Financial Issues in a Marriage: How to Overcome Them
Making a marriage last can take effort even if both spouses are millionaires. Add in money problems, and things can get difficult fast. We’ve talked before about how one spouse’s credit could lead to problems, but that’s just one way finances can throw a wrench into a relationship.
That’s why it’s important to be aware of the kind of problems that can arise, and the methods you can use, as a couple, to overcome them. We spoke to the experts to find out why couples fight over finances, the kind of struggles that come up, and how you can beat them and make sure that love prevails in the end with these money and marriage tips.
Values, in all senses of the word.
It’s important to understand where financial struggles in marriage come from so you can try and head them off before they ever come up, or at least have a head start on addressing them.
“Most financial issues in marriage come down to one main factor: both partners have different core values about money,” certified counselor and creator of The Popular Man Jonathan Bennett explained. “And, many of these financial values developed very early and are difficult to change. For example, one partner might have been raised to value saving and investing. The other partner might have been taught to indulge his or her whims even if it means living paycheck to paycheck.
“It’s very difficult for partners who view money, saving, and spending in fundamentally conflicting ways to manage household finances successfully as a team.”
Writer and speaker Frederick Towles agreed about this foundational concern: “Financial issues can most certainly affect a marriage negatively. One of the biggest financial issues that can negatively impact a marriage is how each spouse handles and views money. Each spouse may have different views of money, one spouse may primarily seek to save money for a rainy day and another could have a spending fetish. This type of conflict will typically raise trust issues in the relationship. The difference in philosophies in money can spill over into other areas of the relationship if both spouses aren't careful.”
Couples may even have differing ideas about who the money they have belongs to. “Some spouses freely pool their money and treat it as a joint asset,” Steven Yoda, a partner with the divorce firm Walzer Melcher, told us. “Other spouses, rightly or wrongly, consider their earnings ‘their’ money and split expenses down the middle. Some spouses are comfortable with debt, while others are averse to it.
"Oftentimes, these issues are not fully discussed before marriage or even after marriage. This can lead to years of misunderstanding, which reach a boiling point during a divorce. It is easy to see how, in the absence of communication, one spouse may believe that the marital finances are perfectly fine, while the other may be stewing in resentment.”
Taking credit (into account).
As we mentioned above, credit can also be a source of strife. But we’ll let Yoda explain it thoroughly:
“A very practical and important issue to probe is credit. Ideally, this issue should be discussed before marriage. It can be an awkward subject to raise, but it is valuable information. First, knowing your partner’s credit score provides some insight into your partner’s past financial decisions. As indicated, money is a common source of stress in a marriage, so it is helpful to know how your partner has handled money in the past.
"Second, and perhaps more importantly, although your partner’s credit score will not affect your personal credit score per se, it still may affect access to credit after marriage. If your credit score is great but your spouse’s credit score is poor, the act of marriage will have no impact on them.
"If, however, after marriage, you two jointly apply for a credit card or a loan to purchase a house or car, the lender will consider both credit scores and, chances are, the poor credit score will result in higher interest rates and fees than if both credit scores were high. This is a tangible, real-world expense that may come as a shock to the spouse with good credit. It is easy to see how resentment might build. The best approach is to openly discuss these issues upfront so everyone knows what to expect.”
So how can you reconcile these financial issues in your marriage?
Skip the blame game.
Pride can often cause trouble in relationships. When money is involved, “losing” an argument feels like a blow to your wallet as well as your pride.
“Many partners, rather than working together, start to place blame on the other person,” warned Bennett. “This creates discord and resentment in the relationship. But, even if both partners try to work together, financial strain can create additional stress. Worries over bill payments, collectors, and repossessions/evictions overshadow positive aspects of a married life together.”
Avoiding the blame game won’t instantly fix all of your problems, but it’ll be impossible to fix anything if you’re at each other’s throats.
Start early… way early.
As Yoda made clear, the best way to deal with financial issues is to try and head them off before they even come up. And he isn’t the only one who told us that.
“While counseling and compromise can certainly help couples solve existing money problems, the best solution is to focus more on money matters before marriage,” advised Bennett. “Financial compatibility is rarely discussed before a couple makes a long-term commitment. However, given the statistics about money issues in a marriage and divorce, determining financial compatibility should play a much more important role, perhaps even in premarital counseling and preparation.”
But what if you’re already married?
Communication, communication … communication.
Communication is one of the most important parts of any relationship and communication about money is one of the most important kinds of communication, even if it might be one of the most awkward.
“Yes, absolutely money issues add stress to your marriage,” Maggie Reyes, marriage mentor and life coach at ModernMarried.com, told us. “To minimize and prevent those issues from becoming bigger problems in your relationship it is important to start with the simple act of having conversations about money. Understanding each other's priorities and how and why you spend before major expenses are made can help you plan for them as a team instead of being on opposing sides of a money argument.”
Reyes offered us a list of good questions to ask, both when you want to break the ice on a conversation about finances, and when you’re getting down to business:
“If money is already a stressful topic in your relationship, it is sometimes easier to start with the fun side of money, here are some conversation starters you can use:
- If I could do anything with my money, I would….
- If money were no object I would…..
- If I could use money to do something fabulous for my partner, I would…
- If I could splurge on one thing, I would…
- My biggest dream is….
“Once you have identified some money wishes, you can take a look at your current money reality - what is happening right now?
“And ask questions such as;
- Am I keeping track of my money? Do I know how much I have in my wallet right now? In my bank account?
- Do I know how much I owe? The total, for real of anything outstanding (house, credit card, car?)
- Do I know how our joint funds are handled? Why or why not?
- Do I know our bank account numbers and have access to all of our accounts?
- What do I need to know today to be able to fully manage my money?
- If I could change one thing about the way I handle money, it would be….
“Having regular conversations about money and making plans on how to use it and manage it helps you avoid having big arguments about money by allowing you to bring up ideas and plans before they are critical. Understanding that you and your partner are likely to have different ideas on how to approach anything, including money, and then making that okay before an argument arises, takes the emotional punch out of the disagreement.”
Cherie Lowe, author of Slaying the Debt Dragon and blogger at Queen of Free, also emphasized the importance of good communication: “The short answer is that money problems rank among the top reasons why married couples call it quits. In particular, we’ve focused in on how financial issues in a marriage lead to problems with intimacy in our next book. Ever have a hot steamy night of passion after your last money fight with your spouse? Um, no. The problems feed each other and eventually cause a lack of togetherness and paralyze relationships.
"To overcome or prevent financial fights couples need to focus in on effective communication when it comes to money, shared vision for goals, a well-delineated division of labor within in the home, and keeping their finances well organized.”
Many couples find it difficult to talk about money, but if you don’t, there’ll only be more troubles down the line. Better to speak early and often, and enjoy the priceless treasure that is your marriage.
Jonathan Bennett (@The_Popular_Man) is an internationally recognized dating, relationship, and life coach based out of the Columbus, Ohio metro area, where he consults, speaks, and offers classes. With a background in counseling and education, his coaching method emphasizes scientifically backed skills to take charge of your life to find personal freedom and success in all relationships. He is the author of 7 books and is frequently quoted in print and other media.
Cherie Lowe is a personal finance blogger at Queen of Free (@Thequeenoffree) and author of the book Slaying the Debt Dragon, her story of paying off over $127K in debt. She loves nothing more than helping people find freedom in their finances, save money, and live life to its fullest. Her and her husband Brian are finishing the final round of edits on our their book: Your Money, Your Marriage: The Secrets to Smart Finance, Spicy Romance, and their Intimate Connection due out September 2018 from Zondervan (Harper Collins Christian).
Maggie Reyes is A Life Coach, Writer and the feisty voice behind ModernMarried.com (@ModernMarried).
Frederick Towles (@mrtowles) is an entrepreneur, author and professional coach on personal finance, recognizing, seizing and leveraging opportunities of all kinds. Frederick founded The Towles Group Inc. to address issues that relate to small businesses and individuals – accounting, taxation, asset protection, financial compliance, wealth creation, debt management and business management. He also founded Unlimited Expectations Inc. which provides tools for individuals to assist them in the areas of opportunity recognition, leadership, and personal finance. Through the tools and services offered by these companies, people are positioned to operate their lives and their businesses at optimal capacity.
Steven Yoda is a partner with the Los Angeles divorce law firm Walzer Melcher (@LAfamlaw).