Kelley Keehn is an expert in money psychology and contributor to On the Money. Visit her at KelleyKeehn.com
Q: I inherited a house from my family and my girlfriend and I were quite happy about it and hoped to someday move into it. In the meantime, I ended up with lots of debt and took a risky mortgage out on the home. One bad move after another and the house was put into foreclosure. I decided not to tell my girlfriend about it and for months kept it from her. I felt embarrassed as a man to have this failure happen to me.
Needless to say, she found out and was furious and felt betrayed. It was as if I had cheated on her.
What can I do now to win back her trust? Every time we talk about money I feel less like a man and more like a financial screw up and I think she holds it over my head. Help! --Bob, NY
Keehn: Bob, you have two major issues. First, is to understand why your house went into foreclosure (we don’t want history repeating itself on you down the road) and second, rebuilding the lost trust with your girlfriend.
You didn’t just inherit a house when your parents passed away, you inherited blood money. What I mean by that is, when someone receives money or assets due to the death of a loved one, it can be viewed as “blood money.”
Of course this isn’t thought of at a conscious level and when I had my practice, I witnessed many clients making foolish money moves because they were so uncomfortable with this money, many times, still dealing with the grief of their loss.
You’re not alone, Bob. With trillions of dollars changing hands to the baby boomers from their parents starting now and in the future, this is a sizable problem. There’s nothing you can do now, but being aware of why you made some of those adverse money moves to lose your home might help your girlfriend understand why you felt the need to hide this foreclosure from her. This doesn’t make you less than a man or person. It makes you human.
Building back her trust
Although you didn’t cheat on her with another woman, your girlfriend is justified in feeling betrayed nonetheless. For the relationship to have a chance of survival, I need you to take some action.
1. You need to come clean about what happened and why. It’s not easy for many men to talk about their feelings, especially those surrounding a financial setback such as a foreclosure. But by helping her understand that the house was a huge emotional disconnect for you, she’ll more than likely sympathize with you. However, you must allow her to still feel angry at your lack of communication with her during the incident.
2. As a couple, you’re either a team or you’re not. You need to win her trust back and vow to play as a unified front in the future. What this might mean for her in the short-term is that you go over board in including her in minor and major decisions proactively surrounding finances and otherwise. You don’t need to do it forever, but it will, over time, build back her trust.
3. To prevent this from happening in the future, ask and agree to a regular money meeting with each other. Also, get her permission to provide a mutually safe environment where you can both share your hopes, fears and goals without judgment. Over time, this adversity can strengthen your relationship together if you’re both willing to work at it and communicate openly and, most important, honestly.