We have so many taboos around talking about money in our culture that many couples wait until after marriage to put the subject on the table. But delaying those conversations costs you the opportunity to find out if your philosophies on money are compatible and to come to agreement on your financial goals and the behavior that will achieve them. Finding out post-wedding that you are miles apart is a formula for unhappiness and potential divorce.
Like many couples, Sara and her fiancé and are planning their wedding even though they have never talked about money. She doesn’t know his full financial picture, nor does he know hers. Her assumption is that they will combine accounts after the wedding and it will all work out. She wonders how important it is to talk about money before marriage. She feels uncomfortable bringing up the subject, especially because she’s pretty sure she makes a lot more money than he does.
Money is a factor in relationships – that’s a reality. While having more money does not make for happier relationships, having different philosophies about money definitely gets in the way of marital happiness. When one person believes in being frugal, saving for the future, and foregoing immediate spending gratification, while the other believes in living for today, you might have a problem.
It largely depends on how you view those differences and how you agree to handle them. Let’s say he’s the big spender and you’re the frugal one, and you fail to carve out an agreement on behavior. You’re working hard all the time only to have him blow all of it paycheck-to-paycheck. You talk about it, but the behavior continues. You’re frustrated because you can’t save any money; he’s frustrated because you’re nagging him about his spending. That kind of marital dynamic has a limited shelf-life. It’s not sustainable because you will gradually pull further apart, resenting each other more over time.
Conflict in a marriage is inevitable and even desirable, but the real determining factor is the how. The way that you handle your disagreements over money and other hot-button issues determines your marital happiness. Stonewalling and refusing to talk don’t work. Escalating anger into yelling matches, rolling eyes in disgust – these tactics don’t work either. What works is healthy debate and dialog with respect for each other’s point of view. What works is moving the discussion to a desirable consensus.
In order to be able to engage in healthy debate and dialog, you have to begin as soon as you feel uncomfortable about a particular subject - in this case money. Put the subject on the table just as soon as you realize you’re avoiding it. Regarding money, what you need to discuss are the following:
• Your separate financial pictures: income, savings, and debt; any past financial events such as a bankruptcy should of course be disclosed.
• Your financial goals as a couple: this one may be a series of discussions, but it’s vital that you reach a clear consensus. Be willing to give a little from each side if you have varying future pictures, but find the midpoint before you marry and make a firm agreement.
• The behavior you are each committed to in order to achieve your goals: this one is vital, for the reasons outlined above. It’s not uncommon for one person in a marriage to be the foot on the gas while the other is the foot on the brake, financially speaking. However, you must agree on how much gas and how much brake in terms of spending and saving behavior.
I’ll add a word or two on engagement, from my perspective. In our culture, we treat engagement as married except for the paperwork and the party. In reality, engagement is an important stage in your relationship – it’s the last bus stop, so to speak, before making the real commitment. If you find that you can’t talk about the really critical issues – money, sex, family, major emotional expectations – you should put off the wedding until you resolve them. Premarital counseling can help you resolve those issues as well as teach you the communication skills that you need.
Copyright 2007 by Nina Atwood, All Rights Reserved. Article printed with permission.
Nina Atwood, M.Ed., LPC, is a licensed therapist, published author, and host of the hit Web site, Singlescoach®. Nina has been featured in national magazines, newspapers, on radio and television. She is the author of four self-help books, including her newest book, Temptations of the Single Girl: The Ten Dating Traps You Must Avoid. Listen live or via downloadable podcasts to "Love Strategies" with Nina weekly at www.blogtalkradio.com/nina-atwood. Nina is an award-winning CEO Coach for Vistage and does one-on-one coaching with key level executives.