Save Your Marriage by Solving Your Money Differences
Instead of fighting about finances, get honest about your money attitudes and get on the same team
Even when you love each other, money can be a marriage stressor. In fact, money problems are the number two reason, after poor communication, that people say they divorce, according to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.
Money factors into daily life in countless ways — we make it, spend it, save it, donate it, invest it and so on. And our emotions and past history factor into our attitudes about it. When partners come from different geographic, class, ethnic, educational, or religious backgrounds, common ground can be even harder to find. And if you married older, you probably brought more assets (and debts) to the table — along with longstanding habits surrounding both of them.
Not being on the same financial page as your partner can create tension and hostility, says Olivia Mellan, psychotherapist and author of “Money Harmony: Resolving Money Conflicts in Your Life and Your Relationship.” “It’s very common for couples to have to work out the problem of being enormously far apart in money philosophies and attitudes,” she says.
The key to dissipating this tension, experts say, is for both partners to identify and discuss their attitudes and values about money. Couples who take the time to do this are often rewarded with increased compatibility when it comes to their money goals, say financial planners as well as therapists who work with couples on sorting out money issues.
Use these strategies to get started.
1. Identify your money personality
Start by exploring your own beliefs about money and your relationship to money, advises Ruth L. Hayden, a financial educator in St. Paul, Minnesota, and author of “For Richer, Not Poorer — The Money Book for Couples.” Are you a miser? Do you relieve stress by engaging in retail therapy? Do you constantly worry about your retirement? Or are you an avoider who prefers a disorganized financial life to facing the chaos head-on?
2. Compare notes
Once you’ve identified your values and habits, come together to share these insights. Topics might include each person's life goals, and the role money played in their past. Was bill-paying day terrible growing up? Did your parents try to buy your love? Are you worried that you’re not saving enough for your kids’ college tuitions?
Schedule the meeting when no one is angry or feeling pressured. Agree ahead of time that there will be no blaming, judgment or meanness.If spouses share their feelings, with empathy, even opposites with clashing money personalities can learn to appreciate each other’s style, says Mellan, who notes that these differences are what attract many people to each other in the first place.
Even in a rocky marriage, spouses who discuss these issues may find they secretly envy or appreciate the other’s money strengths.
3. Schedule regular money meetings
Once you’ve identified the big issues and gotten clearer on what drives your thoughts and actions around money, it’s important to keep the momentum going with regular meetings that center around money management and logistics.
You might choose an agenda, such as saving for college, and then brainstorm how to address it . Eliminate the approaches that are least likely to work. Then decide who is going to do what and when.
These meetings are the time to rethink your marital division of financial labor and to take advantage of each partner’s strengths. Shopaholics, for example, may find that investing, even a small amount, is an outlet for them. A hoarder could draft a new budget.
After the meeting, allow no discussion of finances until the next set meeting, suggests Victoria Collins, PhD, CFP, co-author of “Couples and Money.” If money conversations are really difficult, set a time limit for the meeting.
4. Cope together with unemployment
Financial planners who specialize in couples and marriage counselors who focus on money agree that marriages face their biggest risk when a breadwinner becomes unemployed. The partner who lost a job can be much more deeply wounded and depressed than anyone expected. The depression can cripple the couple from making straightforward logical decisions about money.
“Face the surprise and embarrassment that can be so bitter,” says Adriane Berg, author of “Financial Planning for Couples.” Realize it’s temporary, in most cases. And accept that, like the rest of life, money doesn’t go on an upward spiral. There are ups and downs.”
Use your money meetings to strategize on how the unemployment will affect your finances. Can you tap the equity in your home if necessary? At what point will you need to think about downsizing? How will your holdings, prospective retirement income, assets and debts be affected?
Open, honest conversations about money are key to keeping both your finances and your marriage strong. Consider them a smart long-term investment.