Getting married is one of the happiest experiences in this life. Whether young or old, newlywed couples are excited to start a new life and look forward to the good times they will have together. They expect that there will be times of disagreement. But they rarely expect money, which is one of the biggest factors in divorce, to be the culprit. They are coddled by their naivety and end up being caught unaware when issues — past, present or future — come out of the woodwork.
Arguing about money is the top predictor of divorce, especially when those arguments happen early in marriage. Otherwise happy marriages can disintegrate quickly when couples are unable to reconcile differences on habits and personality traits that were deeply ingrained long before the “I do.” Some of those marriages don’t end in divorce, but constant fighting about money problems and the tension that ensues can kill whatever happiness the couple once hoped for.
1. Debt. Whether it is student loans, credit cards, an auto loan or a gambling habit, most people have some sort of financial baggage that tags along with them to the altar. This can cause problems when discussions about budgeting and paying off debt comes up, especially if one spouse brings in more debt than the other, or even if one came into the marriage debt-free. Debt can act like an anchor that keeps your financial plan from moving forward, sometimes for years.
2. Personality. Your personality is one of the biggest influences on how you manage money. It’s something that has been deeply rooted in you since childhood and is difficult to change. A couple might be completely debt-free, but can still run into trouble if one is a saver and the other a spender. This happens especially when the couple didn’t take the time to truly get to know each other before tying the knot and weren’t able to see anything but their spouse’s “best face.”
3. Income. If only one spouse is working, or one spouse earns more than the other, it can be easy for the spouse with more income to initiate a “power play” and dictate how the money is to be spent. Some have called it financial bullying. This can be multiplied when a spouse is unemployed or underemployed, adding insult to injury. It is easy to rationalize the idea, but it undermines the importance of the couple working as a team toward common goals.
4. Extended Family. His family wants to take a trip to Disneyland, while her brother needs a place to stay for a few months. His sister needs gas money, while her parents keep pressuring her to visit more often since you’ve moved out of state. Before you know it, one spouse is agreeing to things because “family is most important,” while the other spouse is wondering why “our” family and needs aren’t most important. It can also go the other way when one spouse’s parents are able and willing to pay for vacation expenses and extravagant Christmas gifts, while the other’s aren’t. And with that, extended family relations can reach their meddling fingers into your wallet.
5. Yours, Mine and Ours. Sometimes money habits are so divergent that a couple decides to split their expenses and maintain separate bank accounts to avoid future arguments. While this is not always the worst solution to such a problem, and it allows each spouse to spend what they have left as they see fit, it can still build resentment over extraneous purchases either spouse makes. It can also cripple the couple’s saving power, making it difficult to reach future common goals such as retirement, traveling, etc.
Solutions. When you’re not on the same page financially, the best solution that can be applied in all cases is communication. Couples need to learn to communicate openly and honestly, while also trying to understand their spouse’s point of view rather than taking a “my way or the highway” stance. If you aren’t yet married, it’s very important to communicate about money so that you know what you are getting into. Getting to know your partner’s personality, debt and family situation can give you a good idea of what to expect and what it will take to work together. Take the time to get to know your own money personality, as well. This can help you understand why your spouse may disagree with your decisions and give you direction on how to improve.
Along with that, too many couples spend so much time planning their wedding day that they forget about the actual marriage. Take the time to talk before marriage about how you plan to deal with money. Be aware of what the future may look like financially, and talk about common goals that can help you work together to be successful.
If you are already in the thick of things, avoid marginalizing or patronizing your spouse, no matter which side of the coin you are on, especially in a “power play” situation. The resentment that is bred by being made to feel inferior may go on long after the money issue itself is resolved.
When it comes to extended family, decide early on that the family you created at marriage is the No. 1 priority. Have a policy on what you will and won’t do when it comes to extended family. Never agree to something regarding extended family without speaking with your spouse first, and be sensitive to any apprehension your spouse may exhibit during the conversation.
If debt is an issue, recognize that when you were married, you chose to marry that person along with his or her debt. Unless the debt was concealed, it’s not helpful to discuss who brought how much into the marriage. Rather than laying blame, work as a team to get rid of it.
If things are so bad that you are considering separating your finances in order to avoid future problems, it may be a good time to seek professional help. After all, money is generally not the root of money problems in marriage, rather there is an underlying selfishness and pride that needs to be addressed. Working with a professional counselor can help you identify the problems and find meaningful solutions.
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In all things, remember the worth of your marriage. Money issues can wreak havoc and replace love and happiness with hurt and bitterness. In most cases, the issues themselves are marginal in comparison to the importance of your relationship. Be willing to compromise in order to preserve happiness, but don’t allow yourself to be taken advantage of. Be open and honest, but refrain from being condescending or inconsiderate. Rather than focusing on the problem, focus on the solution and how you can improve your relationship. As you do so, you will see changes that may surprise you for the better.