My husband and I got married for all the usual reasons: love, shared values, similar interests, etc., etc. Over the course of 14 years, we have developed ways to make our minor incompatibilities seem insignificant by, for example, having children . We simply don’t have time to dwell on how to remove all friction from our relationship because we are too busy.
As a result of the daily pressures of family and work, we have become what you hear many couples say they are, which is “a good team”. Not in an annoying #winneatgiftliv #vivegotthis#teamother way, but in that we’re pretty good at splitting things up. As all full-time working couples with children know; divide and conquer is generally the best way to manage, whether it’s “you take child A to the park while I dress child B”, “you cook dinner while I iron” or “you clean out the bunnies and I” will feed the dog”.
Naturally, we have found that we have divided roles according to the economic principle of specialization, which means that we each do the things we are best at for optimal efficiency (although it is quite difficult for me to accept that I am not necessarily best overall). Or at least we do the things that the other person dislikes more.
Sometimes we may deviate from our specializations due to circumstances. So, for example, I usually cook, my husband usually irons. Sometimes the husband cooks and I iron. I usually walk the dog, the husband usually washes the car. Sometimes the man wants to walk the dog, while… actually I never wash the car. But there are also some things my husband never does.
Or at least it was. Lately he has become extremely helpful, wanting to do more of the things I usually do. I should be grateful – I usually am. But sometimes this helpfulness overshoots the mark. He went too far a few months ago when he strayed into the realm of choosing a new TV and broadband provider without consultation.
He had found that we would get faster broadband and a cheaper monthly rate if we switched from Sky to BT, so in a fit of determination he signed up to switch. The main problem with this was that we were still in our contract with Sky, which was in my name. He mentioned something about checking the Sky contract terms – I was too busy to follow up.
Long story short, we ended up overpaying for two service providers for three months. We argued. It remains a sore point; a wound that occasionally reopens when Wi-Fi slows down or someone can’t find what they want to watch because BT has a different channel layout.
If only he had stuck to car washing and ironing and not strayed into the realm of personal financial management. It’s too late now, of course. But I’ve always enjoyed monitoring financial decisions, for good reason. I’ve covered the world of personal finance for almost two decades – I know my way around the mortgage market, ISA funds, pension tax relief calculations and broadband providers (although I admit I don’t think even financial expert status makes you immune to the odd judgement) . So it makes sense for me to put it on, right?
But I feel rude when I complain that he helped and made a mistake. I should just be grateful that he was proactive and tried to ease the burden of the family finances off my stacked shoulders, shouldn’t I? In truth, I was grateful and annoyed in equal measure.
The thing is, I really want us to share household financial management – it’s a burden. I only do it because it’s easier and faster if each of us sticks to the knitting. We rarely have time to talk to each other unless it’s about who’s doing what in the next 24 hours – finding time to discuss whether we want to switch broadband and TV providers is just not going to happen.
The other problem, besides lack of time, is that when we try to talk money, it rarely ends well. My husband is annoyed with himself, he’s not better at it, and I’m annoyed that he doesn’t know more. So we stop talking about it and I continue to quietly note the end dates of appointments in my diary.
But would we both feel less stressed and maybe even make better decisions in the long run if we talked more about our finances and shared more of the work of finding and trading deals? I hate to admit it, but I think we would. This faint inkling that the broadband port will eventually have been a useful step towards better economic harmony between us has helped me bite my tongue. We will learn from this. We will talk more and share more and find ways to make decisions together rather than separately, in memory of Sky TV and its (IMO) superior functionality.
What I’m saying is that standing up and striking out may not always be the best way to go. Household finances can be a major source of stress – even divorce, for some couples. Perhaps the way to avoid that fate is not to crack individually. Perhaps the path to marital harmony is to share, even if that means the occasional mistake sometimes; to download Excel together one evening instead of catching up Stranger Things and start entering consumption and savings plans, a list of current providers, prices and agreement expiration dates, and decide without judgment who is best suited to do what.