Many relationship experts rank financial issues second only to infidelity as a root cause of marital strife or dissolution. Indeed, how a couple handles money problems can be a real-time litmus test of their lines of communication. Few people enjoy discussing their finances, either out of a fear of failure or an overly-developed sense of pride. This is precisely why some married couples find themselves living far beyond their means, locked in a desperate effort to keep up appearances or maintain an idealized lifestyle. The syndrome of 'keeping up with the Joneses' is a real phenomenon, and can be a serious financial trap for married couples just moving into a more comfortable phase of their financial lives.
While many arguments between husband and wife appear to be money-related, quite often the real issues are rarely addressed satisfactorily. Here are some tips for resolving money problems before they have a chance to overwhelm the marriage.
- The solution to almost every money problem is more money. This may sound oversimplified, but many couples lose perspective when caught up in a heated argument over bills. If an unexpected expense arises or a routine bill suddenly balloons, some couples may start to play the blame game. It was the other person's negligence that created this expense, or it was the other person's wasteful habits that caused the spike. In reality, the solution to a sudden expense is to generate enough extra income to cover it. Playing the blame game may make one partner feel better temporarily, but the only workable solution is to find the extra money and pay the bill.
- Designate a chief financial officer of the marriage or hire outside help. Most married couples designate one person as the exalted holder of the checkbook, but over the years that arrangement may appear to backfire. Most people want to see themselves as financially responsible, but in actuality we're all prone to nickel and dime ourselves to death. Mismanagement of the family checkbook does not have to lead to a heated debate over which partner is most fiscally responsible. Instead, couples might want to agree to a changing of the guard every so often. If household finances and outgoing expenses become too challenging, spare yourselves the angry recriminations and hire a personal accountant.
- Create independent accounts for both parties. Husbands who provide much of the household income are especially prone to feelings of resentment over access to money. There's an account called 'our money' and an informal account called 'her money,' but there doesn't seem to be an account called 'his hard-earned money.' It may be easier on both sides if small separate accounts were opened strictly for personal spending, not communal expenses. An electronic PayPal-style account could be opened for online purchases or participation in auctions, for example. Experiencing some financial independence may ease the tension over who spent the money in a joint account.
- Discuss and adhere to a unified policy on family loans. Some married couples, especially those just beginning their lives together, find themselves in serious financial straits. Even if they adjust their household budget and agree to live frugally, there simply isn't going to be enough money to meet their obligations. The only option seems to be approaching family members for a loan or gift. Some may see this as a positive step, while others may feel distinctly uncomfortable about the prospects or ramifications. It is important for spouses to realize the difference between one's own family and in-laws. One family may be comfortable with loaning money to relatives, while the other may feel it's not a good policy. It is important to discuss both viewpoints on family loans and reach a compromise before the need arises.
- Seek counseling for personal issues involving money. Many arguments between husbands and wives over money problems actually have little to do with the issues at hand. A number of people have deep-seated emotional issues where money is concerned, and those issues often come out during arguments. A husband may have been raised in a lower income environment than the wife, for example. As an adult, he may still feel the need to conserve money whenever possible. Someone else may have grown up in a more privileged environment, so money may represent power or control over others. These are issues which need to be resolved through counseling before they become barriers between spouses trying to resolve current money problems.
Both spouses need to realize that financial success is only one small element of their marital relationship. People become rich and people become destitute every day, but no one should define himself strictly through personal wealth. When money problems threaten to overwhelm the marriage, take a day off to remember the early days when you had no money at all but you still believed in each other.