Many couples fail to discuss how they share their financial obligations. It is understandable how this happens because any talk of money can feel too business-like and unromantic, and is the type of discussion that can be ripe with conflict. However, this is a conversation that needs to be had, and had regularly.
Avoiding the topic of your financial relationship will lead to a series of assumptions, expectations, misunderstandings, mind-reading, and passive-aggressive behaviors. One of you or both of you will become disenchanted with how your joint expenses are being shared (or not shared). It is not unusual for spouses to just fall into a financial arrangement that was not openly discussed, a situation that develops frequently with couples in my practice.
It is not uncommon for couples to neglect to discuss how you will be dividing your shared expenses, often both assuming that the other will take care of it. Maybe you are feeling so grateful that you finally have a partner who can take the responsibility for managing your finances off your shoulders. As tempting as it feels to want to out-source this task to your spouse, try to resist the impulse.
Managing your individual financial health and being a co-manager of your marital financial health is a critical component to a healthy marriage. Financial differences and lack of communication and resolution of those differences is a common complaint of divorcing couples.
Love is made stronger through the process of frequently engaging in open, honest, and respectful conversation. Practicing financial avoidance or denial will only serve to kick the can down the road; the problem isn’t going away, it is quietly growing larger in the background. So, where to start you may wonder? One way to begin this conversation, which will need to be on-going throughout the course of your marriage, is to determine what each of your money styles is and how those styles can potentially be in conflict.
Are you a spender and your partner a saver? Has either of you ever had success in sticking to a budget? Do you feel constrained, controlled, or deprived by the idea of a budget? Does one of you like to control or manage your financial lives more than the other? Do you have differences of opinion about where you do your grocery shopping or how frequently you eat out? Does one of you enjoy cleaning and other would much prefer to hire a service? Does one of you like the freedom of credit card usage and the other prefers to save and use cash? There is a lot to consider. How would you describe your money styles from those listed below? What is your partner’s money style?
“Managing your individual financial health and being a co-manager of your marital financial health is a critical component to a healthy marriage.”
The Avoider: This person tries not to think about money—their debts, spending habits, or financial commitments. They don’t know how much they have in their savings, checking, or retirement accounts. They might not know how much student loan or credit card debt they have.
The Guilty One: This style fits with the person for whom spending any money on themselves creates a sense of guilt. The type who says "I didn’t really need it" or "we spent way too much money on dinner last night," or who has instant remorse upon purchasing anything they view as extravagant or unnecessary. Feeling guilty about spending is common even for those whose incomes can support their spending patterns.
The Moderate One: This style fits the partner who is thoughtful and considerate about spending and saving choices, and has no trouble in sticking to a budget (most or all of the time). This person feels comfortable and competent in all matters related to money.
The Anxious One: This individual is consumed with worry about money, checking bank balances, credit cards, and investment accounts daily. He or she focuses a lot of energy on worst-case scenarios, fearing the financial day of reckoning will eventually come. Even though these fears are consuming, they are frequently not shared with a partner.
The Accumulator: Spending as a means of self-soothing describes this style. For this person, it is thought that every feeling can be maximized, soothed, or denied through buying. For some, spending money is one of the few feel-good moments of their existence.
The Worry-free Spender: Never worries or thinks about money, always believing there is more to be had if needed. This person has in the past relied on family and friends to help bail him or her out of financial trouble.
The Frugal Saver: Micromanaging one’s own spending and that of a partner describe this partner’s style. Fears of never having enough (even with evidence to the contrary) or living in poverty cause this person to over-analyze spending choices. This style can often create conflict with a spouse who sees the frugal partner as trying to control him or her, or feels judged or questioned for spending choices.
The Competitive Spender: This money style leads to feeling as though you need to keep up with or match the spending of your friends, family, or neighbors. This description fits the person who fears or feels the negative judgment of others for not living in the "right" neighborhood, driving the "right" car, and carrying the "right" purse. Keeping up financial appearances can frequently create a situation whereby the individual or couple is living beyond their means.
Determining your individual money style and communicating about it with your spouse is vital in helping to minimize future conflict. Having different money styles does not necessarily mean you are headed for trouble, it just means you need to be mindful of your blind spots, and be willing to communicate frequently about your different perspectives and work towards resolution.
Dr. Anne Brennan Malec is the founder of Symmetry Counseling, a counseling, coaching, and psychotherapy group practice in Chicago. Dr. Malec, who had an earlier career in business, made a significant shift in 2000 when she began her training in the fields of Marriage and Family Therapy. She is the author of "Marriage in Modern Life: Why It Works, When It Works." Dr. Malec earned her Bachelor’s degree from Villanova University in Accountancy and holds two Master’s degrees: one in Liberal Studies from DePaul University, and one in Marital and Family Therapy from Northwestern University. Dr. Malec earned her Doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. For more information visit www.drannemalec.com.