It’s not a secret that money can sink a marriage. In fact, money issues are the 3rd-leading cause of divorce, according to Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts. Financial stress causes more divorces than physical or emotional abuse, parenting issues, and addictions. A failure to get on the same page financially can spell disaster for your relationship.
But it doesn’t have to. Your finances can actually be something that brings you and your spouse or partner closer together if you’re willing to be intentional about it. And success has nothing to do with the amount of money you have. Plenty of marriages thrive even with little income.
So, what does a healthy approach to finances look like in the context of marriage?
FINANCIAL STRESS IS RARELY ABOUT MONEY
For starters, it’s critical to recognize that financial stress usually has more to do with power and control than with dollars and cents. Sure, it can be stressful if bills are due and there’s no money to pay them. But partners who approach their finances in a healthy way push through those times together.
Relational stress enters the equation when one or both partners believes the other is to blame. The spouse who controls most of the budgeting and spending might blame the other spouse for their lack of concern; and the spouse who does not control budgeting and spending might blame the spouse who does for poor management.
Control is almost always a root cause of relational stress when it comes to finances. One spouse typically controls the monthly budgeting and spending, and it’s not uncommon for the other spouse to resent their limited ability to make financial decisions. As they fight for more freedom, the spouse who controls the budget digs in deeper, and resentment slowly begins to creep up in them too. Resentment in marriage is like an infection - it spreads quickly to other areas of your relationship and over time can shut the whole thing down.
Financial stress is often a source of resentment, and resentment cannot exist in a healthy marriage.
HOW TO THRIVE WITH MONEY AND MARRIAGE
Here are four practices to help you thrive in money and marriage. Using them in your relationship will lead to a deeper partnership and help avoid resentment.
Spouses in Healthy Relationships Work together - It’s easy for the spouse who does not control the checkbook to remain aloof to what’s happening with the monthly cash flow. Maybe they’re not wired to think in terms of spreadsheets and budgets, and finances are simply uninteresting to them. But this can be relationally harmful. Not only does it put that person in a place of ignorance about their own personal finances, but it puts the entire burden on the other person to keep the family financially sound.
Have you ever heard a joke or story that you can’t wait to tell your spouse? Sharing something that’s meaningful to you creates an emotional and relational connection. Your money is no different. Try scheduling a brief time each month to simply go over income and expenses together. The spouse who typically does the budget carries this mental weight with them at all times, and sharing it can create an emotional connection.
It also gives the other spouse a context for how much money is available, and how much is spent. When both partners have a grasp of the financial situation, budgeting and spending becomes a team effort, working together toward a common goal. And that’s a plus for any relationship.
Spouses in Healthy Relationships Communicate Well - This is probably obvious. Everybody knows communication is essential in marriage. But, despite knowing it cognitively, we aren’t always good at practicing it in reality. Simply put, breakdowns in communication happen when we fail to say why we want what we want.
Personally, I did this recently. Our home has a large back deck. It’s a great place to be, especially when the weather is cool. But we haven’t kept it up like we should, and it’s starting to show signs of wear and tear. My fear is that it’s eventually going to deteriorate and no one will be able to even stand on it safely. My wife controls the budgeting and spending in our family, and I told her I’d like to go to a hardware store to buy some stain and sealant plus other supplies for our deck. It was the first time I had ever mentioned it, even though I’ve been thinking about it for months. She shrugged it off and said it’ll have to wait a month or two. I was frustrated. I feel a sense of urgency that she obviously doesn’t. I let my frustration linger for a day or two, until finally I asked her to come with me onto the deck and feel the spongy wood and see the green algae forming on the rails. This simple act of helping her see my concern suddenly made it more of a priority for her, too.
You might think, “Why didn’t you just do that to begin with?” Good question. In hindsight I should have. But when it comes to money, we don’t always communicate logically; we communicate emotionally. And emotions make no sense. I didn’t want supplies for the deck just because I feel like spending an entire Saturday staining and sealing it. I want supplies for it because I’m genuinely concerned about its safety and longevity. If we don’t spend a little now to maintain it, it will end up costing us a lot of money down the road to repair the whole thing. But I failed to communicate that initially.
The thing you want to spend money on is usually not the thing you actually want. There’s what you want, and then there’s why you want it. If you start with why, communication is much more effective.
Spouses in Healthy Relationships Play to Their Strengths - Men especially tend to feel the need to be the one who handles the money in a marriage. Whether it’s about being the “leader” of the home, assumptions about societal expectations, or carrying on the practice you observed in your home growing up, it’s natural for guys to want to steer the financial ship.
As I mentioned above, my wife does our budgeting and money management. That’s because I’m terrible at it. I’m not a detail-oriented person like she is, and that’s bad for money management. We were fortunate to discover this while we were dating, so it was never a question when we got married.
If the wrong person is doing your finances, it can be a disaster. For the sake of you financial stability - and especially for the sake of your marriage - play the part that best fits your skill and ability level.
Souses in Healthy Relationships Learn Together - It’s always good to grow in your financial knowledge. That’s why this blog you’re reading exists. As a financial planning firm, we believe in the power of knowledge, and especially in growing our knowledge.
If you think it would be helpful to read a book on finances, attend a seminar, or sign up for a series of teachings, that’s fantastic! But for the sake of your relationship, it’s even better to experience it together.
Common language is important in a marriage, and learning together gives you short-hand phrases and terms to use so that your spouse immediately knows what you mean when you say it. Common language improves communication, which enhances teamwork, which staves off resentment. Learning together is a big boost to your relationship.
Spouses in Healthy Relationships Make a Plan - My wife and I have a standing agreement that when the lottery goes above $750 million, we buy one ticket. We’re never going to win, obviously, but it’s fun to talk about what we would do with that amount of cash. Sometimes on long road trips we pass the time by talking about our lottery plans - who would we give money to? How much? How much would we set aside for our kids? What charities would we give to? What vacations would we take? Would we sell our house or just renovate? (I’d fix our back deck, that’s for sure).
We know this is just a silly fantasy, but it’s fun to dream.
In the real world, having a financial plan is a good idea for your money, but it’s a great idea for your marriage. When you work together to decide long-term goals like college savings for your kids, retirement, charitable giving, and what to do if one of you becomes ill or passes away, it becomes much easier to avoid excessive or spontaneous spending. It also balances out the control between both spouses rather than one person consolidating all the power. And the more you can spread the power, the more you can prevent resentment.
THRIVE IN MONEY AND MARRIAGE
Money doesn’t have to be toxic to your relationship. The more you work together, communicate, play to your strengths, learn together, and plan for your future, the more your finances will actually benefit your marriage.
Our firm believes in helping physicians and dentists live a more meaningful life, and that includes strong relationships with spouses, children, friends, and loved ones. If your financial situation has become a strain on your relationship, let us help you make a plan. Solid financial planning will help you thrive in both money and marriage.