Financial differences rank among the leading causes of divorce among couples, both young and old. The statistics are alarming, but perhaps not surprising. How we handle money is not usually a topic of that comes up while we are dating. As a result most couples don’t discuss financial compatibility before saying “I do”. When the honeymoon is over, though, and the bills start rolling in, couples often experience a reality check. While love is grand, it can’t pay the bills so it may not take long before fights erupt over different money habits.
Part of the problem is that it is simply uncomfortable to talk about money. Whether we like it or not, we tend to tie our own feelings of self-worth to money matters. It’s not uncommon to see how much money we make as a direct reflection of how much we are contributing to the relationship. These feelings can become further complicated if there have been financial missteps along the way. While avoiding conversations about money can allow us live in a blissful state of denial for a while, the long-term consequences can be life-altering.
The good news is that it is never too late to make meaningful changes and save a marriage that is threatened by financial discord.
According to financial planners who work with couples, money conflicts fall under five main categories:
- Differences in spending and saving habits
- Disagreements about who should control the money
- Differences in priorities
- Dishonesty about debt and habits
- Differences in risk profiles
Whether you are experiencing frustration around one of these issues or all five, there are ways to build better financial health as a couple and avoid relationship problems. (For more from this author, see: Don't Let Emotions Hinder Your Investment Goals.)
Effective Communication Leads to Greater Financial Success
Effective communication can make a world of difference when it comes to financial matters. Establishing trust, which is cultivated through honest communication, is key. Trust is built when each partner commits to openly expressing their feelings about money and listening to what the other partner has to say. This includes being willing to reveal financial failures, knowing that your partner will be forgiving and withhold judgment.
Be Willing to Compromise
Although it is easier said than done, another key to resolving money issues is compromise. The first step is for both partners to sit down and agree on a common set of financial goals and what steps they will take to meet those mutual goals. Establishing a family budget – and committing to it – is critical. That budget should include some freedom for spending on things that are important to both partners, regardless of who is earning more money.
As you begin the process of rehabilitating your financial health and establishing clear lines of communication with your partner, remember to be patient. Keep in mind that spending habits are deeply ingrained in each of us. Both you and your partner have been influenced by your parents’ habits and your approach to money has been formed over a lifetime of experiences.
Enlist the Help of a Financial Planner
Whether you need help mediating tough conversations or you want expert advice on how to establish a budget that will help you meet your financial goals, don’t try to go it alone. Work with a financial advisor who can offer helpful insights and steer you in the right direction. With the right help, you can get back on track financially and strengthen your relationship. If you are to the point where money issues are creating such a strain on your marriage that you are considering divorce, outside intervention from an experienced financial advisor can be critically important in finding solutions that work for both of you. (For more from this author, see: 6 Questions to Ask a Financial Advisor.)
Often couples will argue about whether they should give or loan money to family members. While each case is different, and very personal, it is generally a good idea to try to avoid making these kinds of loans. Once that first loan is made, you have set a precedent and you are more than likely to receive follow-up request for additional money. While it can be difficult to say no to friends and family, it is always in your financial best interest to avoid these types of transactions.
Even in the best marriages, there are bound to be differences over finances, but those disagreements don’t have to drive a wedge between you and your partner. If you actively work to establish trust through open and honest communication and recognize when it is time to seek outside help from a fee-only fiduciary financial advisor, you are taking important steps to letting your financial life be a solid foundation for your marriage – and not the wall between you.
(For related reading from this author, see: Paying for Financial Advice: Fee-Only vs. Fee-Based.)