An Echo Press Editorial: Don't let money ruin your marriage
By the Echo Press Editorial Board
On Valentine's Day, many happy couples in Douglas County popped the question and many responded with an ecstatic “Yes!”
Congratulations! But now the hard part begins — staying strong through the challenges that marriage can bring. At the top of the list: money problems.
Nearly half of Americans (48%) who are married or living with a partner say they argue with the person over money, according to a survey published in marketwatch.com . Those money squabbles could lead to divorce. Data by the financial firm TD Ameritrade found that 41% of divorced Gen Xers and 29% of Boomers say they ended their marriage because of disagreements about money.
Joyce Serido, a professor for the University of Minnesota’s College of Educaiton and Human Development, says that finances are a common and often problematic topic of discussion among couples that, left untended, can hurt even the best relationships.
In a recent “Talking with the U of M” newsletter, Serido shared approaches couples can consider when discussing their finances. Here are highlights:
Q: How can couples benefit from discussing their finances?
Prof. Serido: We know that discussions about finances can be difficult, especially when they lead to disagreements and conflict. While occasional financial disagreements are unavoidable, frequent arguments about finances undermine relationships, whether due to different priorities, lack of money or unexpected financial shocks. However, when couples openly discuss finances and jointly make decisions about saving, spending and investing, they become closer and more satisfied with their relationships.
It is important to distinguish between discussing finances and arguing about finances. When couples wait until a problem arises and forces them to talk about it, the discussion is more likely to lead to conflict and unresolved issues. One alternative approach is to be proactive, incorporating finances in a broader discussion of shared values and life goals. The latter approach helps the couple focus on what’s important to them (e.g., career, home or family) and to see finances as one of the tools they need to achieve what’s important to them as a couple.
Q: When is the right time to discuss finances in a relationship?
Prof. Serido: Probably not on a first date! However, people in new relationships are more open to discussion as they get to know each other, discover mutual interests and plan for a future together. Talking about past experiences or future goals around travel, homeownership or vehicle purchases can be used as an opportunity to talk about finances in a casual setting.
It is also true that interaction patterns are established early in a relationship and gain strength over time. Proactive discussions early in a relationship may help couples develop a communication style that fosters open discussion about a range of topics, including finances.
Q: What are examples of financial decisions couples make together?
Prof. Serido: Financial decision making refers to the choices people make about what to do with their money; notably spending, saving, investing and sharing. A good starting point is deciding if finances are to be managed jointly, separately or some combination of both. The same goes with credit cards, assets and loans. Research suggests one approach isn’t necessarily better than another; what’s important is that both partners have a voice in the decision and understand the outcome.
Q: How can couples work through differences in financial priorities?
Prof. Serido: Every couple needs to determine their decision-making style and approach to financial management. Be mindful that each partner comes to the relationship with different financial experiences, which shape the way each partner thinks, feels and talks about finances. Openly discussing these topics is helpful in distinguishing between different priorities versus different approaches to a shared goal.
Financial priorities and goals can and do shift over time. In situations such as the birth of a child or a job loss, talking openly about what is happening, and what to do about it, is a way for couples to reflect on their shared goals, discuss changing expectations and work together to adapt to the change.
It’s important to note that financial disagreements may not be about finances at all, but rather about unequal relationship power and control. If a couple is experiencing frequent financial disagreements, it may be a signal to seek professional advice.