A lot of couples are married and happy. Until they come across problems with money.
Financial issues in marriage are one of the leading reasons why couples argue. And once they creep in, no amount of love or good sex can diminish its detrimental effects.
The ability to cope with financial issues depends on how couples approach them. This article is meant for couples who want to face their financial problems head-on, rather than watching them mount up to divorce.
Healthy Ways to Prevent Money Problems from Ruining Your Marriage
Finances can be a significant source of stress in any relationship, and it's no secret that money problems can put a significant strain on a marriage. Here are ways to keep your marriage healthy even while you're struggling financially.
1. Set a Budget (But Don't Set it In Stone)
You need a budget. Period. It's still the most effective way to keep track of your finances as a couple. And still, only around 32% of people prepare a household budget, according to a Gallup poll.
A budget doesn't have to involve complicated spreadsheets or paperwork. In fact, if you're struggling financially, it's better to keep things simple by knowing:
- How much money comes in each month
- How much money goes out each month
- How much the couple spends each month
That said, know that a budget can be flexible. Not two months are alike, and emergencies happen – which is why you should be prepared to see variations and save up for unexpected expenses. Additionally, you should be prepared to stretch your budget if the circumstances call for it.
2. Work Together to Pay Off Debt
For some people, debt can be scarier than most things. The chronic emotional stress of your joint financial future can put a lot of strain in their relationship. The problem escalates further when you consider joint debt and individual debt.
As a rule, joint debt is a responsibility that you and your partner should tackle together. This will require concessions from both sides, which includes creating a priority list and using smart payoff methods to reduce your debt.
In case just one partner has brought debt into the relationship, the other may not be able to assist them financially. That's normal, and there’s still an opportunity to partner up by:
- Being an accountability buddy
- Picking up more responsibilities at home, like doing chores and watching the kids (so the debt-paying spouse can work more hours)
- If they're currently looking for jobs, help them write and print out updated resumes
3. Strive Towards Financial Independence
What's mine is yours, right? It depends.
Financial independence can be a sensitive issue for some couples, especially if they're stuck in the mindset that "breadwinner" is a man's title. This outdated point of view can stir up relationship issues where there aren't any.
When a man believes he should be the one to provide for the family, being unable to honor his duty makes him feel powerless. His ensuing feelings can affect the way he treats his spouse, as well as the people around him.
Likewise, if a woman believes her spouse should be the one paying the bills, the relationship may crumble when he fails to do so. Because he's failing to provide something she's entitled to.
For this reason, it's imperative that modern couples acknowledge the importance of financial independence in marriage.
In the words of Dr. Dana McNeil, Certified Gottman Therapist, and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), being financially independent means that "you don’t have to rely on an external source to validate or determine your value. You have solid evidence of who you are and how strong you are."
When both partners are supportive of each other's earnings and are satisfied with their finances, they feel better about themselves and their marriage.
4. Cut Back on Unnecessary Spending
One coffee here. One coffee there. Suddenly, your Starbucks trips are costing you $100 a month. That money could pay for gas or utility bills, and you'd have one less headache to power through.
Oftentimes, a lack of money isn't the problem, but the way that money is spent. Poor spending habits can be a massive source of marital stress, particularly if one partner tends to be financially irresponsible.
Want to decrease conflict? Cut back on unnecessary spending. Allow yourself to realize that the daily $3 you're spending on a caramel macchiato will keep adding up on your bank account.
That's not to say you can't indulge yourself every now and then. Just be mindful of your spending, and watch conflict deflate.
5. Don't Withhold Financial Troubles
It's estimated that 7% of the U.S. population have withheld financial information (including checking accounts, savings accounts, and credit card balances) from their spouses. When couples resort to concealing information as a means of keeping the relationship afloat, there's a bigger problem in sight.
This is particularly true when excessive debt is involved. A partner may avoid talking about money to prevent heated arguments. Or, they may hide an owed amount because the reveal could potentially ruin the marriage. That's when financial worries transform into relationship toxicity.
Whenever possible, tell the truth about your financial situation as soon as expenses start to mount. Not only does it show you trust your partner, but it also gives you more time to develop a plan of action.
6. Have Separate Bank Accounts
Married couples often think that their bank accounts should be married, too. But that couldn't be further from the truth.
Keeping separate bank accounts gives couples autonomy and power over their individual purchases. This puts an end to micromanaging each other's expenses, or feeling embarrassed about "treating themselves." Petty fights about who's buying what will tend to shrink as a result.
It's suggested that couples adopt the "yours, mine, ours" approach to their bank accounts. "Ours" involves the couple's joint balance and savings. The money from each partner's individual accounts ("yours," "mine") can be used as they please, as long as they stick with the couple's monthly budget.
7. Keep Emergencies in Mind
Unexpected expenses could scale to the point of draining your savings account. Marriage-wrecking money worries are sure to follow.
That's why couples should keep an emergency fund. An emergency fund typically shouldn't be more than 3-to-6 months of living expenses, and how much each of you should save per paycheck will depend on how much you earn after annual taxes.
It’s a good idea to save a small amount each month to reach your savings goal. Consequently, compromise is key. Using emergency money for other expenses is easier than it sounds, so keep each other accountable to prevent unrelated spending.
8. Communicate Without Criticism
Achieving your financial goals, be they in earnings or payouts, means having shared objectives and being transparent with each other's financial situations. That also means sitting down at least once a year to discuss where the couple stands financially.
Depending on the financial state of a household, communication can often get heated. A wife may accuse her husband of spending too much, to which he may have another accusation ready.
Arguments based on finger-pointing are the recipe for relationship trouble. Everyone gets hurt, and nothing gets solved. You can absolutely complain about your partner's lavish spending, but you can do so without using pejorative terms.
Money problems have the power to disarrange a healthy marriage on their own. Remind yourself that ineffective quarrels will only make things worse.
Signs Your Finances Are the Root of Your Marriage Problems
Money issues rarely come alone. Because financial stress can adversely impact a person's mental health, it may lead to arguments that have nothing to do with money.
You'll notice your financial issues are starting to seep into your marriage when:
- You completely avoid any type of money-related argument with your spouse
- Arguing about money often results in name-calling and insults
- You start to blame each other for your current financial situation
- You're both failing to take ownership of the problem, kicking the can until the problem escalates
At this point, the emotional strain has taken over. Unless the couple chooses to engage in supportive behavior, you might need to reach for professional help.
What to Do If Money Is Still a Problem Despite Your Best Efforts?
If one or both partners have poor money management skills, no amount of emotional support could remove you from this complicated position.
In this case, if money is the sole cause of marital dissatisfaction, speaking to a financial consultant or an accountant can get you moving in the right direction. The problems associated with it should dissolve once the situation is settled.
Now, if money is just a piece of the puzzle, it may be wise to talk to a couples therapist instead. Couples counseling can help partners rebuild trust and belief in their relationship, even if financial turmoil has disturbed it. Talk to us so we can help.