Don't Let Money Ruin Your Marriage

My last article discussed personal financial successes and missteps.  Marriage is one of my successes, and here’s why.  My husband Bryan and I:

1.     Have profound respect for each other. 

2.     Have been married for 10 years and merged our money from day one in our partnership as husband and wife. 

3.     Took the Building Wealth assessment, administered by DataPoints, and scored similarly in several categories. 

4.     Are not financially supporting any extended family or friends. 

5.     Rarely disagree over finances and keep the lines of communication open when researching a large purchase (i.e. home remodel, car, etc.).

We recognize that not everyone is so fortunate. 

Money conflict is the #2 reason for divorce nationally, behind infidelity. 

No one benefits when you hide financial debt from your spouse. One of my friends was married to a guy earning a healthy six figure salary.  Unbeknownst to her, he racked up over $40k in credit card debt.  They are now divorced, and she knows his debt is well over $100k in just a few years.  Regardless of how much money you or your spouse earns, you should not be oblivious to his or her spending patterns. 

The Importance of Communication

Isn’t communication (or lack thereof) at the source of most marital conflicts?  I’m no therapist, but I’ve got to believe this is the case.  When you disagree with how your spouse is parenting, it’s better to speak up in a calm, nonthreatening way than to let it fester and unleash a beast. 

When you are frustrated by your spouse’s recent purchasing decision, gently open a conversation to better understand his or her point of view.  The time and energy it takes to resolve a small conflict is miniscule in comparison to the lengthy and costly divorce process.  The emotional toll on the family may be greater than the financial implications of divorce.

Breadwinning Women

What happens if you are a breadwinning woman who earns more than her husband?  Farnoosh Torabi discusses this subject in her last book, When She Makes More.  Torabi’s research indicates that the risk for divorce is even higher in this situation, particularly if you and your husband’s earnings were similar at the beginning of marriage but that trend reversed during the marriage.  The reason for this difficulty relates to traditional gender stereotypes. 

In prehistoric ages, men were the hunter-gatherers who brought home food to their families and kept them safe; women were responsible for the upkeep of the home and children’s care.  Although we’ve made strides in feminism and equal opportunities in the workplace, the gender pay gap still exists and we subconsciously fall into stereotypical roles.  Even married, breadwinning women continue to take on the lion’s share of household responsibilities. 

Separate Accounts

Torabi recommends several strategies to reverse these stereotypes.  One possible financial solution: have an account for joint expenses like rent or mortgage AND separate, individual accounts. 

I challenged Farnoosh on this recommendation when she spoke at XYPN17 this summer, citing my marriage as an example.  Bryan and I never had separate accounts as a married couple and do not plan on having them.  We were married in our mid 20s, and neither of us brought any substantial assets into the marriage.  Farnoosh clarified her original message: do what works for the couple. 

Communication is key. 

The danger I see with separate accounts is that they could shut the door to constructive dialogue.  If you and your spouse have separate accounts, it’s critical to come to a consensus on joint expenses and savings goals.  Perhaps he can contribute to kids’ college savings accounts while you focus on building an emergency fund.

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Forever Faithful,

Deborah Meyer, CPA/PFS, CFP®