Marriage and Money
Marital relationships and finances seem to be something we don’t hear a lot about. Yet, as a therapist working with marital couples, I am well aware that money issues can be a source of marital difficulties. Fighting about money is not new. For whatever reason, money triggers emotions. Money is an issue in marriages as 75% of divorced couples in the U.S. cite money as the cause of their martial fighting. (Kelley, 2007) Another financial guru, Jean Chatzky, puts the number at 90%. (Chatzky, 2001) And finances aren’t a small issue for those dealing with it. A third of married couples report that financial issues have been more hurtful to the relationship than a spouse being unfaithful in the relationship. (Singletary, February 12, 2006).
Combine this important component in a marriage with the economic crunch that is very real in our lives right now, and issues that may have been on the back burner are now forced to the forefront. Our need to watch how we spend our pennies calls for us to decide what our priorities will be, how we will spend our money, and what action will be required to carry that through.
One might think that a good budget plan will help the couple through. Yes, a good budget is great. But more to the core is what may have caused the problems and the need for a budget. Financial difficulties are often symbolic of relationship problems. Often the problem is not the budget but is as simple as not talking about money within the relationship. Money is an emotionally charged subject and if you tend to avoid conflict, you may also tend to avoid talking about money. Money symbolizes different things to different people: power, control, security, or love, for example. So often talking about money, whether it is how to spend the money, or how it was already spent, is something that many couples just choose to avoid.
The financial relationship between the couple needs to be open and honest. It symbolizes a healthy relationship between the couple. Communication about money needs to happen. Not talking about this subject may result in or is due to someone hiding the issues. Not being honest to our spouse about our spending can be called financial infidelity and is very destructive to the marriage. If you aren’t being honest and talking about money, then there is a good possibility that financial infidelity is happening. A spouse who is committing financial infidelity may hide money, refuse to be honest about spending, have secret credit cards, or just avoid sharing needed information about the budget with his/her spouse. More serious issues include hiding a gambling problem and/or hiding excessive balances. Financial infidelity is very destructive to the marriage.
So before you sit down and do a budget, consider sitting down and talking about how you are going to talk about money. Bethany and Scott Palmer, also called the “money couple”, offer ideas for balancing money and your marriage. (Palmer, 2009)
The Palmers have three suggestions. The first is to set up fair fighting rules. Just like other relationship issues, it may take some work and perseverance. If talking about money escalates into fighting, then set up the parameters so you can walk through it successfully (e.g. being able to have the discussion without it escalating and with the points being spoken and heard). You do not want to further damage your relationship when the talk escalates and emotions get heated. Be willing to walk away from the conversation to cool off. Also, be willing to negotiate to find middle ground if you and your spouse have different approaches to the financial goals. And if you just can’t handle this first step without fighting, then bring in a neutral party. This could be a financial counselor or a marriage counselor.
Second, the “money couple” suggests that you set a time for “the money dump”. This is a time set aside for each of you to purge your thoughts and concerns so that you understand each other’s perspective in a better way. This will be a “dumping” of everything, all the positives and negatives of the relationship when it comes to money. Each person needs to be able to talk about his/her concerns and be heard (part of the communication skills that are needed to work through these money issues). Again, if you can’t get through this step, bring in that neutral party. If there has been a history of financial infidelity, then enter this cautiously with your fair fighting rules or have the third party facilitate the entire process.
And third, the “money couple” suggests having a “Money Huddle”. This is a regular meeting set up to talk about financial issues. This is more than a casual conversation. This is setting time aside, as a couple, to focus on your present state, your goals, and your dreams. During this meeting, take the time to look at what you, as a couple, have been victorious in accomplishing since the last meeting, what you have set up as priorities and how successful you have been, and what you need to do better. Then move into what you next want to happen, what you can accomplish on your dream list now and what will have to wait. These meetings can be set up according to the need but they should be regularly scheduled. If finances are a real issue right now, do this meeting weekly. Otherwise, twice a month or monthly may be enough.
Being able to talk about money means you can dream together, feel secure and work towards a future that you both want. Talking brings you together as this part of the relationship is an important part of being together. Hopefully the relationship will be worth the effort and commitment so that your marriage will be stronger because you improved your relationship in the area of finances and communication about money.
Chatzky, J. (2001). Talking Money: Everything you need to know about money and your future. New York City: Warner Business Books.
Kelley, R. (2007). Expert Advice: Love by the Numbers. Newsweek , 48.
Palmer, B. P. (2009). First comes love then comes money. New York: Harper Collins.
Singletary, M. (February 12, 2006). If He’s in the Red, You’ll be Blue. Washington Post , FO1.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner
- Janie Pfeifer Watson, LICSW, is the founder and director of Wholeness Healing Center, a mental health practice in Grand Island, Nebraska with remote sites in Broken Bow and Kearney. Her expertise encompasses a broad range of areas, including depression, anxiety, attachment and bonding, coaching, couples work, mindfulness, trauma, and grief. She views therapy as an opportunity to learn more about yourself as you step more into being your authentic self. From her perspective this is part of the spiritual journey; on this journey, she serves as a mirror for her clients as they get to know themselves—and, ultimately, to love themselves.
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