Arguments about money hamper many marriages. When you consider that about a third of adults with partners report that money is a big source of conflict in their relationships, it’s no wonder that financial problems are a leading cause of divorce. What you may not know is that the challenges can actually start even before you say “I do.”
To help pave the road to better marital finances and relationships, here’s an accounting of the most common financial issues that challenge married couples.
If you’ve read this far, you probably won’t be surprised that the best way to handle such marriage stressors is with communication and honesty in conveying expectations, hopes, goals, and anxieties. Couples should also practice empathy, have the maturity to check their egos, and abandon any predilection for control. Yes, that’s much easier said than done. And no, there is no silver bullet.
Deal with debt
For many couples, dealing with debt is often the first issue on the agenda. Knowing what you’re about to get yourself into can help you decide how to deal with it. Given this fact, both partners should have an honest, nonjudgmental discussion—ideally around the time when their relationship looks like it’s becoming serious—about the debts they would bring into a marriage. Each should come clean about any bad spending or financial habits that the other should know about—or any personal or family issues that could affect future spending.
Know your financial personality
Personality, as noted above, is another aspect of your relationship that will play a major role in your financial plans and your marital bliss or lack thereof. Pay attention while you are dating and be honest about who you are and how you were raised. Talking about your views and feelings can help put both partners at ease, or at least let them know what to expect.
Check your ego
The power play issue can get ugly quickly. Few things build resentment faster than being made to feel inferior. If you’ve got more cash, you need to be sensitive about how you present spending decisions. If you don’t have the money, you need to be prepared for stress and tension that is almost inevitable, even in good marriages. This subject comes up with increasing frequency when couples wait until later in life to marry.
If children are in your future, start teaching them about money when they are young. Preparing them for a financially responsible future reduces the odds that they will dip into your wallet as adults and knock your savings plan off track. Use allowances and goals to teach your children about earning, saving, and spending money. Talk to the older ones about investing.
Challenges aside, getting married can have serious financial advantages. It is a great way to double your income without doubling your expenses. If you can synchronize your goals, you can reach them much more quickly than you could by working alone. And keep in mind that, even if you get it right 99% of the time, it still means you’ll argue about money issues now and then.
Good (and sometimes painfully honest) communication before and after tying the knot can dull the blow of bad financial news and lead to honest exchanges about each partner’s money anxieties, habits, skeletons in the closet, and expectations. If you’re thinking about entering into what you hope is a lifelong relationship, you and your partner owe each other such a discussion.
Lack of communication is the source of many marital issues. This space is where the hard work of marriage often lives. Like common health problems, financial anxieties—if not addressed—can become far bigger problems with much more difficult solutions. The best way to be sure you and your spouse are on the same page with your joint finances is to talk about them regularly, honestly, and without judgment. Don’t do it when you’re mad, tired, or back from an evening of wine or margaritas.
Couples may find it helpful to schedule a time once a month, once a quarter, or once a year to check in on short- and long-term goals. Having an annual financial plan and regular check-ins can defuse the tension of talking about money and keep you on track. You may want to enlist the help of a financial advisor or planner for expert, impartial advice.