Mike and Lori (fictional names) are headed towards divorce. Lori came home from work and found the electricity was out. She decided she’d had enough after she learned that the electric bill wasn’t paid. In fact, it was one of many bills that haven’t been paid for the last three months. When she confronted Mike about this, he lashed out that he couldn’t pay the bills because she’s been spending all her paycheck rather than putting her half into the account for paying bills. Knowing that Mike’s salary alone could cover the monthly bills, she didn’t give up solving the mystery. Lori found out that Mike bought an expensive motorcycle and has been keeping it in rented storage. Because of these secret expenses, there’s been “too much month at the end of the money” for Mike and Lori. Lori is a forgiving person, but this is the third time Mike has put them through this mess with his secret spending. They’ve already declared bankruptcy three years earlier.
If this had been a real couple coming in for marital therapy, I’m sure that Lori would describe Mike as controlling with the money and that she isn’t “allowed” to see the family checkbook. Mike would also retort that he is sick of needing Lori’s “approval” before he can spend his hard earned money as he sees fit.
Why does money become an issue in marriage? The answer is not simple. Given the stress of the current economic recession, conflicts over money have emerged as a leading reason couples are seeking counseling. Sometimes the problem is there is not enough of it, but not always. When the financial resources become limited people can’t ignore the weirdness that occurs in their marriage around money issues. However, even the financially well-off can destroy their marriage because of money. In this case, it’s about what money means to people and it’s about trust with shared precious resources.
In 2007, the Journal of Marriage and the Family published a study in which issues over money ranked only second to infidelity as a leading cause of divorce. A 2005 article in Psychology Today goes even further to say that money betrayals in marriage are more dangerous than extra-marital affairs. The reason being that the disaster following financial betrayal causes real life problems for years by hurting not only trust, but also credit scores and economic stability.
To address the problems of money in marriage, the bestselling authors of “Fighting for Your Marriage” came out with a book titled “You Paid How Much for That!?” This book gives some good advice for couple who don’t want money issues to ruin their marriage. First, they point out that everyone attaches meaning to money. It’s really important for couples to have a discussion about what money means to each of them. It’s common for there to be differences in what money means; security, power, freedom, a means to fun, and the list can go on. The authors state that a key challenge is managing the differences couples have on the meaning of money.
Planning financial decisions together as a partnership is essential to sound money management in marriage. This creates trust and deepens commitment. A key to this process, however, is that both people must have a vested interest in the financial goals they make. It’s important to find some common ground that both can agree with. This will likely result in both spouses giving up some financial freedoms. This is fine, because marriage means you don’t just think about yourself but also about your spouse. If Mike and Lisa tried this and only Lisa got to decide what their financial goals are, Mike won’t be so interested or cooperative. They must both feel good about the compromises they make. For instance, if Mike really wants a motorcycle, he and Lisa need to talk about a plan for reaching that goal. Working together towards an agreed upon plan to reach this goal, it will be something they both can feel good about, and trust remains intact.
The bible tells us that “the love of money is the root of all evil.” Perhaps one way in which this “evil” happens is when people put a higher priority on their money than on their relationships. If one good thing can come from the current economic downturn maybe it’s that people will realize that money doesn’t make us happy. Several studies confirm that there is only a small connection between money and happiness. That connection goes away once people make enough money to meet their survival needs. So that’s not even happiness, its security. What this shows is that whether people are happy or not depends much more on their state of mind than on the state of their bank accounts.
To sum it up, couples will succeed with money in their marriage if they follow a few guidelines set out in the book “You Paid How Much for That!?” The first is to understand the deeper meanings of money. Secondly, manage the differences in what money means to each spouse. Thirdly, know some principles of sound financial management. Finally, plan for your financial future as a team. With every major financial decision, ask yourselves “What will this money decision mean for our marriage?”