Some facts of life do not need proving through studies or statistical research. One such fact is that money is the single biggest source of tension in a marriage.
Unsurprisingly so. Most of us have unresolved money issues and struggles all by ourselves, even without the added complication of relationships and marriage. After all, money not only determines our quality of life, it often impacts our sense of self-worth too, whether or not we are ready to admit it.
How to handle finances in marriage can be an intricately thorny topic. It is the elephant in the room that many couples prefer to skirt around rather than confront.
What’s worse, aside from money (or the lack of it) being a source of disagreement, there is the grim potential of money being used by spouses as a medium to settle scores on unrelated disagreements. It offers a convenient means to either punish unwelcome behaviour or to reward preferred behaviour. It is a tool for manipulation. Hence, money is not just the subject, it is a channel through which other subjects are propagated.
Seeing how important money is in our lives, particularly in a marriage where crucial responsibilities are shared, how couples handle money often determines the general mood of the relationship. Here are a few points to consider if you want to make money a less acrimonious subject in your marriage.
Is it even a money problem?
Strange as it sounds, many people who think they have a money problem don’t. Instead, they have a marriage problem. Money is only an avenue through which deeper issues play out. It is often the symptom, not the disease. It is difficult to be on the same page, any page, with someone you actively dislike. Many couples who don’t see eye to eye on money are divided on multiple other issues as well, overtly or covertly. Just that money is quantifiable and hence an easier culprit to put a finger on.
Assuming your partner was a reasonable and balanced person in the past, and you initially had a happier relationship together; if you now find yourselves engaging in incessant fights about money, it is time to step back and question whether what you are really fighting about is money.
It could very well be a conflict on trust issues, dwindling affection, work-related stress et cetera manifesting through money.
If you don’t trust your partner and their commitment to you and the family, it is hard to agree on money. You can’t make a good deal with a bad person.
Identify other underlying issues that might look unrelated at first glance and iron them out. Talk it out, see a marital counsellor, whatever. Money gets easier when you are working with someone you indeed care about.
Cross the bridge before you get there
The best time to work on your marriage is before it starts. It is when you address the most important life subjects, and money is top of that list along with matters around faith, family size, relationship with extended family, wedding and so forth.
Maybe I am just naïve to even think that the current dating scene has time for such nuance, but I believe that’s the way things are supposed to work. Have some fun dates but punctuate them with long talks about these issues. Even if, for many reasons, the marriage doesn’t evolve as perfectly as you had envisioned together, it helps to set a tone at the start. It is quite hard to work on a plane’s mechanics after it is in the air.
Going below the surface and having those difficult conversations at the beginning might uncover that you are incompatible. In which case you will sign out. And if you stay, you will know what to expect.
If you did not have the money talk before marriage (honest to God, I didn’t either), don’t give up, there’s more.
I should have started with a disclaimer – this article assumes you are, or you intend to be, in fact married to your partner. Don’t combine finances with your boyfriend or girlfriend. It’s juvenile and, quite frankly, foolish.
I know there is a mountain of advice against combining finances, you best ignore it. Transparency around money is key if what you want is a thriving marriage.
Of course, there are exceptions to that recommendation, for example, if you are married to a self-serving fool who takes advantage of your goodwill – in which case you have a marriage problem and a thousand articles on handling money with your partner will be of little use.
That said, it’s not an easy ask. People have been inflicted horrific pains by spouses who took advantage of this transparency.
Still, many of us get married to people we love and respect – at least initially. Refusing to combine finances for fear that your partner might turn around in future and abuse the trust, probably means you might want to reconsider this whole marriage thing. This is a person you will entrust your life, your children and so much else with. Surely, your life and that of your children is worth, many times over, all the money you will ever make.
Cultivate complete transparency. If you cannot go as far as operating a joint account, ensure absolute honesty on all aspects of your finances in a way that a joint account would. Don’t buy things secretly, don’t make investments your partner knows nothing about, don’t send money to relatives without an understanding with your spouse, don’t lie about your salary and benefits, and don’t operate secret accounts.
All money should be family money, not the wife’s or the husband’s money regardless of who earns how much. Investments and property should be registered jointly whenever feasible.
You are not a team if you don’t act like one. You might just as well be roommates. There is no problem with being roommates if you both understand that’s what you are.
There is frustration that comes with walking in the dark, whether individually or as a pair. Financial responsibilities are typically bigger in marital life and so the feeling that you are a pair fumbling in the dark while at the same time expected to raise healthy, happy and responsible offspring can get to you.
Clarity, about anything, is never a bad thing. Make it a shared goal to regularly track your finances. Sit together and intentionally talk about your financial situation as a family. The assumption here is that you have addressed any rough edges in other areas of the marriage. There is a feeling of mutual respect and shared kindness. Otherwise, attempts to have a sit down to talk about money will degenerate into shouting matches.
Find some quiet time together at least once a month and layout the income and expenses you expect over the subsequent month. In short, have a budget together. Another financial statement you should always have together is a net worth statement. This one shows the assets you own; versus the liabilities you owe. None of these needs to be overly detailed or complicated. Just the major items are enough so save Excel Macros for work. The ritual is more important than the documentary output.
Resolve disputes with compassion
No matter how meticulously you lay down your plans together, disputes will arise sooner or later. They could be aired out, but some of them could be left unspoken, bubbling under the surface. Either way, disputes are a source of tension and unease in any sort of relationship. It helps to discuss, during happier times, a framework of how disagreements about money, or anything for that matter, are ironed out if and when they happen.
Disagreements about money don’t necessarily cause tension. Reasonable people understand that different people will have different ideas and philosophies around money, including their spouses. How we disagree is usually what becomes the bigger problem, not the disagreement itself.
Having a disagreement needs not to be acrimonious. Once you have one, the best path is to take only the actions and speak only the words that take you towards convergence. Many people do the exact opposite. Whenever there is a dispute about money or indeed anything, they say and do things that take them further from alignment. Many people accuse instead of ask, insinuate instead of inquiring, shame instead of counsel. A lot of the intended message gets warped in the process, ensuring even greater disharmony.
Even if a perfect alignment is not possible, adults can and should work with amicable compromises.
To conclude, it is useful to understand that all these things require that your marriage is working in the first place. Money should be thought of as an accessory to the body of marriage. If the marriage is lacking in love, trust, compassion and respect, see a marital counsellor and resolve those deeper issues first, or cut your losses already!