“Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.” — Proverbs 29:11
Now that you’re married, your personal blueprint for how you live is most likely going to through a re-building phase. I know that when I was single, I lived life primarily for myself. Ok, I’m being dishonest. I lived life totally for myself! I did pretty much whatever I wanted whenever I wanted to do it. My time was my time. My money was my money.
Well, married life doesn’t quite work that way. Your time is no longer yours alone, and (this may be tough to grasp) your money is no longer just YOUR money. Now, I realize that different people view marriage in different ways, but I don’t think anyone disputes that marriage is, at the very least, a partnership that requires teamwork. Many couples find out that they are great teammates, except when it comes to financial issues. Since the majority of couples don’t have to make big financial decisions before marriage, the newly formed financial partnership is a stroll into new territory.
Sadly, the financial arena is where many couples find themselves pitted against one another, instead of being on the same side. If this were a Mad Max movie, I would say, “Welcome to the ThunderDome.”
Here are some insights that can hopefully help you navigate your new financial journey together:
- The first idea that you must fully understand and come to grips with is that you and your partner are different people, who likely have different views about financial matters. No matter how alike you may be, there are bound to be some differences. Dave Ramsey likes to highlight this concept by pointing out that one person is the “nerd” and one person is the “free spirit” when it comes to money. A good first step is determining which one of these descriptions fits you and which one is your partner. (This may not be as easy as it first seems.) Once you know who is who, you can begin working on your communication skills within the proper context.
Communication. Could there be a more critical topic when it comes to marriage? I cannot stress enough the importance developing a constructive framework in which to have financial conversations. Even though I’m a financial planner, this is something that my wife and I continue to work on in our marriage. When I talked with her the other day about this blog topic and some of its content, she immediately asked, “How are we different when it comes to money?” If you’re a guy, you know that there were two voices in my head that immediately started to speak: the first one being the logical, financial mind that wanted to discuss the differences in financial literacy and the second voice being the young husband, who immediately wondered “Is this a trick question?”
I have found that money is such a difficult topic to discuss because our views and thought patterns about finances were likely developed and shaped in us from a very early age. Research has indicated that most of us learn and expect to learn our financial habits and beliefs from watching our parents. It’s no secret that our educational system does very little to teach us financial literacy; therefore, most of us carry the financial patterns of our families into marriage.
For this very reason, it’s so important to apply the age old principle from Stephen Covey: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood. When you go after your partner’s spending habits or financial beliefs during an argument, you are in some ways going after some very ingrained family values or subconscious thought patterns.
- The next thing to consider if you find yourself getting angry when it comes to discussions about money is the source of your frustration. Do you know exactly WHY you are upset? Anger is a tricky emotion because in the moment we so very often feel that we are justified in our feelings. This is a slippery slope because so often we find ourselves with increased ammunition and resolve when we are defending (what we think is) a justifiable position. But, I encourage you to look a little deeper to understand the root of any frustration.
A good way to combat a situation that is headed downhill is to first try to understand why you are angry and then figure out what you (personally) are fighting for or against. This is a great piece of wisdom I learned from my wife. In the past, she has told me to check my motives when I get a little overzealous. Often times, couples will fight harder to be “right” than they will to find a solution to an issue. Naturally, if we are fighting more to be correct or to win the argument, the problem is rarely solved—and everyone feels worse instead of better when it’s all over.
- Lastly, financial matters should never be used as a way to control your partner. Sure, there may need to be some serious conversations about debt, spending habits, savings, etc. These topics are normal, and I fully recognize that sometimes some guardrails need to be put up to protect the finances of the family. The type of control I am referring to is the unhealthy kinds of control like manipulation or keeping your partner in the dark about financial matters so that they feel helpless.
An easy way to describe this is by illustrating a scenario I see fairly often when talking with couples about financial matters. I usually see one spouse (typically the husband) who knows about all of the financial matters, has all of the investment statements, and essentially calls all of the shots. There is nothing wrong with having a team captain—but if your teammate has no clue about your financial situation, that doesn’t qualify as a team in my book. I see this most often in older couples, but hey—they were once young couples! This type of scenario is the result of a pattern that formed over years and years of marriage, and it was allowed to cement itself as the unspoken rule of the family finances.
Many times, this behavior is justified by the team captain (again typically the husband) because there is such a large difference in the financial literacy between the spouses. The husband just knows more about “financial stuff” than the wife. This can be avoided if they both would have regular conversations about money and financial matters. I’m not suggesting there needs to be a daily briefing or even a monthly one for that matter, but I do think it’s important for couples to look for financial learning opportunities together. This will in the very least create some dialogue about financial matters, but hopefully, it will help them begin to realize that it’s a team effort where both partners have a role.
Money is inherently a touchy subject for the majority of people, and when you combine that sensitivity along with the adjustments to being married, you get a situation that needs to be handled with care. Remember, keep things in perspective—the relationship should be the most important thing. This doesn’t mean that finances aren’t important; but if you start with the relationship first, watch how you communicate, and plan to work together, you’ll be much stronger of a team in the long run. And it’s all about the long-run.