The union of two people in marriage holds the promise of a life of happiness; however, the fact that it is also a financial union eludes many couples until money issues come to the forefront. It makes sense. Until you are sharing a home, bills, and a financial future together, you probably aren’t going to spend much time talking about your approach to managing money. However, depending on when and how these issues are addressed, they can be the cause of marital stress and are listed as one of the leading causes of divorce. It’s not uncommon for serious money issues to sit on the back burner until couples have a chance to enjoy the wonderment of their young marriage. Then, when issues do arise, there is no strategy in place to guide them, no agreement on values or beliefs to bind them and, in many cases, no way to keep emotions from overwhelming them.
Finances are one of the leading causes of stress in relationships
A recent survey of couples reveals just how much personal finances impacts relationships. More than half of the married individuals surveyed said they consider finances to be the most stressful facet of their relationship. Much of that stress can be attributed to the trust level in relationships, where openness and honesty in money issues rates as important as honesty about fidelity by nearly a third of respondents.
Not surprisingly, stress levels among couples diminish as their income level increases. Only 42.86% of high-income individuals said finances were the most stressful facet of their relationship, while 51.66% of low income individuals reported it as such.
Interestingly, the survey found that the individuals at the higher end of the income spectrum were more likely to have a secret credit card or bank account. Maybe having that extra amount of control over some aspect of their finances helps to keep the stress level lower – never mind the brazen dishonesty. This is not something I recommend, but it’s an interesting finding nonetheless.
Keep financial secrets at your peril
There is nothing more damaging to a marriage than deceit, romantic or otherwise. Financial deceit – keeping secrets from each other over debt issues, spending issues, gambling problems, or just about anything to do with money – is a landmine that will inevitably explode. Many secrets start out small and harmless; however, they tend to compound and expand into a more complicated web of deception. Couples need to make regular communication about money a top priority, making quality time available for planning, problem solving, and support.
Couples at any stage of marriage can avoid the painful experience of fighting over finances by openly discussing their views on money and the values that will drive their decisions. Only then can they do the more important work of planning for their financial security and managing their money for financial success. This process doesn’t have to be painful. Simply aligning on short and long-term goals, setting a budget and bringing up your fears, concerns and needs will go a very long way.
Money is Yours, Mine and Ours
One of the first money moves many newlyweds make is to merge their bank accounts into one joint account. However, when managing all aspects of money from one joint account, suddenly all of the control and management of money are centralized, often with one spouse taking control. While it’s an effective way to manage the household cash flow, nothing causes more stress than the strict oversight of each other’s spending habits. We are individuals before we are couples, and we all need to be able to exert some individual control over something that belongs just to each of us. Most marriage counselors recommend that couples establish individual checking and savings accounts that allow them to manage a portion of their own, personal expenses. I’m not sure I fully buy into that idea as it feels like it cheapens the commitment of marriage, but there is something to be said for maintaining a certain level of financial freedom and discretion in individual spending.
Debt is also Yours, Mine and Ours
In many cases, this financial union we call marriage also involves the union of debt. Problems can arise when the debt comes primarily from one side of the union; and, an even bigger problem arises when someone fails to disclose the nature or size of his or her debt. The best way to start a financial union is debt-free – a worthy goal to work towards as a precondition of marriage. After marriage, paying down debt, regardless of its origins, should be a shared goal.
Nothing short of a prenuptial financial plan can prevent the inevitable conflicts inherent in money issues. The emphasis of such a plan should be placed on a thorough discussion and, ultimately, agreement on shared values, beliefs, purpose, and how they define happiness, which will form the backbone of all of their financial decisions. Before tying the knot (or at soonest possible opportunity thereafter), couples must be able to develop a shared mindset about money. Once they are joined in the way they think about money, they can move on to some practical strategies that will keep them enjoying their marital bliss.