How to Protect Yourself From Getting Stuck in a Horrible Relationship

Couple finances

It happens all too often. Someone is in a really toxic relationship and cannot escape. While I am biased that couples should usually try to work things out first (especially if it’s a long-term commitment like marriage, but I do not push my bias on others), sometimes relationships become unhealthy.

I fully support one person being a homemaker. Many people go into this role when the couple is in the honeymoon stage and very much in love. The idea that they would ever want to break up, separate, or divorce is out of the question. Hopefully, most of these couples are right. But sometimes, they are wrong. When one person is the sole breadwinner, the other can be stuck. Even if the couple is married and things may be split down the middle, it’s not entirely uncommon that one person controls the bank accounts and shuts off access to funds. One person may also have health insurance in their name. Even if you are sure you would never get a divorce and it’s not an option under any circumstances, your life insurance should be in both names (if you have kids, I consider life insurance an absolute must). If you depend on your partner’s income, this is also a must, as this may not be enough forever. There are various reasons why the stay-at-home partner may want to find a part-time work-from-home job or keep up with education and training. Perhaps someday you decide that although your relationship is great, you don’t need a job but want a job. Maybe financial demands increase, and at-home responsibilities sometimes decrease as kids age.

Some people feel stuck if they haven’t been fully involved in sharing managing the bills, investments, bank accounts, etc. One person may be totally in the dark regarding financials or things like life insurance, health insurance, kids’ college savings, etc. This information can be helpful again if something happens to the knowledgeable partner. It can help spread duties and ensure both partners have basic life skills for whatever life brings.

Some couples get in trouble when they sign a long-term lease with someone with whom they have not made a serious commitment. I am not a lawyer and do not give legal advice, but perhaps one could contact an attorney to find out how to formulate a lease with a romantic partner when it’s not sure (is it ever really sure?) that the relationship will outlive the lease. Ending the relationship may be possible if necessary, but the logistics going forward can be a nightmare. If you buy a house together, make sure it’s in both of your names. If you have two cars and you each paid for them or one of them is yours, make sure your name is on the title. There have definitely been cases where two cars were in one name, an unmarried couple (if married long enough it may not matter) split up, and the couple with the second car in their name sold it and kept the money at the first mention of a breakup.

Prenuptial agreements are a personal decision. You may be absolutely against the concept, and that is great. For those who want optimal protection, though, it may make sense. Of course, having a substantial emergency fund for each of you is easier said than done, but it can certainly help if you decide you need to separate for a bit while you figure things out (I am not suggesting hiding funds, but agreeing with your partner to keep some funds in separate accounts in case there is an unplanned event and one of you need money). Emergency account(s) can be a great idea anyway for things like unexpected job loss or any emergency (you need a new roof, the furnace goes out, someone gets really sick). Having separate accounts can work too, as long as the stay-at-home parent is paid for their at-home duties. I’ve seen unscientific articles value being a homemaker at 80k-250k a year. Taking care of a home (and especially when kids are involved) is a very tough and respectable job. The downside is that if you don’t have a backup plan and things really go south, you may be stuck in that role.

Another key is if you have had kids together, make sure that both of your names are on the birth certificate. Sometimes the father’s name is simply the result of asking the mother and marking down the response. In some cases, the mother isn’t sure and perhaps thinks it’s an exes baby. I’ve heard of cases where the mother leaves the father off or names someone else out of spite. Hopefully, this doesn’t happen often, but protect yourself.