Divorcing someone just because they cancel their life insurance policy? Is that a reasonable thing to do?
The idea stunned me when I first read the e-mail. I figured there had to be more to the story, and there probably was. But as I read Melinda's e-mail, I realized that when her husband canceled that life insurance policy, it was the final straw.
For her husband Jim, it was just a financial decision. He had recently suffered a downturn in his business and cut the insurance as a measure to trim the red ink. But Melinda thought other expenses should have been cut in order to get out of debt.
And Jim's unilateral move put Melinda in real financial danger. Besides that, it was a breach of trust. When they got married, they agreed that they would make all major financial decisions together. And that's how they approached their financial life -- until Jim put the kabosh on his life insurance policy.
Melinda was counting on that insurance. She realized that the proceeds of that policy were the only safety net she had in case her husband died.
Now that he's cancelled it, if he does die, Melinda will wind up out in the cold... Literally.
What could Jim and Melinda have done differently to avoid this trouble?
The most obvious thing would have been for Jim to talk with Melinda before he cancelled the policy. He probably just did it because he felt trapped and didn't discuss it because he was ashamed of not making as much money as he had in the past.
But it doesn't stop there. I believe that Melinda bears some responsibility.
Could she have seen this coming? Did she suggest ways to save money? Did she look for cheaper life insurance? Was she involved in her husband's business? Significant business downturns rarely happen over night. Did she ever ask how things were going? Did she pay attention? When she saw things going downhill, did she talk about the idea of 2nd job (for Jim or for herself)? Did she discuss the personal budget situation with him? Since the life insurance was so important, should she have been on top of making sure the premiums were paid?
I'm not trying to blame this on Melinda, and I'm not trying to create a new "Days of Our Lives" soap opera. I'm trying to determine if something can be learned from Jim and Melinda.
When you encounter financial challenges as a couple, it's easy to point the finger. But it's rarely helpful. In fact, if you're really looking for a silver lining in an otherwise dark cloud, find how you contributed to a problem.
Even if your spouse is 99% at fault, consider your 1% -- at least at first. By doing so, you accomplish a number of very important things.
First, by examining your own behavior, you have a real chance at doing better next time. I don't know about you but I have no control over my spouse. I have a lot more control over my own actions.
Second, by admitting your own responsibility, your spouse will be more willing to admit their own failures.
Let's say your husband comes home and announces he just signed up for a new credit card because they offered 5000 bonus miles. After you review the paperwork, you find that the credit card was a bad deal. Now you want to close the account because the annual fees are ridiculous.
At first, it's hard to see how you had any part in your husband's thoughtless behavior.
But upon closer inspection, you understand there are things you could have done differently. You could have gotten yourself involved in the search for a good credit card, for example.
When things go wrong, this exercise is super important. It gives you your best shot at improving your finances and your relationship. It's also the best way to stay out of divorce court.
I know this is really a tall order -- especially when your partner did something colossally dumb. I certainly don't take advantage of this idea as often as I should.