Money Ruining Your Marriage?

By Kylis, M. R. | Working Mother, August/September 2008 | Go to article overview

Money Ruining Your Marriage?


Kylis, M. R., Working Mother


When Gail Liberman married Alan Lavine, she was the spender and he was the saver. "He never understood the rationale of eating dinner out, given the cost," she says. But these days, Alan occasionally splurges on a fancy dinner date. As for Gail, she's learned to pay cash when shopping to be more aware of the money she spends, and she has amped up her monthly contributions to savings and retirement accounts. "A marriage could be facing a ticking bomb if neither spouse owns up to money issues," says Liberman.

Ironically, it's a lack of communication and compromise-not a lack of money-that can ruin a relationship, experts say. Finding a middle ground when it comes to financial matters has not only helped Gail and Alan stay happily married for 16 years, but the topic has become their life's work. As a personal finance syndicated-columnist team and authors of such books as Love, Marriage & Money, they've been writing about money issues for a combined total of some 50 years.

"In the courting stage, romance often takes precedence over practical discussions about money," says Liberman. "But when the knot is tied and kids come along, financial issues can come to a head-just when no one has time to talk about them."

That helps explain why one of the top causes of conflict in marriages is money, even when both partners bring home paychecks. Part of the challenge is that while couples often talk about religion, sex and politics, "we've been taught it's rade to talk about money," says Catherine M. Williams, vice president of financial literacy with Money Management International, a nonprofit credit counseling program in Houston. If one person is laid-back about money and the other is an obsessive worrier, conversation is needed to find that place in between.

A full 60 percent of married couples surveyed by the Consumer Credit Counseling Service report fighting about money with their spouse. In other research, 57 percent of divorced couples cited financial problems as the main reason they didn't get along. For working mothers, financial stability is critical, especially in today's uncertain economic climate. Here, some tips from the pros to make sure your love nest runs like a thriving small business.

Schedule weekly meetings

Regular money meetings with your partner may last only five minutes at first, says Cindy Moms, a coach at the financial advisory and education website mendyourmoney.com. The goal is not to solve all your money problems during the meeting but to start talking about them. She suggests posting a piece of paper on the refrigerator where you can both list important topics you want to cover in these meetings: "This prevents you from bringing up the subject when you're locked in the car together or right before bedtime-both popular times for money discussions but not the best times for them."

Because money matters require shared decision-making, these conversations are critical. "Couples whose skills at making decisions together are insufficient will generate friction instead of affection as they address their money concerns as a team," says Susan Heitler, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Denver. "Stack the odds in your favor by being sure you're not tired or hungry." She recommends avoiding talking about money after 9:00 p.m.

Set financial goals together

What do you want to accomplish as a couple? Do you need to pay down debt? Save for a house? "Once you have a goal, you're both apt to think twice when it comes to other purchases that may derail the family plan," says Liberman.

Morus recommends using a "bucket" strategy to sort expenses: for example, retirement, future spending, fun and self-development, sharing, emergency needs and the bills. "This helps couples create a spending plan," she says. "The spending plan gives every dollar a job and tells it what it is supposed to do. Most people like the concept of their money having a job."

Also establish ground rules together, such as consulting your spouse if you're thinking about spending more than a certain amount on something. …

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