and jointly decided to divorce. I’m living in Boston now and would like to meet with you.”

Tom became a CDFA (divorcing) client and then a financial planning client of mine. The best thing I did for him, although they did not remain married, was to help him stay friendly with his now ex-spouse. For many split couples, the relationship never ends, especially those with children, but it does take a new shape.

A relationship saved

Another lady, Cindy, came to see me a few years ago. She was married to an extremely successful businessman who spent a great deal of time traveling. The children were grown and out of the house. She had her own life, which included the country club, board positions for charities, the theater and shopping. Her lifestyle was what many people would fantasize about, but she was lonely and unhappy. She was contemplating divorce.

We talked for a while, and I ascertained that her husband was not abusive nor stingy. She had free range to do whatever she wanted and spend whatever she pleased. I did point out to her that her change in marital status could affect her social status also. The ex-wife of a prominent man does not generally share the same status as a wife, unless she is also quite successful. I told her to go home, think about our conversation and come back the following week, which she did.

She admitted she liked her lifestyle and still liked her husband but was terribly lonely. I asked if there was anything precluding her from traveling with him and perhaps extending some of the trips by a few days? She said she never asked to go and he never invited her. At that point I suggested she take the lead, invite herself, find an interesting exhibit, play or restaurant that he would like and tell him that they had tickets or a reservation. She did and he was thrilled. Just recently I spoke to Cindy and they had just come back from Paris and were planning a non-work vacation to Rio.

Giving up hope too early

Although Tom’s marriage ended, that isn’t always the case. Cindy is a great example. Seeing what I’ve seen after working in my field for so many years, I believe we as a society are too easy to give up on marriages. We don’t realize that over the long term, we are going to have to learn to forgive if we want our relationship to last the test of time. (Note: This advice is not for anyone in an abusive relationship.)

Those who hit hard times, but made it through them, often have a significant sense of pride. Especially when they look back at their legacy. Later in life, one of the proudest things they can take with them is that they survived a period when it was easier to give up than go on.

As I wrote last year in the article Financial Reasons Not to Divorce, divorce can be expensive. If couples were willing to take the often high expense of divorce and instead invest just a part of that cost into their relationships, they would be much more likely to succeed.

Although Tom’s marriage ended, there are plenty other relationships that succeed, like Cindy’s. Marriage counselors can help. There are even times when money is the biggest reason for tension. In those cases, a financial planner can make a huge difference to help improve communications and build trust around money matters.

Although Valentine’s Day can add stress on marriages, remember it is just one day. It was originally for the Feast of Saint Valentine, but now has been commercialized to help sell candy, flowers, dinners and more. Don’t let it ruin your relationship!

About the Author

Barbara Shapiro, CFP®, CDFA®, CeFT

President, HMS Financial Group

Barbara Shapiro is the President of HMS Financial Group located in Dedham, Mass. She is a CFP®, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst and a Financial Transitionist®. She is also co-author of "He Said: She Said: A Practical Guide to Finance and Money During Divorce." Her firm specializes in comprehensive financial planning with a subspecialty in divorce that assists clients' transition from marriage to independence with peace of mind and confidence. Learn more at HMS-Financial.com.

Securities and Advisory Services offered through Cadaret, Grant & Co., Inc., a Registered Investment Adviser and Member FINRA/SIPC. HMS Financial Group and Cadaret, Grant & Co., Inc. are separate entities.

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