Can you be truly vulnerable with a man without making yourself financially vulnerable?

I recently came across this article I wrote a couple years ago for Retail Me Not: “Cashless in Splitsville: 5 women share the money lessons they learned from divorce.” Whether it’s about maintaining your career, ensuring both parties’ names are on all investments, debt and utilities, and fighting for a decent living standard post-marriage, the takeaway is the same: Conduct life as a wife as if you are prepared to be an ex-wife. This is the same message I preach, too. The numbers alone are compelling enough. As I wrote in that article:

When it comes to divorce, women have historically gotten the short end of the financial stick. Historically, wives have earned less than husbands, taken on more unpaid childcare duties and are less involved with household finances—all of which is exacerbated in divorce. A recent U.S. Census report found that 23 percent of women who divorced in the past 12 months were more likely to receive public assistance, compared with just 15 percent of divorced men. The report also showed that 27 percent of recently divorced women made less than $25,000 per year, compared with 17 percent of men.

But the more I study long-term marriage and happy relationships I realize that emotional vulnerability is a key component. You must allow yourself to truly, unabashedly open up to the other person in order to connect with them a way that is both deeply meaningful and sustainable. Writes therapist Terry Gaspard in the HuffingtonPost:

Vulnerability just might be the glue that holds a relationship together. It can help you navigate day-to-day life with a partner and allow you to feel comfortable letting your hair down with them at the end of the day. Likewise, it may be the lack of emotional attunement that comes from not showing vulnerability that can lead many couples down the path to divorce. If you are afraid of showing weakness or exposing yourself to your partner, you might not be aware that your fear is preventing you from being totally engaged in the relationship. You might be freezing out the opportunity to love because you are afraid to let your authentic self shine and to share your innermost thoughts, feelings, and wishes.

That resonates with me, as I have been thinking about vulnerability a lot lately. It’s very hard for me to be vulnerable. It’s difficult to let people really see who I am. What if they do catch a glimpse at the very, very real essence of me — and then reject it?

Yet the past few years have brought a lot of opportunity to work through that fears — my ex-husband’s accident, after which I came to rely on a lot of help from others — more than any other time in my life; becoming a mom, which broke open my heart in new and painfully important ways; and some experiences with men in which I have found myself raw in ways that were until then foreign to me. I have also chosen to start this blog and write so very personally – being vulnerable in an extreme and public way. Clearly it is time for me to tackle this big issue. I see that it is necessary if I am to find a true love, be the best mom I can, or do my best work as a writer.  It is hard. So scary. I am doing it.

But how do you reconcile the need to be vulnerable in a relationship with the need for financial protection in the event the relationship ends? How do you put your energy into a romance with emotional abandon while also constantly taking steps to protect your and your kids’ financial stability? Can you have a really truly awesome love while forever keeping an eye on your financial ball for the event of a breakup?

Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour,, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post’s ‘Must Read” list.

Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.

A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.

3 thoughts on “Can you be truly vulnerable with a man without making yourself financially vulnerable?

  1. I have no idea. I’d like to think two mature people who have both been through some painful experiences may be able to fall deeply in love while at the same time maintaining their own financial security because they realize that nothing is guaranteed in life. And they do have prior responsibilities, like children from a previous relationship, that they need to look out for.

    So financial vulnerability is probably the last thing to occur on the path to total intimacy. You can’t control your emotions as well as you can your finances. There’s annoying paperwork to stand in the way of doing things financially together that at least slows you down and makes you think about whether or not you should actually be doing it. Also, in some ways it just feels much more irresponsible to risk your money/career than your heart.

    But I also know that total vulnerability, financial and emotional, does not guarantee a truly awesome love either. I’ve already done that. And now I’m paying the price. I had no plan B because I never thought I would need one. Luckily, I’m smart, relatively young, and educated and I’m going to be fine… but I’m never going to be as financially fine as my ex.

    1. Hi Erica – in all my years reporting as a business/personal finance journalist I always found that there is such a tight connection between emotion and money – nearly impossible to separate the two. But I like your optimism – yes, maybe it takes a second or later-life relationship for two people to have a more realistic view of finances and love — but does all that caution stand in the way of a really awesome connection?

      I don’t have answers – only questions (this time!).

  2. Hi Emma! This is my second post here. Not sure if you read this older comments but here it goes: I divorced in 2005 my kids were all so young and I was very heartbroken. Financially I was destroyed. I relied on welfare for a while or else my 4 kids would have starved. I understood after much agony that we are solely responsible for our lives outcome and no matter how open and honest and committed you want to be with your loved man, your financial life is your responsability , just as your health is for example. No one is going to tell you not to eat those five dunuts, just like no one is goin to warn you about posible problems. Another thing is, we always think divorce, but what about death or injury/ illness of your spouse? Aren’t those also enough reasons to be financially ready? One may or may not choose to disclosure yiur stashed money with the partner. One might think it’s not being completely open. But you know what? In all my years of experince we think we know our man deep down, only to find out we never truly knew them at all. And last when you and i mean that as in all women have children, we are not only responsible for our outcome, but theirs as well. Love and money are two different things. My love of 11 years didn’t feed and clothed my kids after my divorce. Choose wisely always. Men and love come and go. Your lifeedback and kids stay through ordeals or wins depending on tour choosing and planning. You know this deep down inside. We all do.

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