Married couples begin their lives together with high hopes, believing they will be able to weather tough times with help from each other. Yet many don’t realize that conflicts over money can weaken and even break the strongest of relationships.
Did you know that fighting about finances is a leading predictor of divorce? This is especially true when money conflicts begin early in a marriage, research shows. Couples that are on the same page in many other areas can become angry and argumentative when they find it hard to reconcile financial habits and beliefs that should have been discussed before they said “I do”.
If you’re struggling with disagreements over spending, saving, earning and other financial issues, it’s crucial to heal these issues before they do serious damage to your relationship. Below are 5 aspects of marital finances that often spark conflict. Use these as a starting point for exploring where you’re in alignment and where you may need to work harder to create agreement.
Whether it’s student loans, credit cards or even a hidden gambling habit, most partners bring some kind of financial baggage into the marriage. This can cause confusion and resentment, especially if one spouse has more debt than the other. Debt can act like an anchor that keeps your financial plan from moving forward, sometimes for years. If you didn’t discuss debt prior to getting married, it’s important to disclose the truth now with nothing held back. You need a plan to handle your debt as partners so you can build a solid financial future.
Your values and attitudes toward money will influence how you use money in everyday life. These beliefs are deeply rooted in you and reflect the way your family handled financial issues. Did you grow up with plenty of money – and therefore feel entitled to a certain lifestyle? Did your family emphasize the value of saving over spending? Even if you both have very little debt, you can run into trouble if you can’t put together a shared vision for how money will be spent, saved and invested.
Do both of you bring in a paycheck? Does one spouse earn significantly more than the other? Sometimes, the top earner in a relationship will feel temped to pull a “power play” in determining how money is spent. This form of financial bullying can create an imbalance in the relationship, leading to anger, resentment and frustration. It can also increase the pain felt by a spouse who may be underemployed or struggling to find the right career.
4. EXTENDED FAMILY
Married and committed couples are also part of a larger family system that has its own wishes and needs. For example, one spouse’s family may vacation every year at an expensive resort and expect the couple to join them, while the other spouse feels this cost far too much. Another spouse’s sibling might fall on hard times and ask to move in with the couple for a few months. You may both agree that family is important, but it can be much harder to define just how generous to be – and how much of your income should go to making other family members happy.
5. YOURS, MINE AND OURS
Sometimes couples handle money so differently that they decide to keep separate bank accounts, at least for a while. And even though this isn’t always a bad strategy, it can lead to problems if there isn’t a clear agreement as to how funds should be spent. How will shared expenses like the mortgage or rent be handled? Is it OK for one spouse to splurge on a new piece of sports equipment or a new wardrobe without checking with the other first? Without a common roadmap for spending and saving, it’s nearly impossible to come together on long-term goals such as travel, retirement or saving for a house.
STARTING A HEALTHY CONVERSATION ABOUT MONEY
Married and committed couples must communicate openly and often about money. Each must take an active part in understanding how the other feels about earning, saving and spending. A “my-way-or-the-highway” stance will destroy positive dialog, so even if you feel you have superior money skills, recognize that the goal is love and teamwork, not winning.
Adopt a no-shame-no-blame attitude toward debt. Regardless of who brought what into the marriage, agree to work as a team to get rid of it – and prevent it from coming back for good.
Full disclosure and equal knowledge are important. If one of you is handling the bills and the other is pretty much in the dark, begin by going over the numbers together. Create an inventory of your income, your expenses, your debt and your long-term goals. If both of you are involved in handling your money, use this conversation as a way to make sure your financial priorities are aligned.
Talk about where your attitudes about money come from. If you’re not sure where your values really lie, take some time to think about this – possibly making a few notes in a journal before you come together. The more you understand about each other’s attitudes about money, the easier it will be to create a shared vision of how to use the funds you have.
Avoid marginalizing or patronizing your spouse, no matter who earns or owns what.
The resentment created when one partner makes the other feel inferior will linger long after the money issue itself is resolved.
When it comes to extended family, affirm that YOUR family – the one you created when you came together as a couple – is a priority. Have a shared policy as to what you will and won’t spend in response to family requests or needs. This means agreeing that neither one of you will agree to something without consulting the other first.
A COUPLES THERAPIST CAN HELP YOU BUILD AGREEMENT
Money issues can replace love and happiness with hurt and bitterness. In most cases, the issues themselves are small in relation to the importance of your relationship. Partners must be willing to compromise, but each must also have a voice in determining how funds will be spent, saved and invested.
Working with a professional marriage counselor can help you clarify money problems and find workable solutions. Janae Munday, LCSW, has worked with hundreds of Phoenix-area couples to resolve financial and family issues. She can help you discuss money more calmly so you can find the answers together. To schedule an appointment, get in touch with Janae today.