Financial disagreements can ruin marriages. Disputes over saving plans, lifestyle, debt and spending on children and extended family are common. The reason money arguments come up often in marriage is because unlike love, affection, time and space we can quantify it, measure it and debate it more easily. Daniel and Chloe were married 5 years and seemed to be the "perfect couple - living the dream life" to those who met them. But behind closed doors, they argued over Chloe's spending on a daily basis...
Despite Daniel's effort to curb the spending, Chloe did not stick to the budget they agreed and set out. When they first moved from the UK to Dubai for Daniel's job, Chloe said she need to spend money to "settle in." She argued they needed to feel at home and in order for her to go out to meet new friends she needed new clothes and accessories. She always justified the spending by saying "what is the point of being in Dubai if you cannot have fun, and what else is there to do than go to the mall?" Daniel disagreed they did not move for fun or shopping, the reason he had taken this job and uprooted the family was to save. They already used to argue over the money in the UK, but Daniel found he now couldn't reason with her and that she just carried on despite their agreements. One day he had had it and took extreme measures, he cut her credit card and stopped all access to their joint bank account. Chloe felt imprisoned and as she still had access to their UK savings she started draining that. Chloe continued to spend at the same level, she felt like punishing Daniel for being so mean. Daniel called me when he found the UK savings had dwindled, he was extremely angry and wondered whether his wife would ever change or best to leave her. He felt used, frustrated and disappointed, unsure what to do next.
During my session with Chloe, she defended her right to spend, claiming than in order to adjust to a new country, she needed it. When I asked her why she didn't stick to the budget, she admitted she tried but couldn't help herself. This is when I saw there was hope, because it was not out of spite, disrespect or selfishness. Chloe was emotional spending, spending to mask her unhappiness. She was in truth, very homesick, feeling low, unsettled and lonely. Spending was the only thing that was giving her pleasure. We then took steps to overcome her spending habits, repair their bond and improve Chloe's happiness. Neither of them wanted to end the marriage. They loved each other deeply and Daniel agreed to spend more time with Chloe and help her meet new friends.
I have also seen financial conflict where both in the couple overspend and blame each other for draining finances. As well as those who argue because their partner will not spend anything. But financial disputes don't have to be around one spending more than the other. They can symbolize power struggles over who is in control of the money and who has the power to decide where it goes. Financial disputes can also represent differences in values and upbringing.
Here are some guidelines for financial harmony in marriage.
Guideline 1. Each partner needs to feel comfortable around any guidelines set. Relationships need to be mutually defined and money is no different. Set a realistic budget according to your means, based on how much you have as a couple. Communicate on this until you have agreement.
Guideline 2. Deal with debt, openly and honestly. Your debt will affect each other, you need to be transparent and share all information. Set an agreement of who will pay off the debt and when. Use this as a time to work together as a team and support one another.
Guideline 3. Financial Freedom. You should have some degree of financial freedom, to spend on whatever you like without having to explain or justify it. This doesn't have to be a lot, it can be $10 to $500 but having some freedom makes you feel like you haven't lost yourself in the marriage.
Guideline 4. Whilst financial independence is important, all large purchases need to be discussed. Big expenses will affect your spouse and inclusion is the key to commitment.
Guideline 5. Just as children should never be used as weapons to hurt your spouse in marriage, neither should money. If you are using money, (spending, controlling spending, hiding purchases) to upset your spouse, ask yourself why. What are you really feeling and why do you want to upset them? Then address this.
Guideline 6. If you are over spending or not spending at all, look at and address the emotional problems behind it. Gary wouldn't spend a penny and despite a healthy dual income, he refused vacations, treats and even meals out. This was about his need to control every dollar and fear of poverty that stemmed from his childhood.
Guideline 7. Ensure neither of you are being taken advantage of. Edmond was working 80-90 hours a week, so his wife could have the life she wanted. That's not a being a spouse, that's being an ATM.
Guideline 8. Financial Education. Whether you are married or not, this one is key. Educate yourself on financial products, asset allocation, investment and saving plans. Don't leave any major decision to your financial advisor or spouse, take responsibility and learn.
Guideline 9. When a financial problem arises, ask yourself: Is it really about money or is it that I am angry, upset, annoyed about something else? Then address it in the right context.
Guideline 10. Keep discussing until you reach agreement. You married to make decisions together, so if something is bothering you then keep on negotiating until your both happy. Melisa and Hugh disagreed on whether they should use their savings to pay for their daughters university fees. Hugh wanted to keep that money in savings in case he lost his job. Things weren't stable at his firm and that money would give him a year to find another decent paid job, having that security was important to him. Melisa wanted her children to have it for their education, she got into debt when she went to university and didn't want that for her children. She made a vow to herself that her children would never have to go through, what she went through, this was important to her. They were in conflict over this for a while, but kept discussing the topic (without making demands or disrespectful comments). Melisa didn't want Hugh to feel uncomfortable if their savings were gone and Hugh didn't want Melisa's wishes for their children not to be met. After talking it through, they managed to settle on an amount where their daughters would get some money and a small loan. Leaving them both satisfied.
In summary, most marriages have their financial ups and downs. Which can be a test to your relationship when you go through the downs, but managed well you can use it to become closer and stronger. Just remember the love you have for each other when financial issues come up.
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