Dear Penny: Do I Fix My Boyfriend’s Money Mess if He’s Dealing With Trauma?

A couple console one another in a loving embrace while laying down.
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Dear Penny,

My partner and I have been together for 10 years. During that time, we have both had many mental and emotional struggles. It came out that he experienced sexual trauma as a child, and during that time he also had a close childhood friend die from a drug overdose. I had struggles of my own and got sober during that time. 

Now, we are recommitting to our relationship. Right now, we're in a long-distance relationship of 3,000 miles. We used to live together, but I moved back to our hometown. However, his mental health is getting worse, and it's impacting his finances.

He’s paying rent at two places because he can’t commit to moving to one place. His job doesn't pay him well. He doesn't budget for food and just goes out to eat every day since he feels too unwell to cook. 

We had a trip planned to Europe. Now he can't afford to go, even though we are staying with friends for free and only have to pay for our $600 tickets. He won't get therapy because he's scared, but also I think he thinks it's too expensive. 

We're both in our mid-twenties and equally financially unstable when it comes to day-to-day responsibilities. Neither of us is actively paying off our credit cards. However, I have some money from a trust fund. 

Should I be more understanding? Or, how could I suggest he moves home to save money when I don't understand his financial struggles since I have a nest egg? How can we have a future when he is so financially unstable? 


Dear K.,

Your dilemma isn’t, “How can we have a future when he is so financially unstable?” The real question is, “How can we have a future when he is so unstable?” And I’m not sure that you can, at least right now.

You say your partner’s worsening mental health is affecting his finances. I’m guessing it’s affecting every other aspect of his life as well. Money troubles are often just a symptom of a much bigger sickness.

Sometimes, focusing on financial problems is easiest because they’re quantifiable. When your partner is barely treading water because he’s paying double rent and eating out each day, you can calculate exactly how much of a shortfall exists. And you can jump in with solutions because they’re so obvious. But when you know in your heart that someone’s life is imploding and money is simply Exhibit D or E or F? That’s a much harder issue to address.

Dear Penny

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You can’t make your partner get the help he needs, but you can take charge of your own well-being. I’d urge you to talk to a mental health professional, given the seriousness of this situation.

Therapy used to be cost-prohibitive, but there are a lot more options now for finding affordable mental healthcare. Telehealth options like BetterHelp and Talkspace are typically much cheaper than meeting face-to-face with a therapist. The Open Path Psychological Therapy Collective offers reduced rates of $30 to $60 per session, based on financial need. Another option is the Association of Psychological Training Clinics, which offers lower-cost therapy with someone who’s training to be a clinician. You can also call the United Way’s 211 hotline to be connected with mental health resources in your community.

Please tell your partner that these resources are available to him when he’s ready. But know that this is his decision, not yours.

I hope you’ll discuss with a professional whether it’s healthy for you to stay in this relationship for the time being. You’ve been with your partner for 10 years, yet you’re only in your mid-twenties. The idea of letting go of a relationship that’s spanned nearly half of your lives is no doubt daunting, but it needs to be on the table.

Whatever you do, though, you need to live your life, even if your partner is stuck. Go to Europe without him as long as you can afford the $600. Tell him you understand that he doesn’t have the money right now. When you return, start tackling your credit card debt, even if your partner has no plans to pay down his balance. Keep your finances separate. Don’t try to rescue him.

You can be understanding. You can tell your partner you’re sorry for how much he’s hurting. But you can’t be responsible for his life decisions.

Once you finally get your finances in order, you want to keep them that way. Here are several moves to make now.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].