I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry and for a moment I seriously thought there was a chance I was secretly filmed for a TV programme, but Jeremy Beadle was dead and the man in front of me didn’t look like PJ Gallagher – so what was happening was for real.
I was sitting in a small room in Dublin with a couple discussing their financial situation.
I had chatted to him two weeks before and this was our second meeting. You see, he had recently lost his job and the company he’d been working for offered him financial support as part of his redundancy package, so they asked me to work with him and help him make decisions about what he should do with his pension, termination payment, monthly cash flow and so on.
This meeting was to discuss the contents of a financial review I carried out for them, and what their next steps were, until he returned to employment.
We began the meeting by going through the review from the beginning so we were going to start by discussing their mortgage. Just as I was about to begin though, I detected – and this is probably easy to say in hindsight – a slight hint of tension between them. I don’t know whether it was their facial expressions (he seemed frightened and she seemed angry) or something with their body language, but something was off.
Before I could get a word in edgeways, she said the details he had given to me at the first meeting were incorrect. She was very – no, extremely – sorry that he had got it so wrong. She looked at me and shook her head a little.
“The correct details, Liam, are as follows,” she said, adding: “If, in future, you need any information will you contact me instead of my husband?”
“No problem,” I replied, trying to defuse things a little. “I can make the adjustments and amend the review very quickly – so no issues at all. It happens all the time ...
“Okay, let’s move on” I continued. “Next up, your mortgage protection policy. You are currently paying €45 per month on a policy with Irish Life and the type of policy is a ...”
“Sorry Liam, before you go on” she said. “The amount we pay each month is €76 and it is with Zurich Life.”
All the while she was saying this, she was looking at him, not me. There were seven sections in the review and we began each the same way – the information he gave to me was wrong, but she made no apologies and was very good at verbalising how it was all his fault.
If could put into words what their eyes were telling mine, her’s would have been along the lines of “I’m married to an absolute plonker”. His eyes suggested, to put it mildly, that he wasn’t best pleased with his own choice.
Anyway, to cap off one of the most uncomfortable 40 minutes of my life, he then came up with a doozy. I think he wanted to contribute something that would make me think they were equal in this relationship (they clearly weren’t). I am sure he didn’t mean for the question to come out the way it did, or maybe he did, but this is what he asked: “Liam, we have some money in the EBS for the children’s future education. Is there any way I can stop one of us (quick glance and nod of the head to her) from spending it?”
“WHAT??” she thundered.
“Sorry, you know, em, what I mean is ...”
“Do you think I would spend Rachel’s money? Is that what you’re suggesting? I set that bloody account up and you are asking is there a way to stop me from spending it on what, myself?”
“No, what I meant was ...”
“I know what you meant ...”
At this stage I was waiting for someone to burst through the doors, pointing at hidden cameras, shouting ‘Gotcha!’ I was beginning to think John Fitzgerald, my business partner, was behind the whole thing. I was thinking, ‘That fecker!’
But there was nothing, no interruption. no prank I wasn’t privy to. Instead, I chipped in with, “Let’s take a break for a few minutes and get a cup of tea or a glass of water.”
I was hoping the cuppa would be like a magic sponge on the sports field – that it would cure anything. It certainly calmed things down a small bit, but there was no point in continuing with the meeting given what had just gone on, so I suggested that we leave it for the time being.
Perhaps there were other things going on in their marriage that were bigger than the state of their finances. But then again, countless studies have shown that couples who aren’t afraid to talk about money and discuss the state of their finances tend to be in happier relationships. The Love & Money study found that 42% of couples who talk about money once a week described their relationship as very happy, compared with 27% who only talk about it once a month. The same study found that women regard talking about money as more important than men do.
Money can be that elephant in the room and can cause terrible unhappiness. It can lead to bitterness and resentment of your partner because you discover they overspend, hide debt, gamble, or haven’t paid loan or mortgage repayments. It can be the trigger that creates even bigger problems in relationships, which can then become very difficult to recover from.
Maybe the guy I met handled their family finances exclusively, and maybe he hid things about their finances. Perhaps he thought he was doing his wife a favour by telling her things were fine, when they weren’t.
Regardless of the reason, couples need to talk more about money and have open discussions about budgeting, debt, saving, spending and so on. And because money plays such an important role and impacts other areas of our lives – from the jobs we take, to how we raise our children – being on the same page financially and dividing the responsibilities equally between each other is one of the secrets to a happy and healthy relationship.