A lot of things in life happen by accident. But divorce isn’t one of them. Whether you’ve been married two years or 25 problems cab build up. When you allow those annoying little issues to continue without being resolved they can quickly become cumulative. And before you know it petty disagreements have turned into shouting matches.
Can you guess the number one reason why couples divorce? Believe it or not, it’s due to a lack of communication. When couples don’t share their feelings, it quickly creates distance. If you keep your feelings to yourself and don’t tell your partner what’s happening, this can quickly lead to problems.
But how about the number two reason? Did you guess that it’s finances? If the two of you talk money, this can make your life better or in some cases worse. If you find that money is a constant source of disagreement, your marriage is almost certain to end up in divorce.
The problem of income disparity
One thing that often causes problems is an income disparity between the husband and wife. Historically, the husband was the major breadwinner. Today, not so much. In fact, according to a study done recently as reported in the Washington Post, nearly four in 10 families with kids under 18 are now headed by women that are the only or primary breadwinners for their families. And the percentage of mothers that are married and earn more than their husbands rose from 4% 1960 to 15% in 2011. This has given rise to the stereotype that when the woman is the biggest breadwinner, the husband will suffer from feelings of emasculation and a bruised ego and that the partners will fight more than other couples.
However, it turns out this is not entirely true. Money magazine has done surveys with results suggesting that in those marriages where the women earn as much or more than their husbands they are at least as happy and as hot as marriages where there is the traditional earner relationship – and in some cases, more so. One indicator of this is marital satisfaction. In those households where women earn as much or more than men the couples were as much in love as everyone else. In fact, six in 10 gave their relationship a five or “very much in love” on a scale of 1 to 5. They were also a bit happier – 83% said they were very or extremely happy vs. 77% of families where the wives earned nothing at all or less than their husbands.
What to do if you’re having money problems
Most experts say that the first thing you need to do to level out things is do a financial and emotional inventory. This is where you sit down and calculate how much that each of you earns, your levels of debt and your shared expenses. That way you can develop long-term objectives. The emotional component is this could help you decide who’s best qualified to take responsibility for the family’s finances and manage the bills. This can also help you determine the payment arrangement that would best suit your egos and your needs. What makes the most sense is to assign money management to the person who is better organized, more interested in them or thriftier. What this means, and most research support is that couples shouldn’t decide who controls the money based on gender or income. However, it is important that the person that makes the money decisions doesn’t forget to consult with his or her spouse.
Both you and your partner should be able to access all accounts that are online such as bill paying and banking. This is not only useful in the event of an emergency but will also give the two of you a good picture of your finances. There are websites like Mint.com that are free and where you both can get access to all your financial accounts. This would allow the two of you to keep track of your debt and your spending. You should also get together a couple of times a month to make sure you agree as to what’s happening with your money.
Make decisions together
It’s important that the two of you make decisions together. Each of you should be willing to ask when you need help, agree to compromises and even admit if you feel you’ve lost control. Sometimes all it takes is to just call or text your partner and say, “Is this worth it? Can we really afford this? What’s your take?” It’s crucial to confess when you don’t know something. This allows your partner to give his or her opinion and maybe even save your financial fanny.
Lose that possessiveness
If you’re not the one managing your family’s finances it’s important that you lose possessiveness of your money. You need to be ready to yield control of all decisions that have to do with your finances and maybe even some of the lifestyle you feel you deserve and can afford. Never forget you’re in a partnership.
The best system is one where each person keeps some financial independence but that there is also shared responsibility. You should have three “buckets” of money that need to be managed –mine, yours and ours. For the accounts you label “ours” you will need to decide on a “price level” – or that amount at which you will discuss things before making a purchase. If you set up individual accounts (the “mine” and “yours”), this should help reduce fights over money. If you want to buy something you can use the “mine” account without having to ask your partner for permission. In addition, the money in your account can also provide a safeguard in the event of a financial emergency.
As you may already know, most of us marry our money opposites. If you’re a saver and a worrier you may find it difficult to understand why your freewheeling spouse wants to take a costly vacation. In turn, she may feel frustrated when you claim you can’t afford it. Try to remove the emotion from your discussion by looking at hard numbers to determine whether your spouse’s spending is really interfering with your ability to build an adequate emergency fund or to save for your retirement. If so, you will need to discuss the issue. When you do this try to structure the conversation around the goal and not your partner’s free-spending ways.
Master the basics
Studies show that women step up their game more as they earn more money. However, both partners need to understand the family’s finances regardless of who earns how much. Some financial planners have said that it is particularly dangerous for wives to remain in the dark about the family’s finances because they tend to live longer than their husbands. You should schedule time at least twice a year to sit down with your spouse and review what you owe and what you own. Then make sure you talk about how these numbers match up with your short term and future financial goals.
Say “thanks” and really mean it
If your goal is to level the emotional playing field when it comes to money, it helps to recognize those things that each of you brings to the marriage, financial or in other ways. Don’t make the mistake of equating income with having the ultimate power in the relationship. Be sure to always involve your partner in financial decision-making. In other words, share the power.