Money & Marriage: Troublesome Mix

Holding top spot on the chart tracking Things-That-Couples-Fight-About? Money.

No matter how much you have or don’t have, money triggers disagreement between couples. Why? Well, let’s introduce this issue by saying that everyone has their our own approach to spending, saving and investing money. And it’s rare for two people to consistently be on the same page with their money thoughts and feelings.

But here’s the thing: it’s never just about money. It’s deeper than that. It’s complicated and thorny and knotty and tricky and just plain tough.

Below the surface, sowing the seeds for argument, is the issue we all have to face one day (no, not the one where you question why and how you morphed into your parent): what does money mean to you?

  • Does money represent Safety? Power? Love? Control? Success? Freedom? Prestige? Generosity?
  • What did you learn from your parents (our typical role models for managing money), how do you emulate their saving and spending patterns, and have you questioned why you emulate them at all?
  • Do you share money decisions with your partner? If yes, do both of you have a fair and equal say regarding money decisions? If not, you absolutely have to look into this because, unless your partner sports wings (hint: heavenly angel), resentment is growing.
  • As for the person earning less money, is their self-esteem taking a hit; feeling as though they don’t measure up because they’re not contributing enough dough to the relationship? And maybe not receiving enough respect for other contributions and accomplishments?

Potentially, it’s a minefield, this whole money and relationships business! But do not fret, for all is not lost for those who read on.

Communication and Flexibility

Okay, so you love each other, maybe you’re even nuts about each other (good for you!) but when it comes to finances, there is close to zero compatibility. What do you do?

Talk to each other. Open up. Reveal your hopes and dreams and fears and debts and assets. In a relaxed, peaceful way because, hey, this is your partner and you love her/him, and there’s no place for anxiety where two healthy adults are discussing what is the best way forward for both of them.

When you’re talking, expect to compromise, to take one or two or three for the team because that’s what teammates do for each other. They understand that money management is a joint responsibility, recognize the pressure that their partner is under, empathize with the particular emotional money-related baggage carried by their partner, and help out where possible. The bonus of working together? Disagreements are kept to a minimum, and you’ll respect each other that much more.

No Two Ways About It: Budgets Are Not Sexy

Sexy, shmexy. So it’s not your idea of fun. Okay, got it. Opinion noted. Now, forget about judging the process and acknowledge that drafting a family budget is The Most Effective Way To Track Your Money.

And when you track your money, you are soooooo much more likely to reduce frivolous spending, contribute to savings, achieve your financial goals and … (drum roll please) minimize money related disagreements thereby making for a more loving and peaceful relationship and life.

I mean, if you both want to retire at, say, age 55, and move to Peru because you do not want to live another day without sipping their unbelievably delicious, delectable coffee then, budget-wise, what do you have to do to make this happen?

If you want to buy a home, top up your investment accounts, save for the kids education costs, pay off the mortgage … again, figure out what needs to be done and structure the budget to make goals a reality.

As the architect of your life, you are much more likely to build according to plan when you actually have a plan, i.e, a budget. And you review the plan once or twice each year, adjusting as necessary to account for life changes. The alternative, which rarely works out well, is something called ‘a hope and prayer’. I don’t recommend this.

For those who get a headache just thinking about the task of drafting a budget, well, technology to the rescue! There are a whole bunch of money management programs that smooth the process. For starters, take a look at Mint and Learnvest.

Whether you rely on this kind of program or not, the point is for you to do whatever you need to get that budget in place, to ensure your plans turn into reality according to your schedule.

Two Becomes One

In a healthy relationship, there is no more ‘yours’ or ‘mine’ when it comes to money matters. When you hitch your wagon to another, you sign up for the assets and the debts.

As a team, you’re building together for a common future. And if you don’t accept this line of thinking, um, well, money issues will definitely be an ongoing source of stress. Because by not accepting the team concept, you’re going at it alone and, last time I checked, marriage was exclusively a team game. The go-it-alone approach? That’s just a sign of deeper issues, starting with lack of respect and trust that will ultimately corrode your relationship.

Shhhh! It’s Secret

Referring back to the ‘Marriage Is A Team Game’ line of thinking, don’t hide money issues from your partner. Don’t keep a secret credit card or make large purchases without telling your partner. In the wider world, that kind of behavior is called deception and it’s not looked upon kindly. Because if you intentionally deceive your partner, then it’s not about money, it’s about trust, and lack of trust is not healthy for any relationship.

That said, no one cares to be micro-managed. In this regard, you may want to agree upon a dollar amount that would activate the I-should-tell-my-partner-about-this purchase-because-I-love-my-partner. For example, both of you agree to make a point of telling the other when making a purchase costing more than $100, or whatever dollar amount suits you. And this sort of behavior has the added bonus of reinforcing trust and respect, and making life peaceful and loving for the long haul.

Thrifty Couples Are Happier

It’s not about the money or being a miser. Rather, it’s about what you value. If you value relationships, friends, giving effort, and purpose, then you walk hand in hand with happiness. And if you value loading up your existence with material stuff, then the worse off you’ll be as far as happiness goes.

Of course, this notion of value I’m spouting is from a bygone era. It doesn’t have to be but that seems to be the general direction of things.

Fact is, we live in a society that elevates a corporate culture promoting product cycles lasting maybe six months, one where we consumers are encouraged to buy the latest model, the biggest home, the most luxurious car, and spare no expense because (hello banks and lending companies!) you have the option of borrowing money and going further into debt.

Stuff. It’s a powerful draw for most of us. The mere wanting of stuff is enough to turn some of us into bobbleheads; bouncing around excitedly, our mind shut off from any other thoughts, like the inevitable weight we’ll feel under the burden of credit card debt or home line of credit debt, and the gloomy pessimism we experience when our financial hole gets deeper and deeper. Most importantly, the damage that excessive consumption and resulting debt does to meaningful relationships.

The thing is, the so-called Disney created ‘American Dream’, it’s not about having everything you want. Nope. It’s about achieving self-sufficiency, knowing that you do not have to rely on someone else for your livelihood. And the more you spend, the more you consume, the less likely you will ever know this kind of freedom or happiness, the kind that thrifty couples know really well.

Manufacturing Trouble

Sure, potentially, money and relationships present a minefield of trouble. But it doesn’t have to be this way. And it won’t be this way if you’re willing to put in the effort to understand the source of your own feelings about money, and to respect, trust and engage in an ongoing, open dialogue with your partner. Do this and eventually money will lose the top spot on the Things-That-Couples-Fight-About chart.


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Enter Buddha

Love one another, but make not a bond of love.
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.