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Friday, September 16, 2016

When Money Killed My Marriage

Looking back, I think what killed my marriage was money. I want to say that it just didn't work out. I want to say that we are just too different, that we have nothing in common. I want to say that he is a horrible human being, but then again I probably am too, and that's why we called it a day. But no. Money killed the marriage. Plain and simple.

It was there lurking in the background, creating the feeling of inadequacy. As we fight and bicker, as we vent our frustration with each other, it was there silently inflamed the frustration. As we cuddle and smile and being loving to one another, it was there silently spread a sense of underlying uneasiness. The sad part is, we have enough. It's not like we can't buy groceries or pay rent. It's just that we can't go on impulsive vacations or eating out often or take a day or a week off from work because we feel like it.

"Why are we still living in this tiny apartment?"
"Why are we still living in this sh*thole area?"
"We are not meant to live poor like this."
"Why are we not successful?"
"Why are you not a famous writer yet?"
"Why don't we have our own house, here or in Bali?"
"Why don't we have a plan?"
On good days, I will bite my tongue and stay mum on the above 'criticism'; on bad days I will counter the negative talk and we'll end up in full-blown argument.

The problem with marrying someone from abroad, especially when you meet her/him there, is that you fell in love with a girl/boy on vacation. You are not working, you got money to spend, and even if you are in his/her country to work it'll still have that distinct 'not-home' feel. When you are on vacay or making money is some faraway country you are not bothered with the bills or groceries or other day-to-day dread. You are relaxed, you are enjoying yourself. You then associate the relax and laid back feeling with that person and you think you'll achieve the same happiness with him/her every single time. It's like falling in love with a mirage.

Granted, not everyone is like this. Throughout the courtship, and eventually the marriage, time will tell if you really love this person for who he/she is, or do you love him/her for who you think (or hope) he/she is. It is a challenging enough chore, especially since you suddenly live together after a lengthy period of absence. You think it's cute when he said he love bacon, you didn't realize he ate bacon with pretty much everything, even his buggers. You think it's adorable when she said she love to cuddle, you didn't realize it means she wants to cuddle with you 24/7 like an octopus. Add financial stress to the equation and it's no longer challenging. It is downright painful.

What people don't realize is marrying someone from abroad is an expensive business. Unless the said person owns an immeasurable wealth, the sponsor (the US spouse) will be responsible for most, if not all of the bill. It is even formally required for getting fiancée/spouse visa and the conditional green card: the sponsor has to support the fiancée/spouse for two years until he/she got the non-conditional green card (or if he/she failed to obtained it and has to leave US). The initial K1 visa application itself could reach a whopping $1675. Then there's the interview and medical checkup (complete with vaccines and such). Then there's the plane ticket. Then there's the wedding fee of $135 (in CA), and this is only for courthouse wedding. Then there's another medical checkup in US for green card application, and pay up for green card application + work permit. All and all the official fee could go well into $4-5k mark.

Even if the spouse is able to pay half of the cost, there's added issue with him/her not be able to work right away. It took almost 6 months from my arrival to me receiving my work permit. It took a while for me to adjust myself in the US and I only got my first job about 4-6 months after I live in LA. My friend spent a year in community college before getting her first job. The reason is: our work experience and education means jacksh*t in US. Yes, I am a 30 something woman, but in US work force I am pretty much the equivalent of a fresh-graduate. When you sign that immigration form stating you are willing to support your fiancé/spouse, you have to really mean it because that's what will happen. Not because your fiancé/spouse is an unashamed golddigger, but because most likely he/she will need adjustment process for herself, and have to go through all the bureaucratic process of establishing him/herself as a legal resident of US in order to work legally.

This is where we failed. When we had money during the first year of our marriage, everything was smooth and fun. Entering second year, the fact that I was not working yet, and afterwards working but only earning half of what he earned, was a big annoyance for him and it lingers like a thorn in our relationship. The fact that relationship was more than money game, the fact that I poured all my heart and love to him, to the kids, to the family, these mean nothing for him. He was adamant on me 'leeching' off of him, even though I can clearly show him how much he actually 'spent' on me per month, and even though I actually chipped in right as soon as I got a job. He was not ready for the financial implication of the marriage.

Sadly, this is preventable. Yes, he is a jerk and there's nothing to prevent that. But had he actually sit down and planned out everything, we might have a chance. Sitting down and talking about your finance is scary and embarrassing. Everybody get a little defensive because nobody wants to be told that he/she can't afford things they like. Thus the evasion, the "I don't want to talk about it right now", the "I am in good condition"; it's like putting off going to the dentist for the hole in your tooth, but day in and day out you live with the painful uncomfortable feeling plus the dread knowing you will eventually have to go there anyway. One visit, one very scary moment as the doctor examined your mouth and pulled the bad tooth out, and you're done. You might even find yourself in a better place than you are before. Yeah, the strip club visits need to stop, but you'll be able to eat more than just cereal each day so to speak.

Successful couple shares the same goals, and more importantly, willing to work together to achieve that goal. Financial stability is something that every couple should strive for, especially to achieve other goals. It's easier to deal with issues and emergencies when you don't have to worry whether or not you can pay for next month's rent or buy gas to get to the office. It's easier to forgive and forget in/after the fight if you do it with full stomach and a warm bed to rest at night. I tried everything: finance on excel spreadsheet, various budgeting app from the manual to the automatic ones; he just won't budge. In the meantime, the frustration kept mounting, the fights became more and more bitter, and in the end, here we are right now, completely separated from one another.

Money destroyed my relationship but in a way it saved my life. Coming from Indonesia, I quickly realize how easy it is to navigate US' pretty-straightforward system. I managed to arrange all of my bank accounts to get the monthly fee waived. I dabbled in the world of budgeting app before finally settling into an automated one, even tried robo-investing app. I live strictly by my budget and count every penny (technically my app did that for me). By the time I decided I have enough of him I could easily walk out the door for good, because I know I can afford living by myself. My rainy day fund was enough to furnish the apartment, mini vacay to Seattle, and even self-medication through binge online shopping. I got hit by apartment fee, increase in tax withholding, and other bills that would be so much cheaper if we could share the costs. Yet it doesn't bother me that much. As a matter of fact, I now have an investment account, a ROTH/IRA, and life insurance. This all happened with my (a little bit above) minimum wage job. What he and I could achieve together, considering he makes 2.5x what I make, could be phenomenal. But it didn't happen.

If you are looking to get serious with someone, if you wanted to escape of your daily frustration with life, sit down and do your finance. Money is not everything but having it (wisely) will give you option, which will be very useful when sh*t happens. And since this is life we're talking about, sh*t always happen. There's no embarrassment on knowing what you can or cannot afford, and everybody struggle with this regardless of how much they make. Save your relationship, save your sanity. Sit down and do your homework. It will do you good, and you might not need to lose the one you love. Take it from me: it sucks.


  1. This article hits me. Thanks for sharing, mbak.

  2. Makasi untuk article nya mba. Semoga bisa belajar dari pengalamannya mba. Semoga sukses di negeri orang ya..

  3. Thanks for your article..izin share mba..


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