By Joy Birnbach Dunstan,
MA, LPC, MAC
Money and Marriage
Another year is winding down, and as we approach the Christmas season I’m always struck by the focus on materialism, buying things to show our love for each other. Giving and getting as a measure of caring. Christmas spending is a big portion of most families’ annual budget.
And spending in general is one of the most frequent sources of conflict in relationships, outranked only by infidelity and drug and alcohol abuse as the top predictor of divorce. While virtually no couple never has financial disagreements, couples who disagree about finances at least once a week are over 30 percent more likely to divorce than couples who disagree only occasionally.
Magnifying this issue is the fact that people often choose mates who are especially different than themselves when it comes to spending money. Financial guru Suze Orman says, “Opposites may attract, but I wouldn’t put my money on a relationship of financial opposites.”
The more we dislike our own financial tendency, the more likely we are to marry our financial opposite. A guy who can’t bring himself to spend much may enjoy receiving nice gifts from a woman who spends freely. This may work out well while dating; however the researchers say that from “I do” forward, life with a mate who approaches spending and saving very differently than we do often brings nothing but trouble.
By the way, despite the stereotype, it isn’t always the woman who’s the spender. In about one-third of couples, the husband freely admits he’s the one who parts with cash too easily.
In second or more marriages, money is often an even thornier issue. Older partners may enter the relationship with very different monetary assets and each may have their own children looking out for their part of the financial pie.
The way we think about and use money is impacted by our temperament, our families of origin, and our lifetime experiences. Money is as much an emotional issue as it is a practical matter, and poverty or wealth has a lot to do with a person’s state of mind. Talk honestly with each other, sharing as much as you can about your relationship with money before you commit to a relationship with each other.
Here’s a few questions to get you started talking about your attitude about money: How did your parents deal with money? Was money always scarce, or was it plentiful? How often did they fight about money? Did your parents give you an allowance when you were young? Did you have to work for it, or did they just give you the money? In what ways are you similar to your parents in how you think about and use money, and in what ways are you different?
How you want to handle money as a couple? Do either of you see a need for a pre-nup? Will you turn your checking and savings accounts into joint accounts? Who will pay the bills and deal with financial management?
Money may not be a romantic subject, but marriage should be seen as entering into a financial as well as a romantic partnership. The better you know each other and understand each other’s attitudes about money, the better your chances of marital bliss. Money may not buy happiness, but sharing your partner’s beliefs about it sure helps.